Following the 0-0 draw in El Clásico, FC Barcelona now host Alavés (Saturday 21 December) in the last game before the Christmas break, with la Liga resuming on January 4 with the derby away to Espanyol.
Barça have stayed top of the league table (on goal difference over Real Madrid), while Alavés are having an erratic season and are fourteenth, and crashed out of the cup to third division Jaen this week.
The game will be preceded by a tribute to the sextuple winning team of 2009, who completed the feat a decade ago when they won the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi.
With Arthur and Ousmane Dembélé already side-lined through injury, Ansu Fati’s name was added to the list of absentees with a bruised hip. The good news is that Sergio Busquets, who went down with a fever this week, is feeling well again and is back in the squad.
Alavés’ 2-1 victory at Camp Nou in September 2016 was a major upset. But the six meetings between the sides since then have all been wins for Barça.
Alavés 0 Barça 6 (Suárez 2, Neymar, Messi, Rakitic)
Barça 3 (Messi, Neymar, Alcácer) Alavés 1 (Copa del Rey Final at Vicente Calderón)
Alavés 0 Barça 2 (Messi 2)
Barça 2 (Suárez, Messi) Alavés 1
Barça 3 (Messi 2, Coutinho) Alavés 0
Alavés 0 Barça 2 (Aleñá, Suárez)
Watch out for Lucas Pérez. Alavés’ top scorer this season scored on two of three visits to Camp Nou as a Deportivo player.
Other than Perez, former Barça midfielder Aleix Vidal is the only Alavés player to have appeared in every game for the team this season.
Former Leganés and Real Sociedad boss Asier Garitano is facing Barça for the sixth time in his career. All five previous attempts have ended in defeats for his teams.
Alavés have only scored four goals in the first halves of Liga games this season. But they have scored 14 after the break.
Alavés also know how to hold onto a lead. They have only been ahead at some point in five of their games so far this season, but each time they have gone on to claim the three points.
Second placed Real Madrid are at home to Athletic Club de Bilbao on Sunday at 9.00pm CET, while third placed Sevilla are at Mallorca on Saturday at 1.00pm CET.
Barça manager Ernesto Valverde: “They have two very good forwards [Lucas Perez and Joselu, whose total of 15 goals this season is only topped by the Messi/Suárez tandem], and although they’re not on a very good run they have always made it hard for us to beat them. It’s important to get a win and end the year on a high.”
Alavés manager Asier Garitano: “After what happened this week [losing to third division Jaen in the cup] I’m happy to be going to Barcelona. It’s our chance to redeem ourselves and show what we can do as a team … It’s not just about stopping Messi, they have a very good squad in general. But we have a plan and need to stop them creating situations in attack and passing the ball around.”
Former Barça man Aleix Vidal now at Alavés: “It’s very special for me to go back to the Camp Nou. I felt very welcome in my three years there and I still believe that Barcelona is the best city that exists … It’ll be very difficult for us to win but our intention is to go there and do that. But we know that our away form is null and they are FC Barcelona.”
Source: FC Barcelona