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FC Barcelona return to action after the festive break with the first of an unusually high number of away fixtures in the first month of 2022. And while Xavi Hernández already had more than his fair share of injuries to deal with, his troubles have been exasperated by a number of Covid-19 cases in the squad.
The coach even suggested that suspending the game might have been the most sensible option, but the Sunday 9.00pm CET kick-off is going ahead as planned.
The destination is Mallorca, home of a side that Barça have typically picked up good results against and whose form since returning to the top flight has been somewhat erratic. But the islanders have proved much stronger in their home stadium, where only Osasuna have managed to collect three points this term.
2021/22 may not have been the best of seasons so far for the Catalans, but there was a marked improvement in December. They now lie seventh in the table, having closed the gap on the Champions League places to two points.
In keeping with new La Liga regulations, the Visit Mallorca Stadium will only be 75% full for this fixture.
Xavi Hernández has faced unprecedented problems putting a squad together for this game. Martin Braithwaite, Sergi Roberto, Pedri, Ansu Fati and Memphis Depay are all out through injury. The latter three are all making excellent progress but the coach insists that none of them are quite ready to make their returns. Meanwhile, brand new signing Ferran Torres is not eligible to play until January 3, but would have been unable to make his debut anyway due to a fractured metatarsal.
But the team is also depleted by Covid-19 cases affecting Gavi (who was suspended for this game anyway), Ousmane Dembélé, Sergiño Dest, Philippe Coutinho, Ez Abde, Dani Alves, Jordi Alba and Alex Balde. But there was also some good news when both Samuel Umtiti and Clement Lenglet were tested negative in PCRs on Saturday.
To add to the worries, Sergio Busquets is on a yellow card suspension. It means no fewer than nine players from Barça B and the U19s (plus goalkeeper Iñaki Peña) are included in the list of 21.
These include first-ever call-ups for 18-year-old right winger Estanis Pedrola, who joined the club from Reus earlier this year, and 21-year-old Brazilian-born midfielder Lucas de Vega.
"We have 17-18 players missing. The game should be suspended. It adulterates the competition. Mallorca asked for it too. Games were suspended when some South Americans couldn’t play. It’s not a complaint; it’s common sense. But if La Liga insists, then we’ll play. It’s a chaotic situation, but we’ll draw on the reserves and try to put together a winning team.”
“But I’m worried and it’s a somewhat decaffeinated game, both for us and for Mallorca. And there could still be more Covid cases on both teams, we are still doing tests.”
"The team’s self-esteem has grown. We subdued Sevilla and only failed to win because of tiny details. And we played our best football against Elche. We have taken huge strides closer to what we are looking for.”
The last time we met
The last encounter was a 4-0 win for Barça at the Visit Mallorca Stadium on 13 June 2020. Arturo Vidal, Martin Braithwaite, Jordi Alba and Leo Messi scored the goals.
Did you know?
Barça have won 11 of their last 12 league games in Mallorca, and the only defeat, in May 2009, came after the league title had already been decided.
Barça have not lost the first game of a new year since a loss to Real Sociedad in 2015.
The only Mallorca player to have scored against Barça before is Angel Rodriguez, while none of their players have done so playing for their current team.
Six of Mallorca’s nine games at the Visit Mallorca Stadium this season have ended in draws.
Xavi's first ever goal for Barça was against Mallorca. It came in the 1998 Spanish Super Cup (see video below)
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