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Barely 48 hours after the full squad was finally back together after the international break, FC Barcelona return to LaLiga action on Sunday at 8.45pm CET with a visit to relegation-threatened Granada, where the three points are an absolute necessity to keep up the pressure on leaders Real Madrid, who are at home to Alavés earlier on in the day.
The squad of 18 for the first of three consecutive fixtures against Andalusian teams is as follows: Ter Stegen, Cillessen, Rakitic, Sergio, Denis, Iniesta, Suárez, Neymar Jr, Rafinha, Mascherano, Paco Alcácer, Jordi Alba, Digne, Sergi Roberto, André Gomes, Umtiti, Mathieu and Aleñá.
Leo Messi is out due to yellow card accumulation while Gerard Piqué is being rested ahead of the busy April schedule and Arda Turan picked up a groin strain on duty for Turkey. It means that Jordi Masip is the only unforced absence, with central midfielder Carles Aleñá drafted in from the B team.
Granada’s main concern is the loss of Mehdi Carcela-González, who picked up an injury playing for Morocco, but on the plus side Colombian Adrián Ramos has been given the all-clear.
When asked to explain why he was leaving Piqué behind this weekend, Barça manager Luis Enrique replied that “we are giving a crucial player a break as he has played with his national team and a lot of football for us,” while also claiming that “the rest will do Messi good” and adding that “we could tell from the first game against Granada that they are a hard side to beat – even more so now that they need points so badly.”
His counterpart Lucas Alcaraz offered that “whether Messi plays or not, Barcelona have plenty of world class players, so I don’t think his absence makes them any more vulnerable. But the squad truly believe that they have what it takes to beat Barça. We have beaten them before, so why can’t we do it again?”
Granada did indeed beat Tata Martino’s Barça 1-0 in the 2014 season, but that’s the only time the Nazaries have avoided defeat to the Blaugrana since they returned to the top flight after a 25-year absence in 2011.
Since that loss, Barça have scored 17 goals and conceded just one in five meetings, including the 3-0 win to secure the Liga title on the final day of last season.
Barça bounced back from surprise 2-1 defeat at Deportivo by beating Valencia 4-2 to stay within two points of the top of the table, although Real Madrid do have the benefit of having one game in hand.
After winning three home fixtures in a row, there was a hint that Granada might be able to gather enough points to scramble their way out of the relegation zone, but following three consecutive defeats they’re going into this game with a gap of eight between them and safety. Luis Enrique is right – Granada desperately need points.
As ever, the game is being screened all around the world, but if you can’t see it for whatever reason, then you can always listen to our live English language commentary on Radio Barça (the link will appear on the homepage shortly before kick-off). Don't forget you can also enjoy live updates of all the action on our official Twitter feed.
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