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If Boyle’s law can be applied to sports, then the pressure FC Barcelona are exerting on the top of the La Liga table must be massive.
Heading into a fourth straight round of fixtures just one point off the pace, a victory over visiting Sporting Gijón on Wednesday night — kickoff at Camp Nou is set for 7.30pm CET — will move Barça atop the table, albeit provisionally, for the third time in recent weeks. Such a scenario would once again put, at least according to the laws of physics, an infinite amount of pressure on Real Madrid, which play later in the evening.
The big news is the return of Javier Mascherano to the Barça squad after injury. Arda Turan has also been given the medical all clear but is not among the names announced on the morning of the match. Also missing are the injured Aleix Vidal and Jérémy Mathieu, while there is no room for Jordi Masip.
The full squad list is as follows: Ter Stegen, Cillessen, Piqué, Rakitic, Sergio, Denis, Iniesta, Suárez, Messi, Neymar Jr, Rafinha, Mascherano, Paco Alcácer, Jordi Alba, Digne, Sergi Roberto, André Gomes and Umtiti.
Despite the family-reunion-type atmospheres that Barça–Sporting encounters have repeatedly conjured up since the Gijón native and former Sporting player Luis Enrique Martínez joined up as Barça’s manager two-and-a-half seasons ago, he eschewed personal emotions at his pregame press conference Tuesday.
“I have been a Sporting fan since the day I was born and I always wish them the best, but tomorrow all I want are the three points,” he said.
Sporting boss Joan Francesc Ferrer Sicilia, also known as Rubi, appeared to be pinning his team’s hopes on the possibility of some overdue good fortune. “It can always be your day, and they might not be sharp.”
The Catalans appear to have reclaimed their mojo in the wake of the Paris debacle, a laudable resurgence for a team not accustomed to such startling setbacks. Back-to-back 2–1 wins over Leganés and Atlético Madrid (highlights below), with both triumphs coming on Lionel Messi interventions in the waning moments, have injected the blaugrana machine with a morale-boosting serum that has left them on the threshold of reclaiming first place from archrivals Real Madrid and has rekindled the faint prospect of an epic comeback against the Parisians next week.
Sporting, meanwhile, are in dire need of points to avoid sinking further into the relegation zone, where they are currently mired after winning just once, to go with 2 draws and 7 losses, in their last 10 La Liga games.
FC Barcelona have won 11 straight league matches over Sporting at Camp Nou going back to the 1992/93 season. Last year’s game was a wild affair if there ever was one, with the trident single-handedly vanquishing Los Rojiblancos, 6–0 (highlights below). Luis Suárez found the net four times in the final half-hour, two coming on penalty kicks in the 74th and 77th minutes. His other two goals came in the 64th and the 88th. Messi notched a goal in the 12th, and Neymar scored in the 85th, also on a penalty kick.
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