Luis Enrique and Abelardo in their days together at FC Barcelona / FCB

An unusual kick-off time and potential rain are among the factors involved in a game between two teams with close links but very different reasons to get something out of a game that was originally scheduled to be played in December.

A game in hand is worth…

Since December, all references to the top and bottom of the Liga table have included the side-note that Barça and Sporting have a game in hand. Things will look at lot clearer when the final whistle blows in Gijón today, as all teams will have played the same number of games.

A win would push Barça six points ahead of Atlético Madrid, with the added bonus that in the case of a tie between the two, the Catalans have the better head-to-head record. Sporting, meanwhile, are looking to move five points clear of the relegation zone.

Early start

Today’s game is an unusually early kick-off for a midweek match. That’s especially true in Spain, where most people are still at work at 6.30pm CET. El Molinón is unlikely to be full when the game begins, but expect the crowd to build up as people start arriving at the ground from work..

The reason for the early start is that, for TV reasons, the game cannot coincide with the Champions League matches starting at 8.45pm CET.

The rain in Spain

Although the sun was occasionally popping out from behind the clouds over Asturias at noon on Wednesday, the folk that know about these things forecast that very heavy rain is on the way.

Sporting boss Abelardo Fernández, however, insists that the Molinón pitch is remarkably good at holding up under adverse weather conditions, and so “there will be excuses in that respect.”

Friendly rivalry

The 6-1 defeat of Celta on Sunday is proof that Luis Enrique has no qualms about punishing teams for which he feels a special affection.  Now he is travelling to his hometown club, one that he said on Tuesday that he will follow “from the cradle to the grave.”

And Sporting are managed by one of his closest friends in football, Abelardo, who has a special fondness for Barça after spending eight seasons at the Camp Nou. But both managers have insisted that all of that will be forgotten throughout the ninety minutes of the match.

Missing players

Luis Enrique has opted to give some rest to Sergi Roberto and Jordi Alba for this game, and with only one injury concern in his whole squad (Rafinha), that’s the kind of luxury he can afford at the moment.

Abelardo also hinted in his pre-match press conference that he might leave out key players this evening. A result against Barcelona would be a huge bonus for his side, but he is willing to admit that Saturday’s trip to fellow strugglers Betis is a more realistic target.