FC Barcelona travel to the Sanchez Pizjuan on Saturday for a game that is absolutely vital to both teams’ La Liga title hopes.

Wednesday’s 3-0 win at home to Elche moved Barca a point above Sevilla into third place in La Liga, five points behind Atletico Madrid, but with an extra game played, Ronald Koeman’s side needs all three points on Saturday, Xinhua news agency reported.

The two teams met in the same ground just over a fortnight ago in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals, with Sevilla winning 2-0, and they will meet again next Wednesday in a match where Barca will need to score at least twice to have a chance of qualifying.

However, with the league title in play on Saturday there is no way that either of the two teams can use Saturday as a dress rehearsal for the cup and Koeman made that clear when he rested players such as Antoine Griezmann, Sergio Busquets and Ousmane Dembele on Wednesday.

Those three will presumably return to the side and Koeman will have to decide who partners with Gerard Pique in central defence.

Ronald Araujo, who twisted his ankle against Sevilla a fortnight ago, is back in full training and if Koeman believes he is fully fit, the young Uruguayan will start. If not, then he will have to decide between Samuel Umtiti, former Sevilla stopper Clemente Lenglet (who has made several important errors recently) or Oscar Mingueza.

Mingueza could also cover at right back, where he offers better defensive cover than Sergino Dest, but less pushing forward.

Sevilla have been able to prepare well for the game following their impressive 2-0 win away to Osasuna on Monday night. That was their sixth consecutive league win without conceding a goal – a run that stretches to eight matches their Copa del Rey wins against Almeria and Barca are included.

With Lucas Ocamos still sidelined with ligament damage, winger Suso is Sevilla’s main injury worry with a muscle problem, but even so coach Julen Lopetegui has a range of attacking options, including Youssef En Nesyri, Munir and Luuk de Jong able to ask plenty of questions of Barca’s defence in a game both sides have to win.

–IANS

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