Barcelona welcome Real Sociedad to the Camp Nou as they edge closer towards a second successive La Liga title.
The Catalans dumped Manchester United out of the Champions League on Tuesday night, as a brace from Lionel Messi and a second-half strike from Philippe Coutinho secured a 4-0 aggregate victory. They were held to a dismal 0-0 by Huesca in the league last weekend having rested a host of first choice players, though the preceding defeat of rivals Atletico Madrid all but sealed their Spanish crown.
Sociedad also drew their last fixture, a late effort from Eibar's Joan Jordán cancelling out Juanmi's first-minute opener. That result leaves the club in 10th position in the table, with Europa League qualification now seemingly beyond them.
Check out 90min's preview of the encounter below.
Where to Watch
|When is Kick Off?||Saturday 20 April|
|What Time is Kick Off?||19:45 (BST)|
|Where is it Played?||Camp Nou|
|TV Channel/Live Stream?||ITV 4|
|Referee?||Jesús Gil Manzano|
There are no fresh injury concerns for the champions as centre-back Thomas Vermaelen continues his recovery from a thigh strain he picked up at the start of the month. Long-term absentee Rafinha is not expected to return this season, a cruciate knee ligament rupture having kept him out since November.
The visitors are deprived of a catalogue of senior players, with former Manchester United winger Adnan Januzaj the latest to pick up an injury. He sustained knee damage a fortnight ago, whilst a similar problem has kept fellow wideman Martín Merquelanz out since the beginning of the campaign.
Midfield duo Asier Illarramendi and David Zurutuza both have hamstring issues, whilst defenders Andoni Gorosabel and Kévin Rodrigues have a fractured metatarsal and sprained ankle, respectively.
|Barcelona||Ter Stegen; Roberto, Pique, Umtiti, Alba; Vidal, Rakitić, Arthur; Dembélé, Messi, Suárez.|
|Real Sociedad||Rulli; Zaldúa, Elustondo, Llorente, Muñoz; Zubeldia, Merino, Muguruza, Sangalli, Oyarzabal; Juanmi.|
Head to Head Record
Barça overturned a half-time deficit to take all three points in the first meeting between these two sides back in September. Aritz Elustondo lashed in for Real Sociedad after their opponents had failed to clear a free-kick, before a quick-fire double turned the game on its head.
The home side were equally incompetent in their attempts to get rid of the danger at consecutive corners, Suárez and Ousmane Dembélé both sweeping home after a game of pinball in the box. That three-minute period of madness proved enough for Barcelona to record a scrappy victory.
That was the fourth straight win for Valverde's men in this fixture, the side from the Basque country last defeating the Catalans over three years ago.
Barcelona have fared significantly better in past match-ups, emerging triumphant on 18 occasions. They have lost a mere five times, also drawing four.
Sociedad have only been beaten once in their previous five fixtures, with lowly Celta Vigo claiming a 3-1 win following striker Willian José's dismissal minutes after the break. However, their sole victory in that run came against Real Betis at the beginning of April.
Barcelona go into the encounter off the back of a sterling string of results, including a convincing double over Premier League side Manchester United in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Those 3-0 and 1-0 successes sandwiched the draw at Huesca, though the latter is unlikely to have any bearing on the destination of the title.
#MESSI! #MESSI! #MESSI! #MESSI! #MESSI! #MESSI! #MESSI! #MESSI! #MESSI! #MESSI! #MESSI! #MESSI! #MESSI! #MESSI! #MESSI! #MESSI! #MESSI! #MESSI! #MESSI! #MESSI! #MESSI! #MESSI! #MESSI! #MESSI! #MESSI! #MESSI! #MESSI! #MESSI! #MESSI! #MESSI! #MESSI! #MESSI! #MESSI! #MESSI! #MESSI!— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) April 16, 2019
Argentine maestro Messi has been scintillating in recent weeks, his double against the Red Devils taking his season's goal tally to a remarkable 45. He has scored eight in his last five La Liga appearances, with a sumptuous hat-trick at Betis showcasing his talent.
Here's how the two teams got on in their previous five games:
|Barcelona 3-0 Manchester United (16/4)||Real Sociedad 1-1 Eibar (14/4)|
|Huesca 0-0 Barcelona (13/4)||Celta Vigo 3-1 Real Sociedad (07/4)|
|Manchester United 0-1 Barcelona (10/4)||Real Sociedad 2-1 Real Betis (04/4)|
|Barcelona 2-0 Atletico Madrid (06/4)||Valladolid 1-1 Real Sociedad (31/3)|
|Villarreal 4-4 Barcelona (02/4)||Real Sociedad 1-1 Levante (15/3)|
Despite drawing two of their last three in the league, Barça will be brimming with confidence. The emphatic victory over United in midweek demonstrated their ability to put opponents to the sword, especially when Messi is on song.
The diminutive wizard has hit a purple patch in recent weeks, now looking capable of winning games single-handedly. Sociedad will be dreading the prospect of facing him after their indifferent performances and results of late.
Such a mentality should see Barcelona comfortably overcome the men from the north with another Messi masterclass on the cards.
Prediction: Barcelona 4-1 Real Sociedad