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FC Barcelona travel to Gijón to play the game originally postponed due to their participation at the Club World Cup in Japan. Three points against Sporting would move the Catalans six points clear at the top of the Liga table.
Other than long-term absentee Rafinha, there are no injury concerns in the Barça camp, but Masip, Douglas, Jordi Alba, Sandro and Sergi Roberto have all been left out of the squad of eighteen.
The group making the trip to Asturias is therefore as follows: Ter Stegen, Bravo, Piqué, Rakitic, Sergio, Alves, Arda, Iniesta, Suárez, Messi, Neymar Jr, Mascherano, Bartra, Munir, Adriano, Aleix Vidal, Vermaelen and Mathieu.
For the home side, defenders Bernardo Espinosa is out for the long-term, while striker Antonio Sanabria (hamstring) and attacking midfielder Dani N’di (knee) are also unfit for Wednesday’s game. The latter’s absence means Croatian striker Allen Halilovic will almost certainly start against the side from which he is out on loan.
Gijón is the town where Luis Enrique grew up and Sporting is a club that shall forever be close to his heart. “Whenever I go back to El Molinón, it's special” he said on Tuesday. “But tomorrow I'm going back as a coach and I want to win … Sporting is a very hard-working team that uses their defence to manage their attacks and they’re one of the most intense teams in the league.”
The Barça boss and Abelardo Fernández have known each other since school, and the latter is now in charge at Sporting. “It's a 90-minute game and anything can happen” said the man who also spent part of his playing career at FC Barcelona. “We will try to make things very difficult for them, but Barça is unbeatable at the moment and it's tough to do damage against them.”
It’s now thirty games that Barça have strung together without losing, the longest unbeaten run in the history of Spanish football. And if the recent 6-1 defeat of Celta is anything to go by, then this story could run and run…!
A nasty streak of just one win in nine games saw Sporting free-fall down the Liga table. Things have picked up in the last four games, with wins against Real Sociedad and Valencia and draws with Rayo and Deportivo, but there are still only two points between them and the relegation zone.
We need to go all the way back to October 1994 to find the last case of a Sporting victory over Barça. Since then the clubs have met fifteen times and the Catalans have won all those games apart from a couple of draws, both at El Molinón, in 1996 and 2011.
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