Barcelona have the opportunity to get their La Liga campaign back on track on Sunday, as they host Valencia at the Camp Nou.
It'll be the first time the Blaugrana have been back at their home since the stunning 6-1 win over Paris Saint-Germain in the UEFA Champions League. It was a victory that seemed to leave them running on empty in their last league match, though, as Luis Enrique's side slumped to a shock 2-1 loss to Deportivo La Coruna.
It was a setback that allowed Real Madrid to retake the lead at the top of the table by a point having played a game less than Barcelona. Valencia, having pulled clear of the relegation battle, will be hoping to make the Blaugrana's title push even tougher.
Date: Sunday, March 19
Time: 7:45 p.m. (GMT), 3:45 p.m. (ET)
TV Info: Sky Sports (UK), beIN Sports (U.S.)
Barcelona: Neymar is a doubt for the match having missed last week's loss at Deportivo, as is his compatriot Rafinha. Jeremy Mathieu and Aleix Vidal are both set to miss the clash.
Valencia: Manager Voro will be without the injured Nani for the match as well as Santi Mina. Forward Rodrigo is a long-term absentee.
Likely XI: Diego Alves; Martin Montoya, Ezequiel Garay, Eliaquim Mangala, Jose Gaya; Dani Parejo, Carlos Soler; Joao Cancelo, Fabian Orellana, Munir El Haddadi; Simone Zaza
Team news courtesy of Transfermarkt.
If this showdown at the Camp Nou is anywhere near as dramatic as the reverse fixture at the Mestalla, then those tuning in are in for a treat.
Earlier in the campaign, Barcelona snatched a dramatic late win over Valencia, with Messi tucking home a last-gasp penalty in a 3-2 victory. The celebrations of the Blaugrana stars sparked anger in the stands, and some of the visiting players were struck by a bottle that was tossed from the crowd.
While this game is unlikely to be as fiery, there's plenty riding on it. Especially for Barca, who could see themselves four points behind Madrid at the top come kick-off; Los Blancos do have a testing trip to Athletic Bilbao to overcome on Saturday, though.
Improvements will be needed from the home side. Per Squawka Football, they were well beyond their usual standards at the Riazor:
Squawka Football @Squawka
Barcelona have lost a #LaLiga game for the first time since October 2016 (vs. Celta Vigo), ending a run of 19 league games without defeat. https://t.co/awS108b4Ul3/12/2017, 5:08:57 PM
Luis Enrique had to make some changes to the XI that robbed Barca of their attacking incision. The absence of Neymar, in particular, hindered the Catalan giants.
The Brazilian showed his worth to the team during the win over PSG, as he produced a dazzling spell of football in the final few minutes to haul his side back into the game. Without his driving runs from the flank, quick feet and unpredictability, Deportivo were able to maintain a cohesive defensive shape on Sunday.
There are evidently big issues at the back, too. As noted by WhoScored.com, Umtiti, who also missed the match against Deportivo, has suddenly become an important player for Barcelona:
If there are any frailties in the Barcelona team, Valencia will hope to capitalise. Indeed, they have positive memories of the Camp Nou, having won 2-1 in their last visit in La Liga.
Voro will be hoping to mastermind another shock win over their rivals, but it will be tough. While Valencia have been able to pull away from the relegation battle they looked set to be hauled into earlier on in the campaign, there are still big issues that need resolving at the Mestalla, as was evident in their 1-1 home draw with Sporting Gijon last time out.
Sports journalist Rafael Hernandez feels as though Los Che will be up against a different kind of Barcelona side than the one that struggled against Deportivo:
Rafael Hernández @RafaelH117
One week to rest and focus on beating a tricky Valencia side at the Camp Nou. Rest is all the players need, not pseudo rotations.3/12/2017, 5:20:41 PM
Valencia do have some individuals, including Barcelona loanee Munir, who can trouble the Blaugrana, and after beating Real Madrid recently, there will be confidence of springing another surprise.
However, after a week in which they've been able to recover physically and mentally from the remontada against PSG, expect Barcelona to turn in a much stronger performance than their last outing.
Prediction: Barcelona 3-1 Valencia
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