With a top-four finish now guaranteed, Barcelona continue their La Liga campaign with the visit of Celta Vigo to Camp Nou on Tuesday evening.
The Blaugrana made sure of Champions League qualification by beating Real Betis 2-1 at the weekend, while the visitors cruised past Alaves 4-0.
Barcelona giving Copa del Rey winners Real Betis a guard of honour was certainly a collector’s item, but Xavi’s side focused on the task at hand when the first whistle blew and guaranteed themselves a place in the 2021-22 Champions League in dramatic fashion at the Benito Villamarin.
Ansu Fati came off the bench to strike the opening goal in the second half before ex-Blaugrana defender Marc Bartra restored parity through his shoulder, but a goal worthy of sealing Champions League qualification came via the left foot of Jordi Alba in the 94th minute.
The left-back’s exquisite volley confirmed Barcelona’s place in the big time after a marked turnaround in fortunes under Xavi, who has not been without his problems in recent weeks but will see his team end the gameweek in second place – four points clear of Sevilla with three games left.
It is still mathematically possible for Sevilla and Atletico Madrid to bump Barcelona down to fourth, but the pressure is now off the Blaugrana’s shoulders for their final few games of the term with Celta, Getafe and Villarreal, and preparations can soon begin for a busy summer of acquisitions.
Victory over Mallorca at Camp Nou on May 1 saw Barcelona end a three-game losing streak on their own turf in all competitions, but Xavi’s side have now gone four games without a clean sheet at their Catalan base, and their upcoming opponents were in a rampant mood at the weekend.
Rocked by the news of Santi Mina’s four-year prison sentence after being convicted of sexual abuse, Celta Vigo did not allow the shocking off-field events to distract them as they more or less condemned basement side Alaves to relegation with a four-goal thumping.
Captain Iago Aspas continued his fine goalscoring form with his 16th and 17th strikes of the season in that game after Thiago Galhardo had taken just six minutes to break the deadlock, and a Ximo Navarro own goal and red card embodied Alaves’ disastrous day at Balaidos.
A top-half finish is by no means out of the question for Eduardo Coudet’s side, who currently find themselves 11th in the standings after Rayo Vallecano failed to take all three points home from their trip to Getafe on Sunday afternoon.
Having won just one of their last seven before Alaves paid a visit to their headquarters, a four-goal thrashing was the perfect tonic for Celta Vigo amid their troubling week, but they travel to Camp Nou having only picked up one win from their last nine away games on the road in all tournaments.
However, Coudet’s side produced a phenomenal comeback from 3-0 down to draw 3-3 with Barcelona earlier in the season, and Coudet’s side also won 2-1 at Camp Nou last term, so the opportunity to prolong the Blaugrana’s recent misery on Catalan turf this week is certainly a realistic one.
Barcelona La Liga form:
Barcelona form (all competitions):
Celta Vigo La Liga form:
We say: Barcelona 2-1 Celta Vigo
Always posing a threat going forward with Aspas leading the charge, Celta Vigo have been a bit of a bogey team for Barcelona in the past and will aim to take advantage of the Busquets-less Blaugrana midfield.
Xavi will not want to see his side let their energy levels drop despite sealing Champions League qualification, though, and the wealth of the hosts’ attacking options leads us to back a narrow win for the Barcelona.