Almeria will again be missing Alejandro Pozo due to a muscular problem, but the home side are otherwise in strong shape ahead of the contest with the league leaders. Head coach Rubi will make changes from the side that started against Girona last time out, with Arnau Puigmal and El Bilal Toure expected to return in the final third of the field. Chumi is also likely to be handed a spot at the back, but Cesar De la Hoz should retain his position in central midfield, while Rodrigo Ely is expected to continue in the middle of the defence. As for Barcelona, Ousmane Dembele and Pedri remain on the sidelines with hamstring problems, but Gavi is back from the suspension that ruled him out of the match against Man United. Ronald Araujo was substituted in the latter stages of the clash at Old Trafford, but Xavi said after the contest that it was just a precaution, so the defender will be available for this fixture. Jordi Alba could return to the side at left-back, while there might also be a change in the final third of the field, with Ferran Torres potentially featuring alongside Raphinha and Lewandowski.
Sergio Busquets came through the clash with Man United unscathed after returning from an ankle issue, and the captain should again feature in central midfield on Sunday night. There will be no Ansu Fati, though, as the Spain international picked up a knee injury in training on Friday. Xavi Hernández has selected the following list of players for the game: Ter Stegen, R. Araujo, Sergio, Gavi, Lewandowski, Ferran, Iñaki Peña, Christensen, Marcos A., Jordi Alba, Kessie, S. Roberto, F. De Jong, Raphinha, Kounde, Eric, Balde, Pablo Torre and Arnau Tenas. On Saturday afternoon the players trained for the final time before the trip south to Andalusia. The venue was the Tito Vilanova field, where they were joined by Nil Ruiz of Barça Atlètic and Angel Alarcón of the U19A team.
Barcelona will be bidding to return to winning ways when they resume their La Liga campaign away to relegation-threatened Almeria on Sunday night. The Catalan outfit are currently top of the table, eight points clear of second-placed Real Madrid, while Almeria occupy 17th, level on points with 18th-placed Cadiz on the same number of games (22). Almeria secured a return to La Liga for the 2022-23 campaign by winning last season’s Segunda Division, and they are bidding to make it back-to-back campaigns at this level for the first time since 2015. La Union have picked up 22 points from their opening 22 matches of the season, which has left them in 17th position in the table, level on points with 18th-placed Cadiz. Almeria only lost one of their six league matches between November 9 and January 27, but they have been beaten in each of their last three, losing to Rayo Vallecano, Real Betis and Girona. Last Friday, Rubi’s side suffered a 6-2 defeat to Girona, and they now have back-to-back home matches against Barcelona and Villarreal before travelling to Sevilla in the middle of next month. Almeria’s home form is likely to be crucial when it comes to their battle against the drop, and they actually have the eighth-best record in front of their own fans this season, picking up 19 points from 11 matches, which is one more point than Atletico Madrid have collected at Wanda Metropolitano.
Barcelona, meanwhile, will enter the match off the back of a 2-1 loss to Manchester United in the second leg of their Europa League knockout round playoff on Thursday night, which saw them eliminated 4-3 on aggregate. Robert Lewandowski sent Xavi’s side ahead from the penalty spot at Old Trafford, but Fred levelled the scores early in the second half before Antony won it for the Red Devils, and it was Barcelona’s first defeat in any competition since the 3-0 home reverse to Bayern Munich at the end of October. The Catalan outfit are therefore now battling on two fronts, with the first leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final against Real Madrid at Bernabeu set for March 2. Barcelona are also in an excellent position in La Liga, collecting 59 points from their 22 matches, which has left them eight points clear of second-placed Real Madrid at the top of the table. Xavi’s side have won each of their last seven league matches, including a 2-0 success over Cadiz last weekend, with the team last dropping points in the league against Espanyol at the end of December. Blaugrana have won each of their last seven La Liga fixtures against Almeria, meanwhile, including a 2-0 victory when the two teams last locked horns at Camp Nou back in November.