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Sergi Roberto, at the Martínez Valero. PHOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ-FCB.

FC Barcelona open the second half of the league season on Saturday  with a trip south to face Elche at 6.00pm (CET) at the Estadio Manuel Martínez Valero. It will be the 20th league match of the season for both teams.

Team news

After Friday morning’s training session Barça manager Luis Enrique announced they will head down the coast with an 18–man squad that includes all available first-team players, except third-string goalkeeper Jordi Masip and midfielder Ivan Rakitic. Both were left out due to coach’s decision. Also staying behind will be the injured Jérémy Mathieu, Douglas, and Thomas Vermaelen.

View from the dugout

Luis Enrique has made it clear that this week’s goal is for his team to keep up their intensity. “Without it, any team is capable of making life difficult for us,” he stressed in Friday’s pre-match press conference. The manager is certain that Elche will try to dry up space while looking to catch Barça off guard with well-timed counterattacks. He refused to compare this clash with the recent Spanish Cup tie they faced off in a few weeks ago, where Barça’s 4-0 win at Elche capped off a 9-0 aggregate victory and sent the blaugrana into the quarter-finals. Elche coach Fran Escribá warned that the "league match will be very different to the Cup matches because we are getting better and better [in the league]."

Form guide

FC Barcelona come into this game in second place in the league table and playing, perhaps, their best football of the season. Since their defeat at Anoeta back on 4 January, Barça have only seen the win column. They have now won five straight, including a tremendously important 3-1 league win over Atlético and a crucial first-leg Cup win over the same side. Over that span, the blaugrana defence has been nothing short of a phalanx while the attack has been spearheaded by the three-pronged front line of Leo Messi, Neymar, and Luís Suárez.

Elche, meanwhile, currently find themselves 16th in La Liga, just a point above relegation. Nevertheless, they are unbeaten in their last three league matches, including wins over Levante and Athletic Bilbao, and a draw with Villarreal. Their only losses in that span were a pair of Cup defeats at the hands of Barça.

Ones to watch

Dani Alves and Gerard Piqué are just one booking away from suspension. A yellow against Elche would mean missing the home game in the league against Villarreal on 1 February. Elche's Brazilian striker Jonathas has scored eight of Elche's 18 goals in the league this season and his teammate Coro scored twice against Barça in his days as an Espanyol player.

History

Elche have not beaten Barça in the league since 1974, having lost 10 and drawn 4 since then. The blaugranes have kept a clean sheet in their last 7 matches against Elche in the league. This season the sides have already met on three occasions—once in the league and twice in the Cup—with Barça winnning all three matches, scoring 12 and conceding none.

Coverage

The game is being shown live by Sky Sports in the UK (only from 5.15PM local time due to broadcasting restrictions) and beIN Sports in the US and remember, you can hear live commentary in English on R@dio Barça—the radio link will appear on the homepage just before kick off—and receive live Twitter updates as the events unfold by following @fcbarcelona. For global TV coverage, check out when and where to watch the match.

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