20th January, 2019
After playing every team in La Liga once, FC Barcelona are five points clear at the top of the table. Now it starts all over again, this time in reverse, and the first of the nineteen games in the ‘second leg’ brings Leganés to the Camp Nou on Sunday at 8.45pm CET.
That was part of a run of four games in which Barça failed to wins. But things have improved considerably since that lull in form, and the blaugrana are now looking to extend on a run of six consecutive victories.
All of Barça’s main challengers for the title have already played this weekend. Real Madrid beat Sevilla 2-0 and in doing so replaced the Andalusians in third place, while Atlético Madrid have momentarily closed the gap on Barça to two points with an 3-0 win at bottom-placed Huesca.
Lionel Messi (who else?) is Barça’s top scorer in games against Leganés with seven, which is also a Liga record against the ‘cucumber growers’. And the 17 goals that the Argentinian has scored so far in 2018/19 are the same number as the whole Leganés team has mustered!
Leganés don’t make it easy for opposing forwards. They have only faced 66 shots on target this season – fewer than any other club in the competition apart from Atlético Madrid (58).
Barça have been losing at some stage in nine of their 19 Liga games so far, but ended up getting points in seven of them, and three times got all three.
Luis Suárez has scored 15+ goals in his last six league seasons for Barça and Liverpool. And he only needs one more to make it seven in a row.
Since Ernesto Valverde has been in charge of Barça, he has faced Mauricio Pellegrinothree times and, remarkably, never won. In addition to winning with Leganés a few months ago, the Argentinian was also in charge as Alavés took a win and a draw last season.
And Pellegrino’s confident he can keep that unbeaten record up. Speaking ahead of Sunday’s game, he insisted that “we have evolved and improved since the last time we played Barcelona.”
Leganés are coming into this game on the back of a tight 1-0 defeat of Huesca thanks to a goal from En-Nesyri, while Barça beat Eibar 3-0 last weekend with one goal from Messi in between two from Luis Suárez.
Thomas Vermaelen is back to full fitness and has been included in the squad. Sergi Samper was also given the medical all-clear on Saturday, but joins Denis Suárez in missing out on a place in the list, along with the only two members of the team that are still out through injury, Samuel Umtiti and Rafinha.
BARÇA SQUAD: Ter Stegen, Semedo, Piqué, Rakitic, Sergio Busquets, Coutinho, Arthur, Suárez, Messi, Dembélé, Cillessen, Malcom, Lenglet, Murillo, Jordi Alba, Sergi Roberto, Aleñá, Vidal and Vermaelen.
With just one win, but also just one defeat, in their last five games, Leganés are missing top scorer Guido Carrillo to injury, as well as key midfielder Rubén Pérez. However, it looks like Moroccan Nabil El Zhar, who’s scored twice for ‘Lega’ against Barça, will be fit to play.
In the last dozen games in all competitions, Barça have lost just once, against Levante in the first leg of the Copa del Rey tie. Clean sheets have been achieved in half of those matches with three or more goals being scored on five occasions.
Leganés have won five games over the same time period, including away at Real Valladolid and Rayo Vallecano. They’ve kept clean sheets in three of their last six matches which included a Cup victory over Real Madrid.