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FC Barcelona secured the Spanish league championship with a win at Atlético Madrid last week, and did so with a game in hand, Saturday’s 6.30pm CET home fixture against Deportivo de La Coruña. It means that there will be a relaxed, party-like atmosphere at the Camp Nou as the team celebrates its 23rd Liga title and also pays tribute to legend and captain Xavi Hernández, who announced on Thursday that he is leaving the club after 17 seasons in the first team. As well as saying some words to the fans after the final whistle, the midfielder will be presented with the league trophy.
It’s a different matter for Deportivo though, because if results don’t go their way, they'll be playing second division football next season.
Luis Enrique made it very clear that Xavi will be in the starting line-up for his last ever league game for FC Barcelona, and also hinted that Thomas Vermaelen will be in the squad and may well get to make his first-team debut. Being uncharacteristically frank, he also admitted that, with the Spanish Cup and Champions League finals to come in the next fortnight, this is a game in which he’ll be fielding several of the players that have not had as many chances as others this season. Jérémy Mathieu, still having trouble with his right Achilles tendon, will not play.
Deportivo boss Víctor Sánchez is missing the suspended Luisinho and the injured Manuel Pablo García, Cezary Wilk and Juanfran, the latter having failed to recover from a fractured left hand in time. Their absences mean places for José Rodríguez, Hélder Costa, Pablo Insua, and Roberto Canella.
“This is a match that should serve as a reinforcement for us going into the two finals that are left,” said Luis Enrique in his pre-match press conference. Indeed, he was asked very little about the Deportivo match and was instead quizzed about the upcoming finals and Xavi’s departure at the end of the season.
“Xavi made a decision that eventually had to be made, but he can still win two more titles,” he declared. “He'll have a new and very enriching experience and he'll also be able to see what he had at Barça.”
But although Barça have nothing but honour to play for, Sánchez is by no means anticipating an easy match. "We’re expecting the best Barcelona team and that’s what we’re preparing for,” he explained. “If they make changes it doesn’t mean they won’t have top quality players even if they aren’t quite international superstars.”
Barça are on an absolute high. The Liga title already secured, they are still on course for a historic second treble of league, cup and Champions League, which would mirror what Pep Guardiola achieved in 2009. And they are in perfect form, having won their last six league matches, while scoring 21 goals and conceding none – the ideal end to a season in which Claudio Bravo is now certain to win the Zamora trophy for the best goalkeeping record in the first division.
Deportivo had been looking doomed after spending 21 weeks in the relegation zone, but a 2–0 win against Levante finally lifted them into relative safety last week. They are now tied on 34 points with Granada, but if either of those two sides slip up, then either Elche or Almeria, on 32 points, could stay up with wins at home to Córdoba and Valencia, respectively.
During Deportivo’s golden era around the turn of the century, results between these sides would go either way. But the Galicians are currently winless against the Catalans in nine attempts and haven’t scored in their last four visits to the Camp Nou (although in 2011 they did manage a scoreless draw).
Barcelona had little trouble when the sides met at Riazor earlier this season, winning 4–0 thanks to yet another Leo Messi hat-trick and an 83rd minute own goal from Sidnei.
No matter where you are in the world we have you covered. And remember, you can enjoy live commentary in English on Radio Barça. The link will appear at fcbarcelona.com just before kick-off. Twitter users can follow @FCBarcelona for a live feed of all the action.
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