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With a confidence-boosting, mid-week triumph folded up neatly and tucked firmly in their rear pockets, a reinvigorated Futbol Club Barcelona take their act deep into the Spanish countryside this weekend — to Pamplona, to be exact — where they won’t exactly be running with the bulls, but rather battling with local outfit and La Liga cellar-dwellers Osasuna in a bid to scoop up three vital points and ratchet up the pressure on their chief antagonists perched at the top of the table.
Although the dichotomous nature of Tuesday night’s Champions League rout at Camp Nou (highlights, match report) yielded a measured reaction from fans, players and coaches alike — its ramifications on the outcome of Group C were zilch, yet it did provide a bevy of regulars a much-needed evening off — the general verdict in Barça-ville was nearly unanimous in presumptively billing the team’s first win following three consecutive draws in all competitions as a feel-good moment that couldn’t have come at a better time.
Nevertheless, at least one key cog in the Blaugrana machine will be absent Saturday as Neymar Jr sits out his second straight match due to yellow card accumulation, this time in La Liga.
But whereas the so-called trident was reduced to a single lance on Tuesday night — personified by Lionel Messi, who opened the scoring, started and played all 90 minutes — Saturday’s fear-inducing strike force will likely be two-pronged with the reintroduction of Luis Suárez, who received a rare, mid-week respite.
Following the squad's final training session on Friday before the trip to Pamplona, Luis Enrique named his 18 man squad for the game in El Sadar: Ter Stegen, Cillessen, Piqué, Rakitic, Sergio, Denis, Arda, A.Iniesta, Suárez, Messi, Rafinha, Mascherano, Paco Alcácer, Jordi Alba, Digne, Sergi Roberto, André Gomes and Umtiti.
While Tuesday’s win did in fact upend a three-game run of draws in all competitions, the next challenge facing manager Luis Enrique Martínez and his players is to snap a similar string of results in La Liga. But although a match at one-win Osasuna appears to be a mile-wide window of opportunity, if not a slam dunk, the Barça manager’s trademark gravitas was on full display during Friday’s pre-game press conference.
“Osasuna are in a must-win situation, but so are we,” he said. “We’re second and six points behind the leaders. This isn’t just any old game for us. The points are of maximum importance.”
Luis Enrique's counterpart, Joaquín Caparrós, who was only recently hired to turn the season around for last-place Osasuna, said Friday his team had no choice but to fight “out of necessity.” Focused on the bigger picture, he said “simply playing against Barcelona isn’t a motivation.”
“Whether we win, lose, or draw, we have to believe in ourselves,” he said.
Barça’s 4–0 Champions League victory over Borussia Mönchengladbach had all the look and feel of a momentum-turning panacea. For although it was meaningless as far as the standings went, the morale-boosting win snapped a run of three 1–1 draws in a row — at Real Sociedad and home against Real Madrid in La Liga, and at Hércules in the Copa del Rey sandwiched in between. Prior to that, a 0–0 home draw with Málaga gave way to a 2–0 UCL win at Celtic that clinched Group C. All that doubtlessly leaves a ravenous Barça craving for a chance to get back into the league win column.
In La Liga, Osasuna have dropped four straight in the wake of a welcome 1–1 draw at Athletic Club on 30 October. Winless at home on the season with 2 draws and 5 losses, their only triumph came 3–2 at Eibar on 17 October. Osasuna also fell, 1–0 at Granada, in their lone Copa del Rey game so far this season, a last 32 first-leg match on 30 November.
Although Osasuna’s El Sadar Stadium has been a tough nut to crack in recent years, the numbers there do, in fact, favor FC Barcelona, who have been defeated just once in their last nine visits to Pamplona. Nevertheless, victory is not guaranteed either. The Navarra-based team has held the Catalans four times over that same stretch, three of which were scoreless stalemates, the most recent coming in Week 9 of the 2013/14 season. For a look at five other things you need to know about the history between the two sides, check out this article.
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