Barcelona managed their ninth consecutive victory in La Liga with a hard fought 2-1 triumph over Sevilla last weekend and the three points most certainly helped to strengthen the Catalan giants’ grip at the top of the table.
While Real Madrid may effectively have been ruled out of the title race, Atletico Madrid are not letting up on their pursuit of Barcelona though and the Catalans most certainly cannot afford to relax as of yet due to the fact that the gap at the top of the table has recently been reduced to only 5 points.
Now Barcelona prepare to square off against Rayo Vallecano at the Estadio del Rayo Vallecano on Thursday night and manager Luis Enrique will surely be keen on his side putting in their best efforts, despite their opponents struggling at the moment.
Claudio Bravo has been crucial to Barcelona’s fine season in La Liga and the Chilean certainly had a big role to play in helping the Catalans to victory over Sevilla last weekend by making a couple of very good saves throughout the course of the match – particularly from Kevin Gameiro in the second half.
Vallecano do know their way to goal and Bravo will once again have to be on his guard on Thursday night in order to guide Barcelona to their 10th consecutive La Liga victory.
Dani Alves is suspended for the clash which means that Aleix Vidal will continue in the starting lineup while Jordi Alba is certain to start in the left flank.
Jeremy Mathieu was a surprise starter at the heart of the backline against Sevilla last time out but it is very likely that the Frenchman will drop out at the expense of Javier Mascherano on Thursday.
The man whom Mascherano will be partnering in central defence will be Gerard Pique while the likes of Marc Bartra and Thomas Vermaelen will have to once again be content with a place on the bench.
Sergio Busquets and Sergi Roberto both picked up knocks during the victory over Sevilla and considering only three days of recovery time, the duo are unlikely to be featuring against Rayo Vallecano.
To make up for the absence of Busquets and Roberto, Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic should return to the starting lineup while Arda Turan will retain his place in the side but will know that he has to improve after a quiet performance over the weekend.
Lionel Messi grabbed an imperious goal through a free kick against Sevilla and he will look to add to his tally alongside partners in crime Luis Suarez and Neymar against a less than convincing Rayo Vallecano backline on Thursday night.
Via – Lineup Builder