Fresh from securing the league title and then claiming a 3-0 victory over Liverpool in midweek, Barcelona travel to take on relegation candidates Celta Vigo in a game which has far more consequence for the hosts than the Catalan giants.
Manager Ernesto Valverde made sweeping changes to the team that faced Liverpool, giving an important opportunity to some players – and one in particular – to state their case for more playing time.
Find out more with our pre-game talking points.
All change for Barca
With the league title already secure, Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde made wholesale changes from the side that started against Liverpool in Wednesday’s Champions League first leg victory at the Camp Nou, ensuring his key players are not at risk of injury before Tuesday’s second leg at Anfield. Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Gerard Pique are among those who get a much needed break.
That gives opportunities for potentially important players like Carles Alenya, Samuel Umtiti and Arthur Melo to sharpen up their match fitness, as well as giving outings to fringe players such as young defenders Moussa Wague and Jean-Clair Todibo, who are hoping to catch the eye for the future.
Brazilian winger Malcom is among those likely to start and he will be particularly keen to send Valverde a reminder of his existence after barely featuring in recent weeks, and January signing Kevin-Prince Boateng could have the chance to finally make an impact after a decidedly underwhelming stint at the club so far.
Will Dembele find form?
No player has more at stake for Barca than Ousmane Dembele, who somehow managed to deliver an appalling performance against Liverpool in midweek despite only being on the pitch for less than five minutes.
Virtually everything Dembele did went wrong after he was introduced for Luis Suarez inside stoppage time, including a horrendous scuffed shot with the last kick of the game when he had a golden chance to send the tie out of Liverpool’s reach with a fourth goal.
Unfortunately, that brief but disastrous cameo only served to underline the fact that Dembele has really struggled to find his form since returning from a hamstring injury last month, and Valverde must be reluctant to give the French forward extended playing time at Anfield unless he can deliver a dramatically improved performance this weekend. Ideally, Dembele’s pace on the break could play an important part in Barca’s strategy in the second leg, but that won’t happen if his current form continues. A strong display at Celta is badly needed.
Aspas to save Celta again?
If any player in La Liga is even more important to their club’s fortunes than Messi, that man surely is Celta forward Iago Aspas. The hometown hero has recently returned from injury to prompt a remarkable upsurge in form, helping the Galician team gain 12 points from their last seven outings after previously losing 10 of their 12 games without him.
Aspas has scored six goals and assisted four more during that recent run, lifting Celta out of the bottom three in an increasingly closely fought battle against relegation which has the bottom six teams separated by just seven points with three games remaining.
Celta are currently two points better off than Real Valladolid in the last relegation spot, and they will surely never have a better opportunity to beat Barcelona with the visitors set to field effectively a reserve team. And Aspas, assuming he overcomes a minor shoulder injury suffered in last week’s draw at Leganes, will play the lead role in their quest for three vital points.
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