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In a sneak preview of the Copa del Rey final coming up at the end of May, FC Barcelona travel to Vitoria to take on Deportivo Alavés in Week 22 of La Liga (kick off 4.15pm CET). Luis Enrique’s side are just one point behind leaders Real Madrid in the league table although Zinedine Zidane’s side do have two games in hand. A win in Mendizorroza against the Basques will see the blaugranes return to the top of table, temporarily at least, with the leaders in action away at Osasuna later on Saturday.
Barça’s versatile Argentinian Javier Mascherano came on the second half of the blaugranes’ Copa del Rey semi-final second leg at Camp Nou on Tuesday against Atlético Madrid. ‘El Jefecito’ lasted until the final whistle to help his side through to the final but it was later revealed he had picked up a hamstring problem that keeps him out of the squad against Alavés. Arda Turan has a groin problem and also misses out and Rafinha has not yet fully recovered from his broken nose. Luis Enrique also omitted Jordi Masip and Gerard Piqué from the list. The full squad announced by Luis Enrique after training on Friday is as follows:
Ter Stegen, Cillessen, Rakitic, Sergio, Denis Suárez, A.Iniesta, Suárez, Messi, Neymar Jr, Paco Alcácer, Jordi Alba, Digne, Sergi Roberto, André Gomes, Aleix Vidal, Umtiti, Mathieu and Aleñá.
Alavés’ midweek hero Edgar Méndez misses out on the visit of the blaugranes with a hamstring strain. The winger scored the only goal of the game against Celta on Wednesday evening to put his team through to the final where they will face Barça. However, the former Granada and Almería winger had to be substituted just a few minutes before the end with a thigh problem after having come on as a substitute himself in the second half.
Luis Enrique’s admiration for the team coached by his former Barça team mate, the Argentine Mauricio Pellegrino, was plain to see in his appearance in front of the press on Friday. “Aláves are the revelation of the season without a doubt, because of what they are achieving and how they are doing it. Their points total, their consistency, their position in the table….and all of this as a team who have just come up from the second division and have a new coach. They are getting some spectacular results by playing at a great level in both the league and the cup," said the Barça boss.
Pellegrino, for his part, was also impressed by the side his team face on Saturday when he faced the press in Vitoria on Friday. “To beat Barça, the planets will have to align,” said the former blaugrana defender. He continued: “We are up against a team of stars, one of the best in the world and we are going to have to be at our very best to have a chance in the game once more.”
Barça have gone 10 games without defeat since losing to Athletic in their first game of 2017 in the first leg of their last 16 Copa del Rey tie. Their last away fixture brought a vital 2-1 win in the Calderón against Atlético in the first leg of the cup semi-final. Luis Suárez is the man in form having scored in his last five outings. The Uruguayan has eight goals in his last eight games for the blaugranes.
Alavés have lost just once in their last 17 fixtures in all competitions. That run has taken them to 12th place in the table in the league and to the final of the Copa del Rey for the first time in their history.
Alavés provided one of the surprises of the season so far when they won 2-1 at Camp Nou in Week 3 of the league this season back in September. However, the blaugranes’ have won on their last two visits to Mendizorroza, both wins coming in the Copa del Rey, the most recent a 3-0 win in October 2012 that included a fantastic strike from Andrés Iniesta. However, in the league, Barça have won just once in their last five visits to Vitoria, a goal from Marc Overmars giving them a 1-0 win in 2001. Back in 1999, a 4-1 at Alavés handed the league title to an FC Barcelona side that contained both Luis Enrique and Mauricio Pellegrino.
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