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FC Barcelona are in Gijón to take on Sporting for Week 6 of La Liga on Saturday (4.15pm CET) looking to make it three away wins from three this campaign, without Leo Messi due to injury.
Sporting currently hold a perfect record at home, so it certainly is not a straight forward affair at El Molinón, which sees Luis Enrique face his old club and former blaugrana teammate Abelardo on the opposing bench.
The news that has dominated the sporting headlines after Barça’s 1-1 midweek draw with Atlético Madrid was, of course, the groin injury suffered by Messi that will keep the Argentine out for around three weeks.
Samuel Umtiti remains sidelined with an injury, while Aleix Vidal and Jordi Masip are left out of the squad that the manager revealed on Friday evening, and there is a return for Rafinha.
For Sporting, Moi Gomez missed their midweek 2-1 defeat away to Celta Vigo with a knock, but is expected to be fit for Saturday’s game.
Luis Enrique spoke to the media just before Friday’s training, where he spoke highly of his hometown side: “They brought in many new players , but it’s still the same team with the same character. They’re very good at creating pressure, especially at El Molinón.”
He also added that the squad has enough strength to deal with Messi’s absence: “Last year he was out two-and-a-half months and the team responded fantastically,” he said. “We’ve got more than enough resources to deal with it.”
Abelardo, who played alongside Luis Enrique both at Sporting and at Barça, is under no illusions that he is facing the toughest possible opponent.
“They are complete. If they play possession football, they do it marvelously, on the counter-attack, marvelously, without the ball, marvelously. They are the best in the world.”
On Messi, Abelardo said: "It’s the same if he plays or not. Barça has great resources, both in terms of squad strength and tactically.”
Barça have beaten Athletic Club on the road by a single goal as well as Leganes in a convincing 5-1 win last week, but a home defeat to Alavés and Atlético shows they are not quite at the levels they are used to.
Sporting made a bright start to the league season, winning two of their opening three and drawing the other. But two straight away defeats at Atlético (5-0) and Celta Vigo (2-1) have somewhat dampened the high spirits around the club.
Of the ten most recent meetings between the two teams, it’s fair to say that Barça have been dominant, winning nine times and drawing once. That draw came in February 2011 at El Molinón, when David Barral opened the scoring, before David Villa levelled the match.
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