Barcelona can experiment with a front four against Real Sociedad

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After easing past Manchester United in the quarter-final of the Champions League and progressing to the semis for the first time in three seasons, Barcelona turn their attention back to their La Liga campaign as they host Real Sociedad.

The league leaders will be looking to get back to winning ways after a stutter at Huesca where a second-string side played out a goal-less draw.

We take a look at the talking points ahead of the big game.

Wrap up the league title

messi

The lead at the top is a major advantage Barcelona hold over Liverpool before the pair locks horns in the semis. Ernesto Valverde’s men need just nine points in six games to wrap up the league title, whereas Liverpool might have to wait until the last game of the season.

This would allow Barcelona to rotate heavily, like they did against Huesca and hence have fresh legs for the semi-final tie.

Mathematically, the Catalans can be crowned champions as early as on Tuesday, when they take on Alaves.

Should Barcelona win both their matches and Atletico Madrid drop three points or more in their games against Alaves and Valencia in the coming week, Valverde’s side will be crowned champions.

This would then allow them complete liberty to rotate against Levante next weekend, three days prior to the all-important Champions League tie.

This should present Valverde extra incentive to go all guns blazing against Sociedad as it can potentially set the tone for the final stretch of games.

Will we see a front four?

Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho

Philippe Coutinho’s tremendous strike from distance against Manchester United which all but confirmed the tie in Barcelona’s was a clear indication of what he can do. He has scored such goals routinely in the Premier League, but the teams in La Liga know better than to give him acres of space in that part of the pitch.

One of the few times he succeeded in guiding a long-ranger home in a Barcelona shirt was in the same fixture last season. Another notable screamer was produced against Girona last season on a rare occasion when all four of Coutinho, Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi and Ousmane Dembele started together. The game ended 6-1 in Barcelona’s favour.

Messi is in great form and Suarez has always performed well on English soil. Dembele is a game-changer in his own right and Coutinho too is beginning to impress after a woeful season.

This could be the perfect time for Valverde to experiment starting all these players together. A 4-4-2 formation turning into a 4-2-4 in attack can spell danger if the front-line performs. This can then serve as a blue-print for when Barcelona need to switch into an all-out-attack mode in the Champions League.

Real Sociedad look to end woeful run?

At one point in February, Sociedad were seventh in the league and just three points away from a Champions League spot. Now they need to overcome a five-point deficit to leapfrog Real Betis, Alaves and replace seventh-placed Athletic Bilbao to stand a chance of qualifying for the Europa League.

La Real have endured eight games with just one win in the league and will be looking to get back to winning ways at the Camp Nou.

With Alaves, Bilbao and Betis facing a tougher run of fixtures in the concluding stages, Sociedad could fancy a shot at a Europa League qualifier spot.

However, they know that this is no easy task, given they have lost their last six games at the Camp Nou.

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Jan Oblak signs new Atletico Madrid deal with huge release clause

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Jan Oblak has become one of the world's best goalkeepers at Atletico.

Slovenia goalkeeper Jan Oblak has signed a new contract at Atletico Madrid in a deal that will keep him in the Spanish capital until 2023.

Oblak has risen to become one of the world’s best goalkeepers since joining Atletico in 2014, and has recently been catching the eye of several clubs across Europe.

Manchester United were said to be among the clubs keeping tabs on the 26-year-old as they brace for the possible exit of David De Gea, but the latest development makes it unlikely that Oblak leaves this summer.

According to The Mirror, Oblak’s new contract contains a release clause of €120 million, which would make him the most expensive goalkeeper in history if anyone were to activate that option.

After leaving Benfica in 2014, Oblak has made 203 appearances for Atletico, keeping 115 clean sheets while helping the club win the 2018 Europa League and UEFA Super Cup titles. The club have also usurped Real Madrid in La Liga during Oblak’s tenure, finishing ahead of their city rivals last season and looking likely to repeat the feat in the ongoing campaign, where they are set for a second consecutive second-place finish, albeit yet again far behind leaders and defending league champions Barcelona.

“I’m very happy to have signed a contract extension and to be here. I’m going to defend these colours to the best of my abilities and continue working hard,” Oblak told the club’s official website.

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Real Madrid boss Zidane demands more from players after Leganes draw

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The Real Madrid boss was not a happy man after the 1-1 draw.

Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane declared he and his players had a duty to improve after they were held 1-1 at Leganes.

Jonathan Silva fired Leganes into the lead on the stroke of half-time before Karim Benzema‘s 27th goal of the season in all competitions hauled Real level early in the second period.

It was another lacklustre display from Zidane’s side, who have little left to play for this season, save for a fight with city rivals Atletico Madrid for second place, after being knocked out of the Champions League and Copa del Rey.

“I as the coach and they as the players have to try,” Zidane told a press conference. “We have to try and perform better because it’s our duty.

“We didn’t have a good first half, but improved after the break. We all have to give a bit more.”

Benzema has scored seven goals in Real’s last six league games and Zidane paid tribute to the France striker as speculation mounts over his future.

“Benzema is having a very good season, particularly as far as goals are concerned,” Zidane said. “He’s a fantastic player and this season he’s scoring far more goals. I’m delighted for him.

“He’s used to rumours, but that won’t change anything for him. He’s shown his character and he’s doing a good job for the team.”

Gareth Bale was introduced as an 81st-minute substitute and made little impact.

“Bale is an important player in this squad,” added Zidane, who gave the Wales forward no assurances over his future last week after he had been booed off at the end of Real’s narrow win over Eibar.

“I wanted to make changes today and that’s it. It’s difficult to get into a game when you only play 10 or 15 minutes, but substitutions are made to change the game and we were unable to do that.”

Leganes are unbeaten in their last four games and have moved up three places to 11th in the table, but boss Mauricio Pellegrino is not yet satisfied.

“We will try to do our best until the end of the season,” he told a press conference. “It’s not the same for the club to go 10th and 16th, we’ll go for more.

“The team has been competing well, better and better. We are going from less to more and it is good news for the family of peppers.”

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