Straight after starting their Liga campaign with an emphatic 4-0 defeat of Villarreal, Barça are straight back at it with the first away trip of the season. Thursday at 9.30pm CEST brings a trip to Balaídos, home of Celta Vigo, always a tough test and one that Barça have struggled to pass in recent years.
Celta are playing their eighth consecutive season in the top flight, finishing as high as sixth in 2016, but they have also had some close calls. Last season was the second in a row in which they finished just one place above a drop back into the second division. After replacing Fran Escribá and achieving his goal of keeping the team up, former Barça star Óscar García is still the man in charge.
Things have got off to a fairly solid start in 2020/21, with draws at Eibar and Valladolid either side of a 2-1 home win against Valencia.
New faces include Peruvian midfielders Renato Tapia (from Feyenoord) and Miguel Baeza (Real Madrid B), and striker Álvaro Vadillo (Granada). Brazilian Rafinha was serving Celta well last season, but he was on loan from FC Barcelona and has since returned. The loss of another player with a Barça connection, Jeison Murillo, was also set to hurt after his loan spell from Sampdoria ended, but the Colombian has returned to Galicia for another year.
These are not the only Celta players that Barça fans will be familiar with. Denis Suárez and Nolito are also in the side.
Head to head
Last five games
27/06/20: Celta de Vigo 2-2 FC Barcelona
09/11/19: FC Barcelona 4-1 Celta de Vigo
04/05/19: Celta de Vigo 2-0 FC Barcelona
22/12/18: FC Barcelona 2-0 Celta de Vigo
17/04/18: Celta de Vigo 2-2 FC Barcelona
Barça have had some emphatic victories over Celta in recent memory, including a 6-1 in 2016, a 5-0 in 2017 and the 4-1 victory last season. But all of these have been at Camp Nou. When it comes to Balaídos, it’s a different story.
It is now five games in a row that Barça have failed to win in Vigo (three defeats and two draws), and six if we include the 1-1 draw in the Copa del Rey in 2018. However, as Barça had already won the first leg 5-0, that result was relatively meaningless.
Ronald Koeman has picked the following squad for today’s game: Piqué, Sergio, Aleñá, Griezmann, Pjanic, Messi, O. Dembélé, Neto, Coutinho, Lenglet, Pedri, Trincao, Jordi Alba, Braithwaite, S. Roberto, F. de Jong, Ansu Fati, Iñaki Peña, Riqui Puig, Konrad, R. Araujo, Ramos Mingo and Arnau Tenas.
That means Neto will start in goal once again, with Ter Stegen still out injured. Samuel Umtiti and Junior Firpo are also unavailable, the latter having picked up a hamstring injury this week.
“We expect a difficult game. Barça have been finding it hard to win at Celta in recent years … But for me it makes no difference if we play home or away. I know the team’s form dropped on the road last season, but that doesn’t interest me. The team’s morale is high. They are confident.”
“Dembélé is part of my plans. He hasn’t been starting because there are other players and Ansu has been proving himself to be very good. He’ll have to wait for his chances.”
“Griezmann is playing from the right. He is free to come through to the middle. Holland played France and he was very effective on the right. He’s great at losing his marker. I’m very happy with what he’s doing.”
Did you know?
Ansu Fati is just three goals away from breaking the league record for the most goals before turning 18 years of age. Pablo Pombo Quintana of Racing Santander scored 11 back in the 1930s, and Ansu already has eight and one month left to add more to his tally.
Iago Aspas is again the man to watch out for. He has scored in all five of the last visits by Barça to Vigo, doing again with an amazing goal right at the end of last season’s game to secure a 2-2 draw for his team. He’ll become Celta’s all-time highest scorer in La Liga if he does it again today.
Leo Messi has not scored in any of the last five games at Balaídos, his longest dry spell away to any team. Time to put an end to that record…