When FC Barcelona take to the field at the Camp Nou on Saturday, it is the last time they will play in front of their own fans for a fortnight prior to heading off on the road for a pair of tough away tests.
Before them this afternoon stand 13th-ranked Eibar, against whom they acheived their first road win since April of that year in October 2019, via a 0-3 romp that saw all three components of the ‘MSG’ trident – Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Antoine Griezmann – enjoy a maiden outing on the same scoresheet.
Much has changed since then however, with Suarez picking up a knee knock in the Spanish Super Cup semi final loss to Atletico Madrid in January and ruled out until April, while previous coach Ernesto Valverde received his marching orders swiftly after.
Under Quique Setien, then, Barça’s first XI is set to assume a different form compared to the previous encounter these two sides had.
Between the sticks, Marc-Andre Ter Stegen will seek to keep his first clean sheet in six matches – the 5-0 pummeling of Leganes in the Copa Del Rey – while protected by a front line of Junior Firpo (standing in for the injured Jordi Alba), Samuel Umtiti, Gerard Pique and Nelson Semedo from left to right.
In midfield, Mundo Deportivo believes that Ivan Rakitic will be afforded a rare start by Setien behind his younger contemporaries Frenkie de Jong and Arthur, who has just returned to full fitness while impressive in the 2-1 pipping of Getafe last weekend.
Up top, it is not expected that new signing from Leganes, Martin Braithwaite, will be thrown straight in at the deep end, with Setien implying as much in his prematch press conference on Friday.
“We will decide, but it would be a bit premature,” Setien admitted. “He comes in perfect condition but there are concepts that we still have to explain and he must learn. But we are sure that he will help us a lot.”
“We have a lot of faith in Braithwaite because we have been following him for a long time and we know what he can contribute. Not only because of his quality but also because his head works very well,” it was stressed.
Due to this, a trident of 17-year-old Ansu Fati, Griezmann and Messi can attempt to further develop their chemistry with vital showdowns at Napoli in the Champions League on Tuesday and Real Madrid in El Clasico next Sunday awaiting.
Wishing to keep the focus firmly on Eibar, Setien said that his men “are very conscientious of this match that we have left before facing three other important ones”. “But the first one is Eibar and we have tried to [take it on board mentally] and face it as if it were a final,” he revealed. “Adding the three points is vital because this will not only allow us to be there [in the title race] but also reinforce us for what comes our way. We must do things well even if we think it will be easy because it will not be.”
Over the past five seasons, FCB have won every match they have had in La Liga before their last 16 fixture on the continent – a favourable statistic they will look to prolong at 16.00 CET/10.00 ET.