What a few days it has been for Barca. Back-to-back heavy defeats coupled with Xavi announcing his departure, can they get back on track on Wednesday evening?
Mark Sochon previews Barcelona vs Osasuna for us at Betfred Insights and offers up his Best Betting Tips and predictions for the match live on Viaplay with a 18:00 kick-off time...
Barcelona are back in action on Wednesday after a wild weekend in which their on-field problems were plain for all to see in a crushing 5-3 home defeat against Villarreal. The result was followed by Xavi’s announcement that he would be leaving at the end of the season.
Given the performance levels over the past few months and a series of heavy defeats in key fixtures, the sense was already growing that this would most likely be Xavi’s final year in charge of Barcelona.
By announcing his summer exit now, Xavi claimed it would help his players “feel free” and it should at least kill some of the noise that was building around the Barca boss. Whether this news truly takes all the pressure off his players and sparks an improvement in form is more doubtful.
While Xavi is far from blameless for their current plight, there are some fundamental problems right now which have no obvious quick fix. With little funds to do anything in the January transfer window, some of those issues are likely to continue to make life tough for Xavi for the remainder of his reign.
The absence of a convincing holding midfield is one major flaw in this team. 32 year old former Southampton man Oriol Romeu, signed for around £3m in the summer, has never felt like the solution to the hole left by Sergio Busquets. That has compounded the defensive issues with individuals under performing across the back four while the injured Marc-Andre ter Stegen has been sorely missed in goal.
Robert Lewandowski is another declining force with his all-round contribution frequently very low, although he remains by far Barca’s biggest goal threat. Meanwhile Joao Felix, a player that Xavi never seemed particularly keen to sign, has faded after a bright start.
Barcelona head into the midweek action 11 points behind leaders Girona with a game in hand and 10 behind Real Madrid with both teams having played 21 games. Dropped points in four of their last eight league outings suggests this title defence is already as good as over but they do at least now have a more favourable run of fixtures.
That run starts here with a home game against Osasuna. While the Pamplona side are above weekend visitors Villarreal in La Liga, they aren’t anywhere near as threatening in the final third. This isn’t likely to be quite as open as the eight goal thriller at the Estadi Olimpic on Saturday when Barca came from behind to lead 3-2, only to concede 84th, 99th and 102nd minute goals as they let in five in a home league game for the first time in over 60 years.
Barcelona and Osasuna have already met this month. That was the Supercopa Semi Final in Saudi Arabia which Barca won 2-0 in one of their more assured defensive showings.
Osasuna have put in a couple of decent performances since then though. They beat Getafe 3-2 at home thanks to a freakish goal from Jesus Areso who scored from the most impossible of angles while they also took a useful point from their weekend trip to Sevilla.
It’s just one defeat in seven league games for Osasuna heading into this. That suggests they are finding a bit of form at last in an otherwise unconvincing season, following on from an excellent 7th place finish last year which resulted in a short-lived UEFA Conference League campaign earlier this term.
This is Barcelona’s ninth match in January so it’s perhaps not a surprise that they’ve looked tired in some games, particularly with extensive injury issues leaving Xavi with few senior options when it comes to rotation.
They’re missing Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Alejandro Balde, Gavi, Raphinha, Marcos Alonso and Sergi Roberto again here while Iñigo Martinez is still a major doubt. We should see changes on the left flank with Joao Cancelo and Ferran Torres rotating in while Pedri is also expected to come back into the eleven after a weekend rest.
Osasuna have started using a 3-5-2 system in recent games with Ante Budimir by far their main goal threat up front while Jose Arnaiz and Raul Garcia are competing for a start alongside the Croatian.
The unpredictable Chimy Avila is their only injury concern heading into this game. Osasuna do have quite a big squad for a mid-table side and they’re likely to make several changes from the team that drew in Seville. Aimar Oroz, Jon Moncayola and Lucas Torro could all come into the side to totally freshen up the midfield without necessarily weakening it.
Despite their problems, Barcelona have still won three of their last four in La Liga and they are priced at 2/7 to win this game. You can back the Draw at 9/2 while an Osasuna win is available at 9/1.
There have been goals galore in Barcelona games of late. They come into this game after 5-3 and 4-2 defeats, following a 4-2 victory at Real Betis in one of their most impressive performances of the campaign. You can back Over 2.5 Goals at 4/7 here while Over 3.5 Goals is priced at 6/4.
Robert Lewandowski leads the way in the goalscorer markets at 100/30 to score first and 19/20 to score anytime while Ferran Torres, who scored a hat-trick in the recent trip to Betis, is priced at 6/5 to score anytime.
No Barca player has scored as many league goals as Osasuna’s Ante Budimir this season though. The visiting striker moved onto 10 goals on Sunday and you can back Budimir to score anytime at 5/2 in this game.
Bet 1 - Osasuna +2.0 Handicap @ 9/10
Punters will need to weigh up whether or not Xavi’s announcement is truly capable of taking the pressure off these players and sparking a reaction in this Barcelona team on Wednesday.
While it’s still a game they may win, I’m not convinced we’ll see a huge response. Fatigue is clearly a factor for Barca right now given their busy schedule. Osasuna are an organised side
and they do have the kind of balanced squad that will enable them to make changes and be the fresher of the two teams given Barcelona’s selection issues.
While Osasuna may not be capable of exposing the home team’s defensive issues quite as brutally as some of Barca’s recent opponents have done, I still like the look of Osasuna +2.0 Handicap at 9/10.
Bet 2 - Highest Scoring Half - 2nd Half @ 21/20
Partly because of the fatigue that such a hectic fixture list brings, we’ve seen recent Barcelona games become incredibly stretched and open in the Second Half. They were actually goalless against Villarreal until the 41st minute on Saturday with seven of the eight goals coming after the break.
There have been just 12 goals scored in the First Half of their home league games this term with 28 after the break. Meanwhile 72% of Barca’s league goals overall have come in the Second Half.
I can see this game also becoming more open after the break and I’m backing Highest Scoring Half - 2nd Half at 21/20.
You can check out Mark's La Liga Betting Tips along with those from the rest of the Betfred Insights Spanish Football writers on our La Liga home page...