The Catalans should make light work of the trip but can’t afford any hiccups against the relegation-threatened side as Atletico Madrid‘s form has got them looking over their shoulders.
Here are three talking points ahead of the encounter.
BARCELONA LOOKING BEYOND THIS ONE
This game is little more than an unwanted distraction for Barcelona. Second place Atletico Madrid’s form of late has threatened to reignite the La Liga title race that seemed dead and buried in January. However, with a showdown with the Catalans set for this weekend at Camp Nou, the league title is no longer a foregone conclusion.
The form of Diego Costa and Antoine Griezmann in attack has rejuvenated the Madrid outfit and led their late title charge. If both Atletico and Barcelona win their midweek league fixtures – Atletico play Leganes on Wednesday night – then the gap will remain at seven points when the two teams square-off on Sunday.
With Barcelona’s lead then in danger of being cut down to just four points in the event of a defeat, it’s only natural that Ernesto Valverde and his side will have one eye on that fixture when they travel to Las Palmas.
Barcelona are unbeaten in the league this season and have defeated Thursday’s opponents in all of their last five meetings in all competitions – scoring at least three goals in the last three meetings between the two sides.
As such, the Catalans will be confident going into this fixture and should see no reason to risk Gerard Pique. Valverde’s perplexing decision to play the defender in the 6-1 win over Girona didn’t go down too well. Recovering from injury, Pique surprisingly took to the field with heavy strapping around his knee and went down clutching it in pain at the start of the second-half.
The Spaniard battled on until the hour mark before eventually being relieved by Thomas Vermaelen. Surely, Valverde mustn’t risk his defensive stalwart again with more demanding contests on the horizon, especially with the likes of Vermaelen and Yerry Mina available for selection.
BARCA CAN’T RISK COMPLACENCY
Although history is firmly on their side and they are the overwhelming favourites, Barcelona can ill-afford to take Las Palmas lightly. Valverde would certainly not be condemned for fielding a weakened side. In truth, that would probably be a sensible decision, but the team he puts out will still have to perform and deliver all three points.
Real Madrid chose to field a depleted team against Espanyol, which was always forecasted, but it was their complete lack of intensity that saw them suffer a 1-0 defeat on Tuesday night. Barcelona will be kicking themselves if they were to lose their unbeaten record to sheer complacency against one of the league’s struggling sides.
They may be perturbed by the possibility of Atletico cutting the gap to four points if they beat them on Sunday but lose to Las Palmas and suddenly they could be just one point ahead of Diego Simeone’s side come Monday.
Las Palmas are fighting for survival as they sit 18th in the table, a point behind Levante and nine behind Alaves in 16th. With Celta Vigo to play next only on Monday night, there’s no reason for Paco Jemez to rest players for this encounter. At this point, they want to be scrapping for every point.
Having shown some fight in recent times, taking eight points from their last six league fixtures, they may not be the pushovers Barcelona have grown accustomed to facing. Since Jemez’s arrival, they have been far more solid at the back, keeping three clean sheets in their last four so the visitors may come up against a fair bit of resistance this time around and will need to be on their game.
DEMBELE AND COUTINHO’S AUDITIONS
Valverde would’ve seen plenty in the resounding win over Girona to be delighted with but one of the more reassuring points to draw from it was the way Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho performed on the first time they started together.
Barcelona have usually employed four central midfielders across the middle with Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic or Paulinho the widest two. It has facilitated their command over possession but with Dembele and Coutinho utilised on the flanks instead, they were able to stretch the opposition more while retaining the ability to drift inside and allow the full-backs to venture forward.
Both managed to assist Luis Suarez on the night while the Brazilian capped his performance with a sublime curling effort from distance. The duo added a new dimension to La Blaugrana’s play and if they can prove against Las Palmas that it wasn’t a one-off, it bodes well for upcoming fixtures, starting with the clash against Atletico.
Barcelona were evidently short of ideas in their first leg 1-1 draw against Chelsea in the Champions League. They eventually capitalised on an error by Andreas Christensen but struggled to stretch the hosts’ defence at Stamford Bridge. Incorporating Dembele in the side for the return leg at Camp Nou – Coutinho on the other hand is cup tied – could give them the edge they need in attack.
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