How Barcelona Will Line Up Against Almeria
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After a two-year absence from the top flight, Almeria would've hoped for better than an opening-day defeat to fellow promoted side Villarreal, and their form hasn't really picked up since then.
Still without a win, Francisco Gonzalez's men could well do without a rampant Barca coming to town. The last time La Blaugrana set foot in Almeria, in November 2010, they walked away with their record away win, an astonishing 8-0 victory which saw Juan Manuel Lillo dismissed immediately afterward.
That they are already playing with a confidence and swagger spells danger for the hosts again, and for the rest of the league in general.
Perhaps just as importantly, Gerardo Martino appears to have found the "Plan B" that Barca have spent an age searching for. The long-ball game that has been employed on quite a few occasions already this season won't assuage the purists, but you can't argue with the results.
Martino will ensure Almeria are given due and appropriate respect, but the game does give him another opportunity to rotate his squad, with the visit to Celtic in mind.
Marc Bartra has been champing at the bit to get some minutes in, and after Javier Mascherano's untimely injury, this match is the perfect opportunity for him to start. Of all the star names, Gerard Pique has been the one who probably should have been rested, but Mascherano's absence has certainly done him a favour.
Almeria will bring a reasonable goal threat into the match. Suso Fernandez and Rodri—Almeria's best performing players, via WhoScored.com, and on loan from Liverpool and Barca B, respectively—have been amongst the goals and assists, and the latter especially would like to put one over his employers.
Barca are hardly likely to allow him the time and space he has been afforded during games already this season, however, with Martin Montoya and Adriano Correia shoring up a new-look back four.
Rodriguez is likely to play his favoured, and attacking, 4-2-3-1 formation with Aleix Vidal and Fernando Soriano providing able support and purpose going forward, and it's for this reason that Gerardo Martino will stick with Sergio Busquets as defensive anchor.
Alex Song certainly didn't disgrace himself against Rayo Vallecano, but Busquets' superior all-round play gets him the nod in this one. Andres Iniesta will orchestrate the midfield along with Cesc Fabregas. Left out of the squad completely for the visit of Sociedad, Fabregas' return allows Xavi Hernandez another rest.
Iniesta will need to up his game sufficiently if he wants to be considered as a regular starter. His contract talks are at an advanced, but still not complete, stage, and this unnecessary distraction perhaps explains why the player has yet to hit top form this season. Further, Fabregas has provided incisive contributions whenever he has played, and going forward may well be preferred as Xavi's "wing man."
This could be the match where Neymar finally sees his industry rewarded in goals. The ageing Rafita, at 31, will be no match for the skillful and razor-sharp Brazilian, who could well add to his tally of a solitary La Liga goal.
Lionel Messi will play. Messi always plays. On current form, he represents the biggest danger to Almeria, and their gravitas toward him is likely open up the channels for Neymar and the on-rushing Fabregas.
Pedro's hat-trick against Rayo gives the manager some food for thought, but he may decide to keep his potency in reserve for the Celtic game. If so, expect Cristian Tello's speed to win out over Alexis Sanchez's industry to complete the lineup.
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