There are just three “finals” left, with each one become more important than the last.
Real Madrid beat Alaves 2-0 last night, which means that in order to keep the pressure on for the last two games of the season on Thursday and Sunday next week, FC Barcelona must overcome Valladolid in La Liga early on Saturday evening.
To pip their hosts, who are in 14th but could do with as many points as possible to guarantee their safety from relegation, Barcelona cannot rely on the services of the injured Frenkie de Jong, the already-sold Arthur, or an Ansu Fati red-carded in the 1-0 derby win over Espanyol midweek for a raised-studs high kick.
Starting then will be Marc-Andre Ter Stegen in goal behind a back line of Jordi Alba, Clement Lenglet, Gerard Pique and Nelson Semedo.
In midfield, pivot Sergio Busquets provides support to Arturo Vidal and a Sergi Roberto in blistering form that has clearly impressed his coach Quique Setien in the center of the park and at right back.
“He even helped us as a central defender,” Setien said at his prematch press conference yesterday. “He is very versatile and can be played anywhere. His predisposition is absolute and for us, the coaches, having players like that is a relief. You never know where you need him at a high [level of] performance. He really likes that position in the center of the field where he always played. In any of [the positions] he is valuable to us. I like all of them.”
Up top, the MSG trident will not run out together. Luis Suarez has been dropped, but Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann stay in the fold while La Masia pearl Riqui Puig returns.
A loss today and a win for Real Madrid on Monday would automatically guarantee Los Blancos the crown, but Setien is keeping the faith.
“Everything can happen in soccer,” he quippped when pushed on this subject by journalists on Friday afternoon. “We have seen inexplicable things. We must focus on what is ours and wait for that opportunity in front of us if our rivals fail.”