How Barcelona Will Line Up Against Almeria

Jason PettigroveContributor IFebruary 28, 2014

Lionel Messi was on target in the last match between the two sides.
Lionel Messi was on target in the last match between the two sides.Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Barcelona go into the game against Almeria knowing anything less than three points will be an absolute disaster.

Tata Martino's continued shuffling of the Blaugrana pack was a gamble that backfired against Real Sociedad.

The hosts inflicted Barca's third La Liga defeat of the season which sees them trailing Real Madrid in the title race going into this match.

That Almeria are the visitors to Camp Nou must be something of a godsend for the Argentine. In the last 11 fixtures between the two, Barca have never lost, winning nine and drawing two.

Barca have conceded just five goals during that time whilst scoring 35 themselves and Almeria won't need reminding that one of those fixtures saw Barca record their biggest ever (0-8) away win back in November 2010.

The last time the two did battle back in September Barca completed their best ever start to a league season, per Sam Marsden of the Daily Mirror, but Lionel Messi sustained an injury in the game just after opening the scoring which ruled him out of the following week's Champions League tie against Celtic, amongst other fixtures.

Worryingly for the visitors, Messi is fit and in decent goalscoring form for this one, although Barca find themselves light in other areas.

Gerard Pique, who didn't enjoy his best night's work in San Sebastian, has sustained a thigh injury (per and will play no part in the match. 

Fellow defender Jordi Alba won't be rushed back from the hamstring pull he suffered against Manchester City, so the back line will take on a slightly unfamiliar look.

With Carles Puyol likely to be held in reserve until at least the return against the Citizens, Marc Bartra simply has to now be given a run in the side.

Marc Bartra must be given a run in the side in the absence of Gerard Pique.
Marc Bartra must be given a run in the side in the absence of Gerard Pique.David Ramos/Getty Images

The only other natural centre-back in the squad aside from Messrs. Pique and Puyol, Bartra has waited patiently on the sidelines for his chance. There can be no logical reason why he won't now take his place at the heart of the defence.

Although Javier Mascherano has looked nervous at times this season, the Argentine is a much better fit alongside Bartra than the likes of Alex Song, who had a nightmare against La Real.

Tata can't afford to take any more risks so expect Dani Alves to be reinstated at the expense of Martin Montoya.

Neymar certainly needs games to find his rhythm again, and what better fixture for him to get back in the groove? Rafita could well find it difficult to contain the Brazilian down Almeria's right side, especially if he is ably supported by a rampaging Adriano.

Alexis Sanchez did little to warrant being dropped for the trip to the Anoeta, but with Neymar now likely to be a fixture it's either the Chilean or Pedro Rodriguez who will miss out.

Messi is back on song and causing problems and that spells danger for the visitors, even if they go with a compact but attack-minded 4-2-3-1 formation. The Argentine should find it easy to exploit the space in between a sluggish Ramon Azeez and Angel Trujillo.

Sergio Busquets shouldn't have too much trouble either in curtailing any laboured attacks. A feeble 24 goals in 25 games is indicative of exactly where Almeria's problems lie.

Xavi Hernandez may get some more rest as Tata goes with the same midfield as he did when the teams last met. Cesc Fabregas and Andres Iniesta controlled much of the game that day and will likely do so again.

To say that this is a must-win game for Barca is not overstating the case. With Real and Atletico Madrid contesting the Madrid derby, it's entirely possible that Barca could be back on top of La Liga by the end of the weekend if things go their way.