La Liga champions Barcelona will be hosting mid-table dwellers Mallorca this Sunday.
These two sides have gone up against each other 11 times in the recent past and the hosts have won 10 of those fixtures. Overall, Barca and Mallorca have faced off 64 times with Barca having won 36 times while the visitors have been only able to record 16 victories. The last time these two sides met in the league, Barca won 0-1 away from home. This time around, Barca will play Mallorca as the champions while their opponents attempt to launch their final bid for a crack at a European spot finish.
Sunday will be Barcelona’s last home game for the foreseeable future. Spotify Camp Nou will be closed for renovation for the entirety of the 2023/24 season. Estadio Olimpico de Montjuic will be the club’s new home till the project is completed, with the expected opening in 2024. But, Sunday will not only mark the club’s last game at Spotify Camp Nou but will also see the Catalan giants bid a farewell to the veteran duo of Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba, who will be playing for the last time in a Barca shirt at their infamous home ground. That being said, it will be an emotional Sunday for the hosts as Alba and Busquets have been the mainstays of the club since their respective debuts, winning a combined total of 48 titles with the Spanish giants.
Xavi Hernandez will want his men to give the legendary duo of Busquets and Alba a proper farewell and for that to happen, his side will have to return to winning ways. Since winning at Espanyol 1-4, Barca have recorded two straight losses against Real Sociedad and Real Valladolid (A). While it is obvious that with the league title issue settled, there is nothing to play for this Barca side, Xavi will want his team to go out and play like the champions. Sunday could be a very different case of Barca trying to bid a fitting farewell to their legends with a win.
Ronald Araujo and Pedri missed the last two games with discomfort but the duo could return to the lineup on Sunday. Pablo Torre earned a rare start against Valladolid and it is difficult to say that he did not impress. Perhaps, Xavi could look to bring on Pedri in the second half and give Torre an extended run.
Jordi Alba, Ousmane Dembele, Franck Kessie, Ferran Torres, and Alejandro Balde are at risk of facing suspension for the game against Celta Vigo and will have to be careful.
Mallorca have had a decent season this time around and are on track to finishing in their best-ever position since 2011/12. Following their win against Valencia, Mallorca now sit in the 11th spot with 47 points and are three points off seventh-placed Osasuna. The Pirates though, have not been consistent lately, with Javier Aguirre’s side picking up two losses from their last five. Mallorca have been able to register as many victories from their last five games and though they are still in contention for the seventh spot (mathematically), it is almost out of their reach now. Their latest win against Valencia will certainly help their cause but whether or not it will be enough remains to be seen. For the unthinkable to happen (Mallorca finishing seventh), Mallorca will need to win their remaining two games while hoping other results go their way. Their negative GD of -6 also does not help their hopes but as the saying goes, anything is possible in football.
Mallorca are coming off on the back of a 1-0 home win against Valencia and will know that their best bet of securing a top-ten finish is by avoiding a loss at the home of the champions. Giovani Gonzalez will continue sitting this one out due to injury but Aguirre will have the rest of his team at his disposal. Antonio Sanchez though, is on four yellow cards and another caution will mean a suspension against Rayo Vallecano.
Robert Lewandowski will be the player to watch out for the hosts. The Polish striker has scored five goals in his last five games and is currently leading the race for the Pichichi Trophy with 23 for the season. He is being followed in second by Karim Benzema, who is on 18 for the season. The former Bayern Munich hitman is extremely proficient at reading the game and is one of the smartest yet most lethal forwards to have graced the game. His link-up play is among the very best and can also finish half-chances or create chances for his teammates by creating and playing through balls into spaces. In short, Lewandowski is the perfect modern-day forward and his first season at Barca has been nothing short of a successful one.
Vedat Muriqi is Mallorca’s leading goal-scorer this term. The 29-year-old forward has scored 14 goals and registered three assists from his 33 La Liga appearances. He has scored twice and assisted once in his last five games and he is someone who can hurt Barca in transitions. He scored the winner against Valencia on Thursday. Muriqi is strong when it comes to winning aerial duels and finishing from set pieces. So, Barca’s best bet at stopping Muriqi will be by man-marking him and not allowing him to run into empty spaces.
Expert Opinion: Barca will play to win on Sunday to provide Busquets and Alba with the best possible farewell. Moreover, one cannot expect the hosts to register two straight successive losses at home and it goes without saying that the champions will start as the favorites on Sunday. For them, the most important part of the game would be not allowing their intensity levels to drop while Mallorca will be waiting in their own half to capitalize on Barca’s mistakes.