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After their seven-goal spree against Celtic midweek, Barça now return to league duty at the unusual Saturday afternoon kick-off time of 1.00pm CET. The opposition are playing in the top division for the first season ever, but the Liga champions won’t be taking this game lightly. Leganés have only conceded two goals in their first three games. And just seven days ago, another newly promoted side, Alavés, issued a reminder that even for the mighty Barça, points are never a certainty in the Liga Santander.
Marc-André ter Stegen put his hamstring troubles behind him to get a clean sheet on Tuesday, meaning that for the first time this season, Barça have their full squad available for a Liga fixture. What’s more, in something of a rarity for modern football, Leganés have no injuries or suspensions to worry about either.
Denis Suárez and Jeremy Mathieu have both returned to the squad, but there are no places for any of Jordi Masip, Sergio Busquets, Lucas Digne or Aleix Vidal.
So the 18 men travelling to Madrid are: Ter Stegen, Cillessen, Piqué, Rakitic, Denis Suárez, Arda Turan, Iniesta, Suárez, Messi, Neymar Jr, Rafinha, Mascherano, Paco Alcácer, Jordi Alba, Sergi Roberto, André Gomes, Umtiti and Mathieu.
Speaking ahead of the trip, Barça manager Luis Enrique described Leganés as “a valiant team, and very fearless for a newly promoted club. They don’t just sit back and defend, and have great forwards like Gabriel.”
The Asturian has no problem with the early kick-off, saying that “it’s the same time for both teams so that’s no excuse. If we started at one and they started at three, now that would be strange!” And as for possible squad rotations, he argued that “there will be eleven players wearing the Barça shirt. They’re all Barça players, there’s no such thing as a J, H or Z team here."
Meanwhile, Leganés boss Asier Garitano commented at his pre-match conference that “Barça are such a good side that they have solutions for everything. For us, aside from tactics, it’s a matter of convincing the players that they can win this. And convincing the fans too. We all have to believe … I’m looking forward to a grand fiesta, with the people getting behind the team to enjoy a great game of football.”
Barça’s season had got off to a perfect start, but 2-1 defeat at home to Alavés last Saturday came as a nasty and unexpected shock. The 7-0 rout of Celtic on Tuesday was the ideal way to bounce back from that loss, but those goals count for nothing in La Liga where Barça have lost some early ground. But as Luis Enrique was keen to point out on Friday – it’s still early days.
Leganés, meanwhile, got off to a dream start in La Liga, winning 1-0 away to Celta and then holding local rivals Atlético Madrid to a 0-0 draw in the first ever top flight game at the Butarque Stadium. 2-1 defeat at Sporting was a setback last week, but as manager Garitano quips: “They said we wouldn’t get any points at all until November and we already have four!”
This will be first meeting of any kind between the two teams, and southwest Madrid is buzzing in the build-up. Every seat in the 10,954 capacity stadium has been claimed, and the posters around the district reflect the quirky nature of the club. One oozes irony when describing the game with Barça as a ‘potential banana skin’, while another alludes to Messi by proclaiming “may it be the will of God … or not!”
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