Barcelona talking points as Luis Suarez looks to arrest slump at Alaves

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A Barcelona title parade may well be in the works already with second-placed Atletico Madrid a safe distance away but there are still points to play for, three of which will be on offer at Alaves on Wednesday.

Abelado Fernandez’s side have the unenviable task of welcoming the La Liga champions in waiting, bidding to delay their coronation.

The Catalans however are chasing a historic third treble and will want to sew up the domestic league sooner rather than later.

LENGLET PROVING HIS WORTH

As far as Barcelona’s personnel issues go, there’s none more concerning than the steady decline of Samuel Umtiti. Having arrived from Lyon in the summer of 2016, the Frenchman was expected to be a pillar in defence for years to come and initially showed signs of fulfilling his role as such.

His form during the first half of last season in particular, as a more stable Barca side coped with the departure of Neymar, suggested that he was the centre-back extraordinaire the Catalans had yearned for to partner Gerard Pique. Instead, recurring injuries have taken their toll and even when fit now, Umtiti is struggling to get back to his best.

Fortunately, Clement Lenglet’s arrival in the summer has been a blessing. Not only has the former Sevilla defender slotted in alongside Pique effortlessly, but has even out-performed his central defensive partner.

The 23-year-old rarely succumbs to mistakes – something Pique seems to be growing prone to – and on current form should be the number one centre-back at the club. His goal against Real Sociedad over the weekend only highlighted his contribution this term.

STUTTERING SUAREZ

Luis Suarez has scored 20 goals in 31 games across all competitions this season. At first glance, that record doesn’t seem half-bad but given his pedigree and the fact that he’s Barcelona’s number nine, he really should be delivering more.

The Uruguayan has endured some notable droughts earlier this campaign. He scored in just one game in November not long after a six-game goalless run.

Given his tenacious style of play with much of his best work traditionally coming from relentlessly running the channels and quick bursts of acceleration, it’s only natural that he would begin to slow down at the age of 32.

It doesn’t help either that Kevin-Prince Boateng, signed in January as his deputy, has so far proved to be a dud. Suarez hasn’t scored in his last three games and a poor display against Sociedad which yielded just one attempt at goal reeks of another potential drought around the corner.

With a Champions League date set with former employers Liverpool, the striker can’t afford to play himself into a rut. That’s why it’s important he nets before then and Alaves serves up his first opportunity to arrest what could develop into a slump.

Luis Suarez.

Luis Suarez.

CONTRASTING FORM

It’s no secret that Barcelona are eager to wrap up the title as soon as possible and on current form, Wednesday should take them a step closer to achieving their target.

Alaves welcome Barcelona to the Mendizorrotza Stadium having failed to win a single game in the last month with their most recent triumph coming in mid March away to rock-bottom side Huesca. Having impressed for much of the season, their recent dip in form has dealt a blow to their European credentials though they remain eighth, six points from a Europa League spot.

Barcelona on the other hand haven’t tasted defeat in the league since ending up on the wrong end of a 4-3 thriller at home to Real Betis in November.

The victory over Real Sociedad on Saturday has left the Catalans requiring just two more wins – assuming Atletico Madrid don’t slip up. Given the incentive to then focus on the Champions League where they face Liverpool in the semi-finals, there should be no shortage of motivation to get over the finish line sooner rather than later.

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Watch: Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone weighs in on Alvaro Morata-referee controversy

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Alvaro Morata

Atletico Madrid needed Thomas Lemar to come off the bench and score an 85th-minute winner against Eibar on Saturday as they stretched their lead over Real Madrid to seven points in La Liga.

Real play at home to in-form Athletic Bilbao on Sunday but Atletico took another step towards finishing above their city rivals for a second consecutive year by squeezing past Eibar 1-0 at Ipurua.

Without Antoine Griezmann and Diego Costa, who were both suspended, Diego Simeone’s side looked set for a stalemate that would have given Real at least a sniff of second place.

Instead Lemar, on as a substitute, tucked home at the back post to end Eibar’s resistance and reduce the gap behind run-away leaders Barcelona to six points.

Eibar have now won only once in their last eight games and stay 13th.








Lemar’s goal will have done his confidence no harm either, after a difficult debut season with Atleti, who paid €60 million to sign the Frenchman from Monaco last summer. Simeone will hope for more from the 23-year-old next term.


Speaking after the game, however, Simeone pointed to a controversial incident between Alberola Rojas and Alvaro Morata where the referee slapped the Atletico man on the back of the neck.


Watch the Atletico boss had to say in the clip above.




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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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