Barcelona face Celta Vigo on Saturday afternoon in the next instalment of an increasingly tight La Liga title race.
The Catalan giants are level on points with the old enemy Real Madrid but trail Los Blancos thanks to an inferior head-to-head record. With seven games to go, Barcelona’s title aspirations are out of their hands.
Celta Vigo’s focus lies at the opposite end of the table. Going into the enforced hiatus, Celta were just one point above the relegation zone. However, two wins and a draw from their last three matches has opened up a seven point cushion above 18th-placed Mallorca.
Safety is far from a guarantee, but any points against title-chasing Barcelona will be seen as a bonus, rather than a necessity following that uptick in form.
When Is Kick Off? Saturday 27 June
What Time Is Kick Off? 16:00 (BST)
Where Is it Played? Estadio Abanca Balaídos
TV Channel/Live Stream? LaLiga TV (UK), beIN Sports (US)
Referee? Guillermo Cuadra Fernández
Aside from left-back David Juncà and second choice goalkeeper Sergio Álvarez, Celta can point towards a fully fit squad for Saturday’s match.
The visitors, however, have had their small squad reduced even further as Frenkie de Jong picked up a calf injury last time out. Meanwhile, Ousmane Dembélé’s long-term absence continues.
A booking for Sergio Busquets against Athletic Club also rules him out of this clash but does make him available for the crucial meeting with Atlético Madrid on Tuesday.
Celta Vigo: Blanco; Vázquez, Murillo, Aidoo, Olaza; Rafinha, Bradaric, Beltrán; Aspas, Smolov, D. Suárez
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Semedo, Piqué, Lenglet, Firpo; Puig, Rakitic, Arthur; Messi, Braithwaite, Fati
After four goalless games on the trot, Celta delivered one of the surprises of the resumed La Liga season when they rattled six unanswered goals past Alavés on Sunday. The Celestes followed up this bludgeoning with an eyebrow raising 1-0 victory away to Champions League-chasing Real Sociedad.
Iago Aspas converted a penalty in first half injury time for the only goal of the game in San Sebastián and, as ever, the former Liverpool forward is fundamental to the team’s success. His 11 league goals account for almost 40% of Celta’s overall tally and with two in two games he has continued that form after the break.
Barcelona loanee Rafinha can match Aspas’ goal return since the restart and is eligible to play against his parent club. Unfortunately for Celta, the Brazilian’s former teammate Lionel Messi has also hit the ground running post-lockdown, having been involved in five of Barcelona’s eight goals in June.
Following the disappointing clásico defeat to Real Madrid in March, Barcelona have kept five consecutive clean sheets, going over seven hours of play without conceding. And despite the recent flurry of offensive activity, Celta don’t pose a particularly potent threat to ending that streak – only three teams have scored fewer La Liga goals than the Sky Blues this season.
Here’s a look at the five most recent results for both sides.
Real Sociedad 0-1 Celta Vigo (24/06)
Celta Vigo 6-0 Alavés (21/06)
Real Valladolid 0-0 Celta Vigo (17/06)
Celta Vigo 0-1 Villarreal (13/06)
Getafe 0-0 Celta Vigo (07/03)
Barcelona 1-0 Athletic Club (23/06)
Sevilla 0-0 Barcelona (19/06)
Barcelona 2-0 Leganés (160/6)
Mallorca 0-4 Barcelona (13/06)
Barcelona 1-0 Real Sociedad (07/03)
In the week that Lionel Messi’s myriad of accomplishments are poured over as he turns 33, can the great man add: ‘Scorer of 700 career goals’ to the list?
At times Barcelona’s reliance on the Argentinian is almost suffocating. Yet, Messi invariably comes up with the crucial goal and/or assist to keep Barcelona in this title race and in the reverse fixture he netted a hat-trick including two direct free-kicks.
With a visit from Atlético Madrid on the horizon, there is little room for anything other than three points and even though Celta have enjoyed a post-pandemic purple patch, Barcelona – and Messi – should have too much quality for these tricky opponents.
Prediction: Celta Vigo 0-2 Barcelona