Barcelona’s first match after the winter vacation kicks off this Sunday at 20:45 CET away to Getafe. After Real Madrid’s draw at Villarreal yesterday and Atletico’s upcoming trip to Sevilla this weekend, Barcelona have an opportunity to extend their lead over their rivals with a win. However, this will likely be a quite difficult match given that Getafe are in seventh and have the second strongest defense in La Liga with just 13 goals conceded. Furthermore, the first match after the holidays can sometimes be especially challenging, as seen by Barcelona dropping points each of the last three times they returned from the break with an away match. Given Barcelona’s league form with four wins on the bounce, they will still fancy their chances of picking up all three points. Ernesto Valverde also has nearly a full squad of players to pick from.
This area should not be too difficult to predict. In goal, Marc-Andre Ter Stegen is certain to start again. With Umtiti still struggling to recover from his knee injury and Vermaelen also out, Pique and Lenglet will continue as the starting center back pair. The club has signed the center back Murillo from Valencia, but he will be a backup at least for now. At left back, Alba has been the world’s best in that position this season and will start there again this weekend. The only difficult position to predict is right back with Nelson Semedo and the returning Sergi Roberto both in contention. Although Semedo has done reasonably well in Roberto’s absence, Valverde has consistently preferred the Spaniard when choosing between them, so I expect Roberto to get the nod again.
Sergio Busquets is a doubt after missing training today due to illness. In his expected absence, Rakitic will probably take over the pivot role. Alongside him, Arturo Vidal will likely continue after playing his way into the team over recent weeks. Arthur and Coutinho would both be in contention for the third spot. That call could go either way, but I expect Arthur to start given that Valverde has brought him on over Coutinho in midfield on a few occasions in the past several matches.
Messi and Suarez are guarantees to start on the right and through the middle respectively. Messi is just two goals away from 400 in La Liga, and is in terrific form after scoring five in his last two away matches. On the left, there is a possibility of Coutinho starting, but Dembele has been in great form over recent weeks and should start again. If Barcelona has difficulty breaking down Getafe’s deep defense, then Coutinho may be used as an option off the bench given his creativity and ability to score from distance.
(4-3-3) Ter Stegen, Roberto, Pique, Lenglet, Alba, Vidal, Rakitic, Arthur, Messi, Suarez, Dembele