La Liga’s surprise package Girona will look to continue its dream run in the league when it faces defending champion Barcelona at its temporary home, the Olympic Stadium, on Sunday.
With just one loss in 15 games, Girona, a club that earned promotion to the top division – for the second time – in 2022, has turned heads all over Europe and sits four points above Barca, at second.
But beating the 27-time league champion will be one of its toughest tests this season.
Girona has faced only one of La Liga’s big-three (Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid) this season, playing Los Blancos in September, and that remains its only loss.
Against Barca, however, Michel’s side will look at the opponent’s injury woes to capitalise on, with three of its first-team regulars, Gavi (ACL injury), Marc-Andre Ter Stegen (back injury) and Marcos Alonso (foot injury), ruled out.
Former Barcelona and Spanish national team midfielder Luis Garcia, however, feels that that would not be a major issue for the Blaugrana.
“If you look at their capabilities and how they play in Europe, I think that they have a large enough team to be able to continue until the last match in the league,” Garcia told reporters in a virtual interaction.
“We’ve seen (Joao) Cancelo on the wings. He can provide goals to (Robert) Lewandowski. The number of talented players that can decide results (in favour of Barcelona) is very large.”
Barca comes into the match after two hard-fought wins, against Porto (2-1) and Atletico Madrid (1-0), respectively. However, Garcia admitted that there will be holes to plug for the team before facing a side that looks to be the ‘new Leicester City’ of the Spanish first division.
“Barcelona is vulnerable. We’ve seen them suffer when they have to go out from the back,” he said, adding that its manager Xavi Hernandez seems to still looking for a set starting line-up this season.
“It (the midfield) hasn’t worked out yet between (Ilkay )Gundogan and Frenkie De Jong. I think that Gavi is still making the transition since he has so much talent. I think he’s (Xavi) trying to look for a solid team to work with. With injuries, players perhaps haven’t been on the expected level or haven’t performed as expected,” he added.
Girona, on the other hand, will eye its third consecutive win, coming into the game after a commanding 5-2 victory against Orihuela in the Copa del Rey.
Its only notable absence will be midfielder Yangel Herrera, who is ruled out for the rest of the year, reportedly with a myotendinous strain injury. The last time Barca hosted Girona, the visitor held Barca to a goalless draw.
This year, Michel’s side will look to go one step further to notch up a win. Barca’s manager Xavi made it very clear, on the eve of the match, that he was not taking the team lightly.
“Girona last season at our home put pressure on us, and in Montilivi, they closed down. We’ll see tomorrow,” Xavi said.
“We have prepared the game with several scenarios. They have more variants and individualities. They’ve improved a lot from last year.”