Barcelona travel to Alaves for their La Liga clash this Tuesday night as they continue to surge towards a second successive title.
The Catalans were bland during their 2-1 victory against Real Sociedad over the weekend, collecting a fortuitous three points courtesy of Clement Lenglet's towering header and a sharp drive from left-back Jordi Alba. The result maintains their nine point advantage at the top of the table, with closest challengers Atletico Madrid having also won on Saturday.
The hosts drew 2-2 against Valladolid and currently lie in eighth place, with the side still vying for qualification for next year's Europa League. They were genuine contenders for a top four finish less than a month ago, before a poor run of form ended any such aspirations.
Check out 90min's preview of the encounter below.
Where to Watch
When is Kick Off?
Tuesday 23 April
What Time is Kick Off?
Where is it Played?
TV Channel/Live Stream?
Premier Sports 1
Javier Alberola Rojas
Wingers Takashi Inui and Burgui are unavailable for Alaves, with the latter not expected back until next season after rupturing his cruciate knee ligament in March. The Japanese international, meanwhile, has a sprained ankle.
The Basque side are also without centre-back Guillermo Maripán who has a similar issue to Inui, both men set to return within the fortnight.
Ernesto Valverde is without just one of his first-team squad members, midfielder Rafinha having been missing since November. He is nearing full fitness after the serious knee injury he sustained over the winter, but Tuesday's clash comes too soon for the Brazilian.
Pacheco; Aguirregabiria, Ely, Laguardia, Marin; Twumasi, Garcia, Pina, Jony; Calleri, Guidetti.
Ter Stegen; Semedo, Pique, Lenglet, Alba; Busquets, Vidal, Arthur; Messi, Coutinho, Suarez.
Head to Head Record
Lionel Messi put on a masterclass in the reverse fixture back in August, hitting a double as Barcelona ran out 3-0 winners. The Argentine sent out an early warning when he crashed a first-half free-kick off of the crossbar before scoring with his next dead-ball attempt, a low effort sneaking past Fernando Pacheco to break the deadlock just after the hour.
Alaves were fortunate once more when Messi whipped a sumptuous curling shot off of the outside of the post minutes later, but they soon crumbled. Philippe Coutinho hammered a rasping drive home in the closing stages before the five-time Ballon d'Or winner brought the Camp Nou to its feet with a tidy near-post finish.
That success took Barça to double figures in total wins over Tuesday's opponents, with the league leaders having lost just once to Alaves in their history. The latter have never won a home fixture against La Blaugrana, their sole victory coming at the Camp Nou in late 2016. A single draw - a goalless affair back in 2005 - completes the all-time record.
Abelardo Fernández's recruits are winless in the past month, their last triumph coming in a 3-1 victory away to Huesca. Since then they have lost three and drawn two of their La Liga fixtures, scoring four goals and conceding 11.
By contrast, Barcelona have not lost since late January, Sevilla securing a 2-0 lead in the first leg of their Copa del Rey tie. Valverde's men hit them for six in the return fixture to ease into the next round, no side having overcome them since. They are firmly on course for the treble after dismissing Manchester United 4-0 on aggregate in their Champions League quarter-final tie and easing past Real Madrid in the cup semis.
The 2-1 win over Sociedad followed up a drab 0-0 away to Huesca the previous weekend, though crucially the Catalans beat rivals Atletico Madrid 2-0 in their top of the table clash two weeks ago.
Here's how the two teams got on in their last five fixtures:
Alaves 2-2 Valladolid (19/4)
Barcelona 2-1 Real Sociedad (20/4)
Espanyol 2-1 Alaves (13/4)
Barcelona 3-0 Manchester United (16/4)
Alaves 1-1 Leganes (07/4)
Huesca 0-0 Barcelona (13/4)
Sevilla 2-0 Alaves (04/4)
Manchester United 0-1 Barcelona (10/4)
Alaves 0-4 Atletico Madrid (30/3)
Barcelona 2-0 Atletico Madrid (06/4)
The midweek meeting with the Red Devils appeared to have taken its toll on Barça as they stumbled to a win over Sociedad in the following game. The usually reliable Suarez was noticeably off of the pace, whilst Messi lacked his usual killer edge.
If they repeat that sub-par performance against Alaves they may well drop points in the title race, though they have a healthy cushion that would allow them to do so without any major repercussions.
Nevertheless, Valverde will be eager to get the top spot in La Liga secured as early as possible so the side's focus can switch to matters in Europe and the Copa del Rey. With that being the case, he will demand significant improvement from Saturday's outing, with Alaves likely to suffer as a consequence.
Prediction: Alaves 0-2 Barcelona