Xavi Hernandez’s side are currently seventh in the table, just a point shy of fourth-placed Atletico Madrid. However, the gap could widen as Los Rojiblancos play Valencia on Saturday night, and they will need to bag all three points to keep up the pressure in the top-four race. Alaves, meanwhile, find themselves locked in the relegation battle as they sit second from bottom, with just 17 points from 21 games. They have gone without a win in their last eight matches across all competitions. New manager Jose Luis Mendilibar, who took over the reins in late December, is still searching for his first win, although he did lead the team to draws against Real Sociedad and Athletic Bilbao.
However, the Babazorros head into the contest against Barcelona on the back of a 4-0 hammering at the hands of Real Betis. With 17th-placed RCD Mallorca just three points away, Alaves will be hoping to start racking up victories as they look to make the most of the Catalan giants’ recent struggles. Deportivo Alaves, who will be celebrating their 101st anniversary on Sunday, will be without Ximo Navarro and Ruben Duarte for the game due to injuries. In addition, Mamadou Loum will also be unavailable as he is away on international duty at the Africa Cup of Nations.
Jose Luis Mendilibar will set his team up in a traditional 4-4-2 formation in front of goalkeeper Fernando Pacheco. Florian Lejeune and Victor Laguardia ought to pair up at the heart of the defence for the home team. Martin Aguirregabiria and Javier Lopez should slot in as the full-backs, with both expected to stay tight and compact at the back. The onus of keeping things in check in the middle of the park will fall on Toni Moya and Gonzalo Escalante. Their primary task will be to prevent Barcelona’s midfield runners from having a major impact going forward. Jason and Luis Rioja will provide the attacking threat from the wide areas and look to exploit the spaces left behind by the Barcelona full-backs.
Deportivo Alaves are in 18th place in the La Liga standings and could potentially face a tense relegation battle in the coming months. The Basque outfit suffered a 4-0 defeat at the hands of Real Betis last week and will need to bounce back with a strong performance in this fixture. Barcelona, on the other hand, are in sixth place in the league table at the moment and are yet to come into their own under Xavi this season. The Catalan giants crashed out of the Copa del Rey with a defeat against Athletic Bilbao in their previous game and have a point to prove this weekend.
Barcelona will be aiming to advance to the last-16 stage of the Copa del Rey when they head to Andalusia on Wednesday evening to take on third-tier side Linares Deportivo. The visitors are the holders of the competition, having beaten Athletic Bilbao in last season’s final, while they are the most successful team in the history of the tournament, lifting the trophy on 31 occasions. Linares Deportivo, who operate in the third tier of Spanish football, were only founded in 2009 and have never operated at the top level, most recently playing in the fourth and third tiers. The Little Blues had only previously managed to reach the second round of the Copa del Rey in their previous three participations in the tournament, so this campaign already represents their best ever performance.
Indeed, Alberto Gonzalez’s side beat Gimnastic Tarragona on penalties in the first round before recording a famous 2-1 victory over La Liga outfit Alaves in the second round in the middle of December. Linares Deportivo also recorded a 4-0 victory over Sevilla’s second team in their last league contest, which left them in 14th position in their domestic table, boasting 22 points from their opening 17 matches. Barcelona, meanwhile, will enter Wednesday’s contest off the back of a 1-0 win over Mallorca in La Liga, with the Catalan giants managing to triumph despite their lengthy absentee list. Indeed, Xavi’s side were missing a number of first-team players through a mixture of injury and coronavirus but secured a huge result on Sunday to rise into fifth position in the table, just one point behind fourth-placed Atletico Madrid on the same number of games (19).
Barcelona, as mentioned, are the most successful team in the history of the Copa del Rey, lifting the trophy on 31 occasions, including last season, when they beat Athletic Bilbao 4-0 in the final. Xavi’s team are 15 points behind league leaders Real Madrid, so a title challenge is incredibly unlikely, while the club failed to qualify for the last-16 stage of the Champions League, meaning that the Copa del Rey might be their best chance of securing major silverware this term, although the Europa League is also an option. Linares Deportivo’s side is expected to be similar to the one that started against Alaves in the second round of the competition, with a 4-4-2 formation including Hugo Diaz in the final third. Fran Carnicer and Rodri are again in line for spots in midfield, but head coach Gonzalez has plenty of options for change in the attacking areas, with Cristian Carracedo and Nando Copete competing for starting roles.
Barcelona, meanwhile, will again be without the services of Memphis Depay, Sergi Roberto, Pedri, Ansu Fati and Martin Braithwaite through injury, but Sergio Busquets is back, having served a suspension. The visitors will also be without Philippe Coutinho, Abde Ezzalzouli, Gavi, Alejandro Balde and Sergino Dest following recent positive coronavirus tests, but Ousmane Dembele and Jordi Alba are back in the squad. Samuel Umtiti and Clement Lenglet were both on the bench at the weekend despite recently testing positive for the virus, but the pair are unavailable here through illness. Luuk de Jong scored the winner against Mallorca but misses out against Deportivo through suspension, so the returning Ousmane Dembele could start alongside Ilias Akhomach and Ferran Jutgla in attack, while Dani Alves is in line to make his second debut for the club.
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