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Following the disappointments at the Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia, and then of elimination from the Copa del Rey at the hands of Athletic Club, FC Barcelona’s attention now returns to La Liga and a trip straight back to the Basque Country to take on Alavés (Sunday 9.00pm CET).
Since the 1-0 defeat at home to Betis in early December, the team finally started picking up a run of decent form and was knocking on the door of the all-important top four positions that give access to the Champions League next season.
But a 1-1 draw with Granada was a step in the wrong direction, and Barça now lie sixth, albeit still just a single point adrift of fourth-placed Atlético Madrid, who they play next in what, extraordinarily, will be their first game of 2022 at Camp Nou. That game will come on the other side of the first international break of 2022.
On paper, this should be a good opportunity for Barça to collect three important points. Alavés are currently third from bottom in the table and are winless in their last nine games. But it should also be noted that Alavés managed a 1-1 draw at Camp Nou earlier this season, and that was also the score the last time Barça visited Mendizorrotza...
"Alavés play a similar system to Athletic, so it will be a similar game. We really need the three points to get our confidence back. It’s urgent for us.”
"We analysed the game in Bilbao. They beat us on intensity, on heart. There are values at this club that must always be present and on Thursday they weren’t there. We didn’t match them on intensity. Tomorrow in Vitoria it’ll be practically the same.”
“We need to work more on our ideas, our style. We need to compete harder because it’s not earning us results. We need to grit our teeth and work harder.”
“I appreciate the criticism and I know where I am. There are no transition years at Barça. This is not an easy time … It seems to be taking longer than I thought and what worries most are results. And we’re just not getting them.”
Luuk De Jong returns from suspension and is one of 21 players called up by Xavi for this match. The full squad is: Ter Stegen, Dest, Piqué, R. Araujo, Sergio, Riqui Puig, Dani Alves, Braithwaite, Neto, Nico, Lenglet, Pedri, L. De Jong, Jordi Alba, Ferran, F. De Jong, O. Mingueza, Jutglà, Gavi, Balde, Ez Bade and Arnau Tenas.
The absentees include Dembélé, who wasn't selected by the coaching team, with injuries keeping out Memphis, Sergi Roberto, Umtiti, Eric Garcia and Ansu Fati, who is injured again. “We are frustrated and sad about because we tried to be careful and this is a huge setback” said Xavi. “We only wanted to give him a few minutes but then the game went into extra time. But we have the best doctors here.”
Did you know?
25 different players have worn the Barça jersey over the years, from José Arana who moved to Barcelona from Vitoria in 1934 to Aleix Vidal, who was at Barça from 2015 to 2018 and at Alavés in 2019/20. The other players that have represented both clubs include Andoni Zubizarreta, Ernesto Valverde, Julio Salinas, Jordi Cruyff, Bojan Krkic and Munir El Haddadi.
With a 53.3% win rate, Barça have had a generally positive record away to Alavés over the years. During the Basques’ latest spell in the top flight, which has lasted since 2017, they have won four and drawn one game at Mendizorrotza, a stadium where they have not lost since 2001. In seven league visits since then, Barça have scored 16 goals and conceded just one.
This is the first time Barça have faced Alavés under José Luis Mendilibar, but they have come up against the much-travelled coach no fewer than 25 times in the past. The Catalans’ overall record is 21 wins, three draws and just one defeat.
Xavi had a fine record against Alavés as a player, with five wins, two draws and two defeats, including one goal.
Joselu is very much the man to look out for. He has scored 10 of his team’s goals this season, and no other player has netted more than twice. The former Deportivo, Newcastle and Stoke striker is the sixth highest goalscorer in La Liga.
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