PREVIEW: Elche v FC Barcelona

PREVIEW: Elche v FC Barcelona

Nobody has won at the Martínez Valero since Francisco took charge of Elche. Will Barça continue their fine form by becoming the first?

February was a brilliant month for FC Barcelona. They were undefeated in six games in all competitions, scoring 19 goals in the process, progressing to the last 16 of the Europa League and moving into the top four of the Liga table.

With the football looking tastier with every game, the winter signings gelling brilliantly and a much shorter list of injuries, there is every reason to expect more of the same in March, which begins with a visit to Elche.

Barça survived a scare to win the reverse fixture 3-2 at Camp Nou in December, but although the Catalans have improved much since then, so have the team from Alicante. Under a new manager they have left the relegation zone far behind and are now knocking on the door of the top half of the table.

Elche are unbeaten at home since November, but their away form has not been quite so impressive. Just last week they suffered a heavy 3-0 defeat at bottom-of-the-table Levante, with Gerard Gumbau sent off, meaning he’s suspended for this meeting with his former team.

How it stands

Barça go into the weekend fourth in the table, sandwiched between Betis in third and Atlético Madrid in fifth, with just one point splitting the three. And with Betis and Atlético going head to head in the Sunday 9.00pm CET kick-off, this is a fine chance for Barça to put some space between themselves and their most direct rivals.

Meanwhile, the outside challenges for Champions League places from Real Sociedad and Villarreal took knocks on Saturday. Despite leading early on, the former suffered a heavy defeat at leaders Real Madrid and the latter went down at Osasuna. Second placed Sevilla played on Friday night, drawing 0-0 at Alavés.

Team news

Barça’s injury concerns are thankfully getting lesser by the week, and Ansu Fati, Sergi Roberto and Samuel Umtiti are the only players that are unavailable for this one, while Martin Braithwaite has also been left out of the 23-man squad.

Jordi Alba is back after being suspended for the Athletic clash, and Barça B’s Montenegrin goalkeeper Lazar Carevic has been called up to the senior squad for the first time this season.

Xavi says

"The first game is a reference. It’ll be hard because they’re much better under Francisco and haven’t lost at home. We need to be careful with their attacks down the wing, we found them very hard to play against.”

"We have five games coming up in two weeks, so we’ll need to rotate to deal with tiredness and fitness. But I’m loving having so many options in attack.”

“I can’t help comparing Pedri to Iniesta. Iniesta was the greatest talent I ever saw in Spanish football, but I have no qualms about comparing him to Pedri and I think that motivates him.”


Did you know?

It’s a big game for any team when Barça come to town, and the home club are expecting a big crowd at the Martínez Valero for this one. Elche have launched a campaign on social networks called ‘We’ll battle together’ with tickets selling for as little as €15 to make sure as many seats are filled as possible.

One of the key players in the Elche squad hails from Lleida, Catalonia. Pere Milla was barely getting a game until new coach Francisco arrived mid-season, but his three goals in the last five games mean he now tied as the team’s top goalscorer with Lucas Boyé of Argentina, both with seven goals.

Barça have not lost to Elche since 1974 (18 games ago) and have not conceded a single in their last five visits. In fact, Elche’s two goals at Camp Nou earlier this season ended Barça’s longest ever run of ten clean sheets against a fellow Liga team.

Should Aubameyang score on Sunday, it would be his fifth goal in five games since joining FC Barcelona. That would keep the Gabonese striker matched with Eto'o (2004) and Ibrahimovic (2010), who are matched for the best ever start to a Barça career in the 20th century.

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Força Barça

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