Barcelona travel to Vitoria-Gasteiz, Álava on Saturday afternoon to take on Deportivo Alavés in what will be a preview of the 2017 Copa del Rey Final with both sides securing their place in the Final during midweek. Alavés have already enjoyed one victory over Barcelona this season when they won 2-1 at Camp Nou back in September in a game where Luis Enrique had fielded an understrength eleven ahead of the opening Champions League game against Celtic.

Alavés are having a great first season back in La Liga after ten years out of the top flight and as well as their Copa heroics they find themselves 12th in La Liga, 14 points clear of the relegation zone. Their success has mostly been built on a solid defence and the 22 goals they have conceded this season is the fifth best defensive record in La Liga. Unfortunately for Alavés they have struggled with putting the ball in the back of the net and the 21 goals they have scored in La Liga is the third worst record, with only Granada (17) and Leganés (15) scoring less.

Strangely, Alavés have struggled at home with just 12 of their 27 points coming at Estadio Mendizorrotza but they have been a very difficult side to beat with just one loss in their last 17 league matches. In those games they have drawn nine, five of which ended 0-0. Despite their poor home record they are now unbeaten in their last eight games in front of their own fans with their last defeat coming back in November when Espanyol beat them 1-0. Alavés look to be well placed to stay up this year but the highlight of their season has been their Copa del Rey run. Gimnàstic Tarragona were beat 6-0 on aggregate before Alavés got past Deportivo La Coruna on away goals. Alcorcón were defeated 2-0 over the two games before Alavés overcame Celta de Vigo 1-0 in the semi-final to set up a May meeting with Barcelona.

Mauricio Pellegrino will have most of his squad at his disposal on Saturday with just Einar Galilea, who has a long term injury, and Edgar Méndez who is listed as a doubt set to miss out. Otherwise the full squad should be available which will mean Ibai Gomez and Deyverson, who scored the goals in Alavés’ 2-1 win over Barcelona earlier in the season, should both start.

Barcelona have been having a mixed season with the team struggling in La Liga but a 1-1 draw against Atlético Madrid on Tuesday was enough to see the club reach their sixth Copa del Rey Final in seven years. It has been a difficult run for Barça with the Catalan side having to beat Real Sociedad, Athletic Club and Atlético Madrid on their way to the Final. The fixtures have been coming thick and fast with a game every midweek since the start of January but Luis Enrique and his side will have every right to feel proud of their achievement. Now that a place in the Final has been secured Barcelona can put the Copa on the back burner for a while and concentrate instead on trying to progress in the Champions League and trying to get back into the title race.

Last time Barcelona played Alavés they rested several big names and paid the price when they lost 2-1 and it seems likely that Luis Enrique may once again rotate his team with a trip to Paris looming on Tuesday where Barça will play the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie against Paris St Germain. PSG haven’t been as good this season but the same could be said of Barcelona who have at times struggled for consistency. Luis Enrique has rotated the starting eleven a lot which obviously has it’s plus points as the players shouldn’t fade in the way they did last April but this writer fears his rotation has gone too far and it has caused inconsistency with partnerships not getting sufficient time to develop and we are in danger of being the fittest team in the last few months of the season with very little to play for. It’s a difficult balance to get right and obviously the next three to four months will decide whether Lucho has made the right calls or not.

While nobody can be sure who will start on Saturday we do know that Rafinha and Javier Mascherano will not be involved as both have picked up injuries and will be on the sidelines. It is likely that Sergio Busquets and Andrés Iniesta will see some action although they may not play 90 minutes with both players coming on as second half substitutes in Tuesday night’s draw with Atlético. If Barça are going to add to their Copa del Rey Final place then Busquets and Iniesta will have to be at their best and with PSG coming up on Tuesday night they will need to get match fit as soon as possible.

This game promises to be a tough one for Barcelona regardless of what eleven starts the game. Alavés have shown in the Copa and in their win at Camp Nou that they are a capable side who cannot be taken lightly. There will be a temptation for Luis Enrique to rest players ahead of a difficult game in midweek but perhaps he could take the longer view that after next weekends game against Leganés, Barça have no game for a week and the players could be allowed a few days off before the build up commences to what will be a huge game against Atlético Madrid a week later. Regardless of what eleven Lucho puts out Barcelona will be favourites to win as their budget dwarves that of Alavés but as we found out back in September, football doesn’t always work out like that.

Referee

Saturday’s game will be refereed by Carlos Clos Gomez. In Barça’s last five with him in charge they have won three and drew two. In those games he has booked 13 Barcelona players and awarded them four penalties. Alavés have only had him twice before. In those games they have won one and lost one and he has shown Alavés players six yellow cards.

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