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At long, long last football is back at Camp Nou. After FC Barcelona marked their return to La Liga, following a three-month interruption due to Covid-19, with a fantastic 4-0 victory at Mallorca, they now play the first of five remaining league games at home, against Leganés on Tuesday at 10.00pm CEST.
Camp Nou with a difference
It’s going to be very different playing in front of almost 100,000 empty seats, but the club has gone to great lengths to make sure the players don’t feel alone, including banners, mosaics and videos sent by the fans. And there will also be a poignant reminder of why this is all happening, with a one-minute silence before the game with music played by violoncellists from the local Liceu Theatre orchestra.
For the second game in a row, Barça face a side in the relegation zone. Leganés were bottom of the table for much of the season, but going into the hiatus had picked up enough points to move ahead of Espanyol. They didn’t get off to the best of restarts, with a 2-1 defeat at home to Real Valladolid.
Of course ‘Lega’ are also playing without the man who is still their top goalscorer this season, Martin Braithwaite. The Dane joined Barça in February and scored his first goal for his new side at the Visit Mallorca stadium just three days ago.
Leganés, from the southern outskirts of Madrid, won promotion to La Liga for the first time ever in 2016, and have managed to stay in the top flight ever since. Their quest to be back for a fifth consecutive year is in the hands of the most respected coaches in global football, Javier Aguirre, who has previously coached his own national team Mexico, as well as Japan and Egypt.
How things stand
The win on Saturday means that Barça hold on to top spot in la Liga, but second placed Real Madrid managed to keep up the pressure by beating Eibar 3-1 in their own first game back.
Madrid don’t play again until Thursday, when they entertain Valencia, with Barça facing a tough trip to Sevilla the day after.
Clement Lenglet return from suspension, but now it’s Jordi Alba who is out for the same reason after completing a cycle of bookings at the weekend. Ousmane Dembélé is the only absentee through injury (full squad news here).
Head to head
Barça have won six of the seven league games against Leganés since the ‘cucumber-growers’ became a first division club. The only defeat came last season, when Leganés scored twice in a minute to cancel out Philippe Coutinho’s opener.
Earlier this season, Barça won 2-1 at the Estadio Municipal de Butarque. Moroccan Youssef En-Nesyri, who has since departed for Sevilla, opened the scoring for the home side, but Arturo Vidal and Luis Suárez turned things around after the break.
The sides also met in the Copa del Rey in January. Barça cruised that one 5-0, with goals from Griezmann, Lenglet, Messi (2) and Arthur.
Facts and stats
Although Leganés lost their previous three league games at Camp Nou, they did score a goal each time.
Leo Messi has only once failed to either score or give an assist against Leganés, and in total has eight goals from six matches.
Two players have scored for two different teams in the league this season, and En-Nesyri (Sevilla) and Braithwaite (Barça) both started the campaign at Leganés.
Óscar Rodríguez is the only Leganés player who has ever scored against Barça.
Only 9% of Leganés’ shots have produced goals this season, the lowest tally in la Liga. Barça, meanwhile, have the highest conversion rate of 24%.
Quique Setién’s verdict
On the heavy fixture list: “We’ll see how tiredness affects the players, but I want to keep the players fresh until the end and not overload them with too much playing time.”
On the empty stadium: “We’d prefer there to be fans, it takes the essence out of the game, but we know why that’s not possible. I hope it doesn’t affect us and we play well and win. We just have to adapt … Football always brings surprises and that’s nobody ever wins the pools. I just hope playing without fans doesn’t have a negative effect on our football.”
On Luis Suárez: “I don’t know whether he’ll start. We’ll see. You have to be extra careful when players are coming back from long-term muscle injuries.”
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