How Barcelona Will Line Up Against Elche

Jason PettigroveContributor IJanuary 3, 2014

Cesc Fabregas will keep his place for the Elche match.
Cesc Fabregas will keep his place for the Elche match.Denis Doyle/Getty Images

La Liga newcomers Elche are next up at Camp Nou for Barcelona.

A team that has scored less than a goal a game themselves this campaign will be looking to stop the Blaugrana juggernaut and be the first team to beat them on home soil in over a year. It's a tall order.

Barca managed to win every single one of their home league matches throughout 2013, scoring an average of three goals a game.

It would need a turnaround of epic proportions for the visitors to even take a point from this one.

Add in some more layers to the affair—the returns from injury of Lionel Messi and Victor Valdes, players using this game to force their way into Tata Martino's thoughts for the game against Atletico Madrid the week after...

Yet the beauty of football is that it always throws in a surprise or two.

Should Barca not give their opponents full and deserved respect, and if their own game is a little rusty after a two-week winter break, then potentially the Blaugrana could be on the end of a huge upset. 

Atletico find themselves away at Malaga which, although not easy, is still winnable for the mattress makers. With Barca ahead of them on goal difference only, the Elche game is therefore a "must win" before the main event at the Vicente Calderon.

Both Victor Valdes and Lionel Messi return for the visit of Elche.
Both Victor Valdes and Lionel Messi return for the visit of Elche.Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Jose Manuel Pinto makes way for the returning Valdes, but will be back between the posts for the midweek Copa Del Rey game against Getafe. Valdes himself has been keeping in top shape, including having a training session on Christmas Day.

Fran Escriba is likely to set his Elche team up in his favoured 4-2-3-1 attacking formation, so Dani Alves and Jordi Alba's raids down the flanks maybe curtailed. Much will depend on the incisive bursts from Fidel and Carles Gil as they supplement Richmond Boakye in the visitors' attack.

Gerard Pique will, as usual, keep his place in the centre of defence, but who will partner him?

Pique's partnership with Javier Mascherano is becoming more of a laughingstock as the weeks go by, yet Martino seems steadfast in his refusal to break up the pair. This, despite the wonderful form of Marc Bartra.

It's a dangerous game to be playing with the youngster. As Martin Montoya has noted, opportunities are readily available elsewhere (per AS, h/t Sport Witness) and Barca really don't want to risk losing another homegrown centre-back.

Marc Bartra is one of three homegrown players that Barca risk losing in the January window.
Marc Bartra is one of three homegrown players that Barca risk losing in the January window.David Ramos/Getty Images

Despite rumours of a departure continuing to circle Alex Song, per Daily Mirror, he will start in place of Sergio Busquets to anchor a midfield which will include Sergi Roberto and Andres Iniesta.

Some would say that Busquets got himself needlessly booked in the Getafe match; however, it was a canny act from the Catalan. Although the yellow ruled him out of this one, it means his availability for the more important Atletico game is not in question.

Manchester United have declared their interest in signing Roberto, per Metro, after being told of his availability at just £6 million, but Martino needs to inject some positivity around the squad and confidence toward particular players.

With the departure of Montoya now seemingly inevitable, and a baffling lack of game time for Bartra, Roberto's departure would give Barca fans an unwelcome New Year hat-trick.

Messi will be champing at the bit to start the match, but he will come on at the hour mark for Cesc Fabregas

Pedro Rodriguez certainly delivered in the last game against Getafe, so is likely to keep his place ahead of Alexis Sanchez.

In another twist, expect Cristian Tello to get a much-needed start ahead of Neymar after the latter's trek halfway around the world to play in a charity game over the Christmas period.