La Liga 17/18 Gameweek 31: Barcelona vs Leganes – Lineups, Preview and Prediction
League-leaders Barcelona welcome Madrid-based Leganes to the Nou Camp on Saturday night, with the aim of extending their remarkable unbeaten run.
19:45 GMT, Saturday 7th April, Camp Nou (Barcelona, Spain) Sky Sports Football
With their treble ambitions boosted by a comprehensive midweek victory over Roma in the Champions League, Barcelona now turn their attentions back to La Liga. Ernesto Valverde’s side hold a 9-point lead over second-placed Atletico Madrid with only eight league fixtures left in the season.
The Catalans remain unbeaten in the league and have now gone 17 games without loss since their January defeat to Espanyol in the Copa del Rey. Barcelona are particularly dominant at home, having won all but two of their matches at the Nou Camp in all competitions this season. Last week’s late comeback away at Sevilla had further added to the aura of invincibility surrounding this current squad and they approach this fixture in a confident mood.
Leganes will so far be satisfied with their efforts this season. The Madrid-based outfit narrowly escaped relegation last time around, scraping a 17th placed finish. They currently sit 13th in La Liga and have built up a healthy 16-point gap between themselves and the bottom three.
After a fine start to the season, Los Legionarios endured a difficult run of fixtures in February, losing five of their six games in all competitions, shipping 13 goals in the process. They have since begun to recover their form and have won two of their last three games, including an impressive 2-1 victory over Sevilla, and will be looking to finish the season strongly.
Last Time Out
Barcelona 4-1 Roma (UEFA Champions League-Quarter Final-First Leg)
Barcelona have one foot in the final four of the Champions League following a comfortable victory over Italian club Roma.
The hosts were in imperious form and dominated the midfield battle, with the performance of Ivan Rakitic a particular highlight.
Impressive early resistance from the away side came to an end through an unfortunate own goal by Roma’s Daniele De Rossi in the 38th minute.
Barcelona reacted well to a somewhat below-par first-half with a thrilling second-half display. Some fantastic interplay between old allies Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta resulted in another own-goal, this time from defender Kostas Manolas after 55 minutes.
The game was all-but over just before the hour mark, when Gerard Pique swept home a rebound to give the home side a 3-0 lead on the night.
An 80th minute strike from Edin Dzeko gave Roma a glimmer of hope before it was soon snuffed out by a late goal from Luis Suarez, to put Barcelona firmly in control of the tie.
Leganes 0-1 Valencia (La Liga)
Leganes were unlucky to come away with nothing from last week’s home tie against fourth-placed Valencia.
They restricted the visitors to a single shot on target and looked to pose greater attacking threat than their opponents throughout the game.
Unfortunately for the home supporters, a tight game was ultimately settled by a long-range strike by Rodrigo Moreno on the hour mark.
Ernesto Valverde may be tempted to rest several key players as his side continue to compete on three fronts.
Midfielder Sergio Busquets is carrying a knock and is unlikely to feature on Saturday night.
Established squad members such as Gerard Pique and Andres Iniesta may also be rested, allowing cup-tied Philippe Coutinho the opportunity to start.
Asier Garitano has a number of absences to contend with this weekend.
There are doubt over the fitness of defender Martin Mantovani (knock) and midfielder Darko Brasanac (knee) who are yet to return to full training.
Influential left-back Diego Rico will miss out through suspension, a significant blow to his side.
Attacker Alexander Szymanowski (hip) is unlikely to return until the end of the season.
Key Battle: Luis Suarez (Barcelona) vs Dimitris Siovas (Leganes)
Having made a poor start to the season, Luis Suarez has returned to goal-scoring form and is sure to be a threat on Saturday night. The Uruguayan is often Barcelona’s most positionally advanced player and his probing provides the likes of Lionel Messi with space to exploit.
The 31-year-old has 22 league goals in 26 appearances which, despite being below his usual standards, is still a creditable return. He was instrumental in leading Barcelona’s comeback against Sevilla last week and his relentless energy will be counted upon in the business end of the season.
Facing the challenge of Suarez this weekend will be Greek defender Dimitris Siovas. The centre back has been in good form for Leganes of late, proving particularly effective in his side’s 2-1 victory over Sevilla.
Siovas is a strong aerial presence and positionally astute despite his youth. The 22-year-old does, however, struggle with disciplinary issues and has received four yellow cards and a red card in his past eight games.
Barcelona showing fight at the end of the season
Heading into the final three minutes of last weeks’ game against Sevilla, it looked to all as though Barcelona’s unbeaten run was coming to an end. The Catalans trailed 2-0 and were being consistently overrun in midfield. Within two minutes of ruthless attacking play, however, the scores were level thanks to Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi, invincibility retained.
Barring a miraculous second-leg result, Barcelona will feature in the semi-finals of the Champions League. They have already secured a place in the final of the Copa del Rey and are in complete command of the league. If they can continue at their current pace, then an historic unbeaten treble season awaits.
Will Leganes look to crowd the midfield?
Against Sevilla a fortnight ago, Garitano employed a 4-2-3-1 formation to great effect. Leganes looked defensively secure and bossed the midfield, allowing playmaker Eraso the space to thrive. In last week’s loss to Valencia, however, fear of lone striker Nordin Amrabat becoming isolate, led to them lining up in a 4-3-3 shape. Without the extra muscle in midfield, their control of the game was limited and Eraso, a constant danger a week earlier, was uncharacteristically quiet.
With Barcelona in such thrilling attacking form, Leganes should adopt the approach taken against Sevilla. They do not possess wingers capable of seriously threatening Barcelona and will have much more success if they can stifle the league-leaders’ influence in the middle of the park.
Prediction: Barcelona 3-0 Leganes
It is difficult to look beyond anything other than a comfortable victory for the home side. Barcelona have hit new heights in recent weeks and Leganes are unlikely to cause them any serious problems.
The visitors often struggle playing away from home and the Nou Camp creates an intimidating atmosphere for opposition teams. The midfield battle will be significant and Leganes will have to produce their best performance of the season if they are to secure a positive result.
Will Barcelona continue their unbeaten run?
Let us know in the comments section below…