?Barcelona will be looking to continue their La Liga dominance on Sunday evening when they take on relegation strugglers Alaves at the Camp Nou.
Ernesto Valverde’s outfit are still the only side to remain undefeated in the league across Europe’s top-five so far this season, and with the expected added influence of record-signing Philippe Coutinho from here on in, the 53-year-old will be confident he can lead Blaugrana to another three this weekend.
So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at the best potential lineup the Spaniard could field ahead of Barca welcoming Alaves to the Camp Nou…
Despite Jasper Cillessen keeping a clean sheet during Barcelona’s 2-0 Copa del Rey victory over Espanyol on Thursday evening, Marc-Andre ter Stegen will likely be the chosen one between the sticks on Sunday evening.
The 25-year-old has been imperative in his side’s defensive success so far this term, a record that sees them sit level with the watertight Atletico Madrid at the top of the goals against charts.
As seems to be Valverde’s way for league fixtures, ?Nelson Semedo will likely get the nod ahead of the impressive Sergi Roberto at right-back for the visit of Alaves, even though the Spaniard has been in inspired form this campaign, and was so again in midweek.
The remainder of the back-four are, however, pretty much set in stone, with Gerard Pique and Samuel Umtiti showing once again in the 2-0 win over Espanyol how much their partnership has flourished since the 24-year-old France international’s arrival.
Alongside them will be the ever-present Jordi Alba, whose link up play with Lionel Messi has been a much utilised outlet this season.
I know what you are thinking, “No Iniesta, are you mad?!?”
However, the 33-year-old’s appearances have been well managed by Valverde so far this term, with it a rarity seeing the veteran last over the hour mark in any outing.
The likelihood is, especially considering Paulinho’s start from the substitutes’ bench on Thursday, that the Brazilian will be joined by Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquests in midfield, after Iniesta recorded 68 minutes in midweek.
The impressive middle three will offer enough defensive balance through Busquets, while possessing a potent attacking threat via Rakitic, and of course a combination of the two courtesy of the reborn Paulinho.
?The forward line, however, could well be the true headline maker, as Sunday’s clash with Alaves could see Coutinho make his first start for Blaugrana since his £140m move from Liverpool earlier this month.
The Brazilian impressed during his 22-minute cameo appearance in midweek, and as was the case with Ousmane Dembele just a few weeks ago, the 25-year-old could break into the starting lineup after a return from injury following just one short showing.
Alongside him will also be fellow former Red Luis Suarez, who continued to reap the benefits from his purple patch with a goal on Thursday, as well as, of course, Messi, who netted a brace in the reverse fixture back in August.
?Barcelona have announced that Gerard Pique will officially put pen to paper on a new four-and-a-half year contract during a live event on Monday.
The Catalan giants revealed that the defender would sign his contract extension at the beginning of next week via their ?official site, and the signing can be followed live by the club’s supporters via official media channels.
Pique had already agreed to the terms of a new deal which will keep him at Camp Nou until June 2022, complete with a release clause fee of around £440m.
The event will kick off at 1:15pm local time (12:15pm UK time) as Pique officially signs the contract, which will then be followed by a photo shoot 15 minutes later and then a press conference – attended by the media – to quiz Pique on his new deal at 1:45pm local time.
Fans will be able to view all of the above live via the club’s Youtube channel, Facebook page or on Barca TV.
The centre-back has been part of the furniture in Catalonia ever since he completed a return to his former club from Manchester United for £5m in the summer of 2008.
(You may also be interested in ?Barcelona Legend Voted as La Liga’s Greatest Ever Brazilian Import Ahead of Ronaldo & Neymar)
Pique, 30, has gone on to amass 424 appearances in all competitions for La Blaugrana over the past decade, including 27 outings for Ernesto Valverde’s side so far this term.
The Spain international has lifted a remarkable 25 trophies during his time in north east Spain too, including six La Liga titles, three Champions Leagues, four Copa del Reys and three FIFA Club World Cups.
Our president after he retires ?
— Prince Omoba (@Princecollins0) 27 January 2018
Pique became embroiled in a spat with fans of the Spanish national side earlier this season after he stated that he would switch allegiances at international level if Catalonia gained independence from Spain during the country’s referendum towards the end of last year.
Tempers have cooled since then, however, with the Spanish government and Catalan party members coming to a compromise over the issue and putting the idea on ice for the time being.
” data-viewability=”https://www.riddle.com/a/137110″ style=”” contenteditable=”false”>
?Newcastle United are reportedly one of five Premier League clubs whose scouts have been regularly watching 21-year-old Real Betis midfielder Fabián Ruiz.
Arsenal, West Ham, Everton and Chelsea have also had representatives watching 21-year-old Ruiz. This is according to a report in ?El Confidencial, which also states that Barcelona scouts have submitted glowing reports of the youngster back to Nou Camp.
Ruiz is said to be a ‘jewel in the crown’ of Real Betis, and has a €15m release clause written into his contract.
Betis are keen to extend his contract – which runs until 2020 – and subsequently increase the value of the release clause, however Ruiz’s agent
Ruiz, who stands at 6ft 2in, has scored two goals in 16 appearances for Real Betis so far this season. He is a product of the Real Betis youth academy and has been described as a central midfielder who has a fantastic range of passing and is also capable of playing on the right wing. He is said to move the ball ‘
Last season, he spent time out on loan at Elche, and received glowing praise from their manager Alberto Toril:
“He is a footballer with enormous qualities. He is a very complete player, physically and technically. He is one of the most talented young people in the whole country. He does not stop growing in football. His ceiling is high. I would have liked to have him longer.”
The Spanish report claims Barcelona scouts say his talent has no limits. High praise indeed, although no official bid has been submitted for the Spain under-21 international.
?Barcelona defeated local rivals Espanyol to progress to the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey on Thursday night, as goals from Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez were enough to overturn the 1-0 deficit going into the second leg.
Following the dramatic exit to their city rivals, some from Espanyol have been left unhappy with the conduct of the Barcelona players following the full-time whistle and have even demanded an investigation into particular comments made by defender Gerard Pique.
?Marca report that Espanyol are calling on the anti-violence committee to investigate Pique after he labelled the club ‘Espanyol de Cornella.’
Pique’s comment is a jibe at Espanyol’s location and identity, calling them Espanyol ‘of Cornella’ rather than Espanyol de Barcelona, which is their actual name. Cornella is a suburb of the city of Barcelona.
In 2009, Espanyol moved to Cornella and the newly constructed RCDE Stadium from Montjuïc, a hill which overlooks the city
(You may also be interested inBarcelona Fans Laud Philippe Coutinho on Social Media Following Debut Performance Against Espanyol)
Espanyol want Pique’s comments investigated as they believe that what he said could incite violence, xenophobia, and intolerance between fans. Their complaint will be taken up with the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) and the Competitions Department of La Liga.
The club have also complained about similar comments made by Pique’s Barcelona teammate Sergio Busquets.
Philippe Coutinho made his first appearance for Barcelona since his staggering £142m move from Liverpool, and fans were in accord over his performance on Thursday.
Barcelona hosted rivals Espanyol in the Copa del Rey, which saw them needing to turn a 1-0 deficit from the first leg. Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi’s first-half goals saw them safely through to the semi-finals.
However, the win was overshadowed by the debut of the second most expensive player in history. Coutinho came off the bench just after the hour mark, replacing Andres Iniesta and reveicing a raucous ovation.
It didn’t take long for the Brazilian to get into the action as his first touch was a nutmeg on an Espanyol player which subsequently won Barca a free-kick.
? 68: second change for Barça ???
? Andres Iniesta off
? Coutinho on #CopaBarça (2-0) (2-1 agg.)
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) January 25, 2018
Fans were certainly pleased with his brief cameo. Here’s reaction from supporters on Twitter from his first outing for Blaugrana:
Coutinho looks like he’s been playing at Barça all his life..
— Fiaz Hamzath (@fiazhamzath) January 25, 2018
Shouldn’t be surprised given he cost €160 million etc… but Coutinho looks right at home at Camp Nou already.
— Samuel Marsden (@samuelmarsden) January 25, 2018
Coutinho fits Valverde’s system perfectly. That left midfield role was basically made for him.
— EiF (@EiFSoccer) January 25, 2018
Coutinho’s performance last night? ? Man is playing as if he has been here for years.
— Steve Barca (@Stevecaresx) January 26, 2018
Doesn’t seem like it will take too long for Coutinho to adapt to Barça’s game. Brilliantly sets up Luís Suárez, almost an assist.
— Seleção Brasileira (@BrazilStat) January 25, 2018
Coutinho and the rest of the players played together in a previous life.
— Ramzi ?? (@footballmood) January 25, 2018
” data-viewability=”https://www.riddle.com/a/137110″ style=”” contenteditable=”false”>