Alaves vs Barcelona: Ernesto Valverde’s Best Available Blaugrana Lineup

?Barcelona take on Alaves at Mendizorrotza Stadium this Tuesday night, with Ernesto Valverde’s men needing just six more points to wrap up a second La Liga title in a row.

They were lethargic during a 2-1 victory over Real Sociedad on Saturday, goals from Clement Lenglet and Jordi Alba ensuring the Catalans kept a nine point lead over Atletico Madrid in second. That result keeps their hopes of a treble alive, with the midweek Champions League victory over Manchester United seeing Barça into the semi-finals of the competition, whilst Valencia lie waiting in the Copa del Rey final next month.

Hosts Alaves are winless in their last five fixtures and drew 2-2 against Valladolid last time out. They are now in eighth position, three points off of a Europa League qualification place.

Here’s the side Valverde could select for the clash.


Goalkeeper & Defenders

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Marc-Andre ter Stegen (GK) – The German goalkeeper was on song against Sociedad, making several crucial saves during the contest. His double stop in the closing stages of the first half in particular showcased his excellent reflexes and positioning.

Nelson Semedo (RB) – After joining from Benfica in 2017 Semedo has struggled to nail down a starting berth. He has shown occasional flashes of the talent that coaxed €31.5m out of the ?Barcelona coffers, but consistency has been his downfall.

Gerard Pique (CB) – Despite an underwhelming display on Saturday, this is widely considered to be ?Pique’s best season in blue and red, with Valverde regularly calling upon the Barça stalwart to lead his defensive unit.

Clement Lenglet (CB) – The Frenchman’s deft header against Sociedad on the stroke of half time was pivotal, breaking the deadlock for his misfiring side. It capped a fine all-round display from Lenglet, justifying his continued selection in Valverde’s lineups.

Jordi Alba (LB) – Like his defensive compatriot, Alba grabbed an important goal to give his team the lead. It was a lovely goal, too, the full-back stepping inside before sweeping an effort into the far corner with his weak foot.


Midfielders

Arturo Vidal

Sergio Busquets (CDM) – Without Busquets keeping things ticking over on the weekend, Barcelona appeared lost, aimlessly spraying the ball around. His arrival towards the end of the match brought impetus and purpose to the heart of their midfield.

Arturo Vidal (RCM) – It was a high-energy showing from Vidal against La Real, though it lacked any end product. He was dogged and bullish, but ultimately failed to offer much in an attacking capacity; he will be keen to prove his worth against Alaves.

Arthur (LCM) – The young Brazilian playmaker is a superb distributor of the ball, linking up well with teammates and creating space with his intelligent movement. He is looking like a very savvy purchase after arriving in the summer.


Forwards

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Lionel Messi (RW) – It may have been an indifferent night for ?Messi on Saturday, but no one in world football doubts his extraordinary ability. His 45 goals in all competitions are fuelling Barcelona’s charge for glory in ?La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the ?Champions League.

Philippe Coutinho (LW) – ?Valverde has downplayed the apparent rift between the Camp Nou faithful and Coutinho that has surfaced in recent weeks. However, his ill-advised celebration against ?United will have vexed fans, leaving the onus on him to make amends if he is to have a future in Catalonia.

Luis Suarez (ST) – The Uruguayan has been fruitful in front of goal this year, yet no longer seems capable of producing the tireless, genius performances that characterised his early career. He is now more of a predatory poacher than the eminent threat that terrorised ?Premier League defences.

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Sergio Busquets Eyeing Future MLS Switch Once Barcelona Days Draw to a Close

?Barcelona star Sergio Busquets has hinted that he would like to experience life in Major League Soccer before his career comes to an end.

The 30-year-old remains a vital part of the Blaugrana setup, but with 21-year-old Frenkie de Jong set to move to Camp Nou at the end of the season, he is aware that he only has a few more years at most before he may need to move on.

Frenkie De Jong

Speaking to ?Sports Illustrated, Busquets admitted he has begun to think about what the future may hold for him.

He said: “I’ve always said that I won’t be a ?Barcelona player for 20 years with a secondary role. The moment that I feel my ambition is fading or that I am not able to deliver physically, I will step aside and leave feeling privileged and content of what I gave to the club.

“You can’t obviously predict the future, but I am a fan of the United States and soccer over there continues to grow. [?MLS]’s competitive style and playoff format is different to what we’re used to over here, and that really appeals to me.”

He also jokingly confessed that a move to David Beckham’s new Miami United franchise could be an option, adding that his family would likely approve of a life on the sunny beach.

Since making his debut in 2008, Busquets has gone on to make 529 appearances for Barcelona, bringing his unique blend of creativity and defensive awareness to the base of the team’s midfield.

He has enjoyed an incredibly successful career, winning seven ?La Liga titles and three ?Champions League trophies with his boyhood club. He has also translated his success to the Spanish national team, winning both the World Cup and European Championship in 2010 and 2012 respectively.

Sergio Busquets

However, with De Jong agreeing a €75m move to the club, Busquets’ days as a starter may be numbered. The Dutchman is viewed by many as a long-term successor for Busquets, and it remains to be seen how he will be incorporated into the lineup.

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Alaves vs Barcelona Preview: Where to Watch, Live Stream, Kick Off Time & Team News

?Barcelona travel to Alaves for their La Liga clash this Tuesday night as they continue to surge towards a second successive title.

The Catalans were bland during their 2-1 victory against Real Sociedad over the weekend, collecting a fortuitous three points courtesy of Clement Lenglet’s towering header and a sharp drive from left-back Jordi Alba. The result maintains their nine point advantage at the top of the table, with closest challengers Atletico Madrid having also won on Saturday.

Clement Lenglet

The hosts drew 2-2 against Valladolid and currently lie in eighth place, with the side still vying for qualification for next year’s Europa League. They were genuine contenders for a top four finish less than a month ago, before a poor run of form ended any such aspirations.

Check out 90min’s preview of the encounter below.


Where to Watch

?When is Kick Off? ?Tuesday 23 April
?What Time is Kick Off? ?20:30 (BST)
?Where is it Played? ?Mendizorrotza Stadium
?TV Channel/Live Stream? ?Premier Sports 1
?Referee? ?Javier Alberola Rojas

Team News

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Wingers Takashi Inui and Burgui are unavailable for Alaves, with the latter not expected back until next season after rupturing his cruciate knee ligament in March. The Japanese international, meanwhile, has a sprained ankle.

The Basque side are also without centre-back Guillermo Maripán who has a similar issue to Inui, both men set to return within the fortnight.

Rafael Alcantara alias Rafinha

Ernesto Valverde is without just one of his first-team squad members, midfielder Rafinha having been missing since November. He is nearing full fitness after the serious knee injury he sustained over the winter, but Tuesday’s clash comes too soon for the Brazilian.

Neither Alaves nor ?Barça have any players suspended for the ?La Liga match-up after ?Gerard Pique and ?Luis Suarez returned for the champions against Sociedad.


Predicted Lineups

?Alaves ?Pacheco; Aguirregabiria, Ely, Laguardia, Marin; Twumasi, Garcia, Pina, Jony; Calleri, Guidetti.
?Barcelona Ter Stegen; Semedo, Pique, Lenglet, Alba; Busquets, Vidal, Arthur; Messi, Coutinho, Suarez.?

Head to Head Record

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?Lionel Messi put on a masterclass in the reverse fixture back in August, hitting a double as Barcelona ran out 3-0 winners. The Argentine sent out an early warning when he crashed a first-half free-kick off of the crossbar before scoring with his next dead-ball attempt, a low effort sneaking past Fernando Pacheco to break the deadlock just after the hour.

Alaves were fortunate once more when Messi whipped a sumptuous curling shot off of the outside of the post minutes later, but they soon crumbled. Philippe Coutinho hammered a rasping drive home in the closing stages before the five-time Ballon d’Or winner brought the Camp Nou to its feet with a tidy near-post finish.

That success took Barça to double figures in total wins over Tuesday’s opponents, with the league leaders having lost just once to Alaves in their history. The latter have never won a home fixture against La Blaugrana, their sole victory coming at the Camp Nou in late 2016. A single draw – a goalless affair back in 2005 – completes the all-time record.


Recent Form

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Abelardo Fernández’s recruits are winless in the past month, their last triumph coming in a 3-1 victory away to Huesca. Since then they have lost three and drawn two of their La Liga fixtures, scoring four goals and conceding 11.

By contrast, Barcelona have not lost since late January, Sevilla securing a 2-0 lead in the first leg of their Copa del Rey tie. Valverde’s men hit them for six in the return fixture to ease into the next round, no side having overcome them since. They are firmly on course for the treble after dismissing ?Manchester United 4-0 on aggregate in their ?Champions League quarter-final tie and easing past ?Real Madrid in the cup semis.

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The 2-1 win over Sociedad followed up a drab 0-0 away to Huesca the previous weekend, though crucially the Catalans beat rivals ?Atletico Madrid 2-0 in their top of the table clash two weeks ago.

Here’s how the two teams got on in their last five fixtures:

?Alaves Barcelona?
?Alaves 2-2 Valladolid (19/4) ?Barcelona 2-1 Real Sociedad (20/4)
?Espanyol 2-1 Alaves (13/4) ?Barcelona 3-0 Manchester United (16/4)
?Alaves 1-1 Leganes (07/4) ?Huesca 0-0 Barcelona (13/4)
?Sevilla 2-0 Alaves (04/4) ?Manchester United 0-1 Barcelona (10/4)
?Alaves 0-4 Atletico Madrid (30/3) ?Barcelona 2-0 Atletico Madrid (06/4)

Prediction

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The midweek meeting with the Red Devils appeared to have taken its toll on Barça as they stumbled to a win over Sociedad in the following game. The usually reliable Suarez was noticeably off of the pace, whilst Messi lacked his usual killer edge.

If they repeat that sub-par performance against Alaves they may well drop points in the title race, though they have a healthy cushion that would allow them to do so without any major repercussions. 


Nevertheless, Valverde will be eager to get the top spot in La Liga secured as early as possible so the side’s focus can switch to matters in Europe and the Copa del Rey. With that being the case, he will demand significant improvement from Saturday’s outing, with Alaves likely to suffer as a consequence.

Prediction: Alaves 0-2 Barcelona

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Philippe Coutinho Explains Meaning Behind His Controversial Celebration Against Man Utd

?Barcelona midfielder Philippe Coutinho has denied that his celebration against Manchester United on Tuesday night was an angry message to his critics.

The Brazilian scored a lovely third goal for the Catalan club as they beat United 3-0 in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final meeting, the result seeing his side through to the next round. After scoring, he proceeded to place his fingers in his ears and stare defiantly at the Camp Nou crowd, a gesture that many interpreted as Coutinho responding to Barça supporters who have been incensed by rumours linking him with a summer exit.

Philippe Coutinho

His celebration against the ?Red Devils was considered disrespectful by some ?Barcelona fans, who hissed at manager Ernesto Valverde’s decision to bring the 26-year-old on during Saturday’s 2-1 La Liga victory over Real Sociedad.

However, Coutinho believes that the situation has arisen out of a misunderstanding from Blaugrana supporters. Speaking after the win over Sociedad, he stated (as quoted by the ?Liverpool Echo): “I have always been someone who respects everybody.

The truth is that this (celebration) was for the people to see that I have to block out the sound in order to focus on a match or on my job so that it won’t affect me,” he explained. “It was like a liberation.”

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Though there appears to be a growing rift between Coutinho and followers of the Spanish giants, the playmaker seemed hopeful of helping the club in their ?Champions League semi final tie against his former side ?Liverpool.

Asked about the match-up against his old teammates, Coutinho said: “It will be something special. I am anxious because I know that moment is coming.”

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Ernesto Valverde Insists Phillipe Coutinho Has Fans’ Backing at Barcelona After Recent Controversy

?Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde has played down suggestions of a rift between midfielder Philippe Coutinho and supporters of the club. 

The 26-year-old has been rumoured to be dissatisfied with life at the Nou Camp after joining from Liverpool for £142m in January 2018, with reports indicating that he is looking to engineer a summer exit. Such speculation appears to have irked some Blaugrana fans, with whistles and jeers greeting Coutinho when he was brought on during Saturday’s narrow 2-1 league victory over Real Sociedad.

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The abuse raining down from the stands followed the ?Barça star’s controversial celebration after scoring against ?Manchester United in the ?Champions League in midweek. After beating David de Gea he proceeded to put his fingers in his ears, a blatant message to his critics at the ?La Liga champions.

However, Valverde has denied that Coutinho’s relationship with the Barcelona fandom has soured. After the match against Sociedad he was asked about the Brazilian’s situation at the club and responded by declaring (as quoted by ?BarcaCentre): “The public is with Coutinho and Coutinho is with the public.”

That defiant statement was all the Spaniard had to say regarding the matter, evidently feeling that no more needed to be added. He swiftly moved on to discussing Barcelona’s win, saying: “Today was a very important game because we still needed nine points to become champions; the points must be achieved. 

The match was uncomfortable for us in the first half because they were playing well, [Clement] Lenglet’s goal gave us peace of mind.”

Lenglet and fellow defender Jordi Alba scored either side of Juanmi’s deft finish, with Coutinho making his appearance off the bench in the dying embers of the contest. The former ?Reds playmaker was largely ineffectual, though he had scarce opportunity to showcase his talents in a short cameo.

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