Barcelona step into their first outing of 2016 with manager Luis Enrique still demanding they have to improve on their huge recent in the coming 12 months.
They visit city rivals Espanyol in La Liga knowing that a win against Espanyol and second-placed Atletico Madrid failing to defeat Levante later on Saturday, can lead them three points clear in the league summit by this weekend’s conclusion and might go on with their status as favourites to retain the Spanish silverware.
After a sensational year in which the lethal combination of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar guided them to five trophies, they followed clinching the treble with the European Super Cup and Club World Cup, only surprisingly losing their domestic Super Cup at the hands of Athletic Bilbao, and also claiming a new Spanish record of netting 180 goals in a calendar year, Louis Enrique now wants even more.
There is no new injury concern for Barcelona ahead of the Catalan derby. The transfer ban which has prevented the two summer signings Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal from making their debuts has now finished but the LFP rules will continue to apply and both of them are therefore is expected not to feature in this Catalan derby, rather we can look forward to mentioning the pair in midweek for Barcelona’s Copa del Rey first leg match against the same opposition at Camp Nou.
Claudio Bravo most likely to start in goal and the Chilean is desperate to keep his fourth consecutive clean sheet in all competitions.
Bravo will be assisted by a backline of Dani Alves, Gerard Pique, Javier Mascherano and Jordi Alba. Pique and Alba both sat out the victory over Real Betis in its entirety that means the defensive pair be fresh and ready hit hard. Mascherano was shifted around a few different positions with each of Barca boss’ substitutions, so there is a mere possibility he could be benched and Mathieu gets the nod.
Ahead of the back four, Sergio Busquets who was rested once the three points were secured in their last outing on Wednesday, should start again in the Catalan derby. Andres Iniesta also likely to return to captain the squad, after Luis Enrique gave Messi a chance to lead the squad in his 500th appearance for Barcelona. Iniesta will be paired with his latest partner in midfield, Sergi Roberto. The Brazilian seems to be in slight better form and also got a few minutes rest at the end of the Betis game ahead of Rakitic, whom Enrique could use as a super-sub.
Certainly the front three pick themselves without any doubt. Neymar was really unfortunate among the trio not to get his name on the scoresheet on Wednesday outing, but the Brazilian maestro did produce some of the most amazing dazzles of the game in his own right with a flurry of memorable moments. On another night he would have blasted the goal anyway, either by calmly converting that penalty, or by facing a goalkeeper in less inspired form than Antonio Adan. With Messi snatching a goal, is the Argentine superstar back to his best yet? It would be entertaining obviously to have him back grabbing a goal or three in every match he starts. However, there was a concern over Lionel Messi’s fitness as he was feared to have a slight hip problem after a clash with Antonio Adan against Real Betis, but later scans revealed nothing severe, as he is all set to take the field yet again.