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With history on their side and a momentum-turning comeback victory in the Copa del Rey having thrust FC Barcelona back on course, the Catalans hope to keep the wind at their backs and make up for lost ground when they face UD Las Palmas of the Canary Islands on Saturday at Camp Nou.
But it won’t be a breeze by any means, as Los Amarillos, who are no laggards themselves, make landfall in the western Mediterranean still harboring realistic European aspirations and with the half-way point of the league season approaching just beyond the horizon.
Barça’s infirmary is as empty as a ghost town and every player on the roster is fit and ready to step in should they be called upon for duty — an enviable position to be in at this stage of the season — and no player will be sitting this one out due to yellow card accumulation.
Luis Enrique has decided to leave Masip, Piqué, Denis and Sergi Roberto out and bring in André Gomes, Aleix Vidal and Mathieu. The final squad of 18 selected to play against UD Las Palmas looks like this: Ter Stegen, Rakitic, Sergio, Arda, A.Iniesta, Suárez, Messi, Neymar Jr, Rafinha, Mascherano, Paco Alcácer, Jordi Alba, Digne, André Gomes, Aleix Vidal, Umtiti and Mathieu.
Las Palmas don’t have any suspensions either, although the defenders DaniCastellano and PedroBigas are sidelined with injuries.
Luis Enrique Martínez opened his pre-game press conference with a succinct and unvarnished assessment of Las Palmas’ capabilities in one of the few times he has gone out of his way to overtly flatter a looming rival.
“We are up against a side that has a similar philosophy to ours," he said. “They battle for the ball, and they try to use it to open up spaces and create chances…as a fan, they’re one of the most entertaining teams to watch.”
When queried about Barça in his own pre-game news conference, Las Palmas boss Quique Setién seconded his counterpart’s assumptions before adding a few reciprocal words of praise. “It’s tough to take the ball away from Barça, but we’ll try to win possession for ourselves, he said. “We’ll have to play spectacularly…Barça always come out to win.”
FC Barcelona notched their first win of the new year on Wednesday night with a 3–1 second leg win over Athletic Club in the Copa del Rey last 16 (Highlights, Match Report). Now it’s time to do the same in La Liga after last weekend’s 1–1 draw at Villarreal. Barça are undefeated in La Liga since a 4–3 loss at Celta on 2 October but, in 10 games since then, they have six wins and four draws.
Las Palmas ride a two-game winning streak into Camp Nou on the back of a 1–0 home win over Sporting last weekend and an impressive midweek road victory over AtléticoMadrid in the Copa del Rey — despite the triumph, Las Palmas were knocked out, 4–3 on aggregate.
With Las Palmas having been no more than an intermittent presence in the Spanish First Division since the turn of the millennium, there has been a paucity of head-to-head encounters between Saturday's adversaries. Los Amarillos, however, did visit Camp Nou last season, when a Luis Suárez brace allowed Barça to eke out a 2–1 victory that was marred by an early MCL injury to Lionel Messi that would keep him sidelined for seven weeks.
On a more positive note, January matches at Camp Nou have been a harbinger of success for FC Barcelona in recent seasons, bearing witness to 13 league wins in a row dating back to 2009. Messi, moreover, would like to pick up where he left off and score against Las Palmas, the only league team against which he has yet to find the net throughout his illustrious career.
No matter where you are in the world we have you covered. You can also listen to live play-by-play streamed in English on Radio Barça, as well as follow our exclusive, minute-by-minute updates on FC Barcelona's official English language Twitter account as the action unfolds. Don't miss it!
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