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The international break over, La Liga returns to the Camp Nou (Saturday 8.30pm CET) with FC Barcelona looking to maintain their 100 per cent record against an Alavés side that has got off to a decent start since returning to the top flight after a ten-year absence.
There have been changes since Barça’s last Liga fixture. Striker Munir and goalkeeper Claudio Bravo have left for Valencia (on loan) and Manchester City, respectively. They have been replaced by Juan Alcácer (signed from Valencia) and Jasper Cillessen (Ajax Amsterdam), and both have been included in the squad of eighteen announced on Saturday morning.
But goalkeeper Marc André Ter Stegen picked up a hamstring injury in training on Friday - meaning that it will either be Cillessen himself or Jordi Masip who starts between the posts against the Basques.
Leo Messi is also included, but he has been having hamstring trouble over the last few days, while Luis Suárez and Neymar Jr have only just returned from long trips to South America (106 days in the case of the Brazilian, the Rio Olympics included). So Alcácer also has a good chance of taking part in Saturday’s game.
Andrés Iniesta, Jeremy Mathieu and André Gomes have also been declared fit. The first two make the squad, but Gomes will sit it out along with Gerard Piqué and Sergi Roberto.
The complete squad is thus as follows: Cillessen, Masip, Rakitic, Sergio, Denis, Arda, Iniesta, Suárez, Messi, Neymar Jr, Rafinha, Mascherano, Paco Alcácer, Jordi Alba, Digne, Aleix Vidal, Umtiti and Mathieu.
For Alavés, the big story is the arrival of winger Aleksandar Katai from Red Star Belgrade, while his Serbian namesake and compatriot Alexsandar Pantic has recovered from injury.
Speaking on Friday, Luis Enrique said: “We’ve had to deal with this game like we always do after internationals, with the players coming back on different days. We respect Alavés. It’s a newly promoted team with a new coach and new players … Pellegrino was once a colleague of mine, so it’ll be nice to see him again.”
“I expect Alavés to retreat, to close spaces, with either a 4-1-4-1 or 4-4-2. We must be attentive in transitions and control their fast players well.”
Alavés boss Mauricio Pellegrino has said that “this is the first time a lot of my squad have played at the Camp Nou, but we haven’t changed anything in training because of this game.. We’ll just go out and compete and play our game. You never know – anything can happen in football. We can always dream.”
After winning both legs of the Spanish Super Cup, plus the first two Liga encounters against Betis and Athletic, it’s business as usual at Barça. Despite so many players having been away on international duty and the Champions League visit of Celtic to come on Tuesday, Luis Enrique doubts either circumstance will have a relevant effect on his team’s performance.
Alavés have not played Liga football for a decade, but they have made a confident return. They started the campaign with an impressive 1-1 draw at Atlético Madrid and followed that up with a 0-0 draw with Sporting Gijón.
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