Mike Holden previews Barcelona's potentially tricky La Liga clash with Sporting Gijon on Wednesday evening, live on Sky Sports.
Barcelona’s record away from the Camp Nou isn’t what you’d expect of a 1/6 shot. Forget the big six-pointers in the Spanish capital - against the rank and file of the division, they’ve played eight away matches, producing two wins by two clear goals, two wins by the odd goal, two draws and two defeats. It’s good enough to put them on course for the title, alongside the cricket scores they run up in Catalunya, but, again, that’s not the issue.
Detaching victories at the Vicente Calderon and Santiago Bernabeu from a sample of results to make a point might seem a bit convenient to some but Barcelona operate in a different stratosphere to the rest of Spain - and they know it. So it’s perfectly reasonable to believe that, once they reach the midway point of a 65-game season, performances away from the eyes of their paying public might dip in games of little consequence.
So the case for backing Sporting Gijon in some capacity isn’t even about Sporting Gijon. What they’ve got to offer barely matters, although they do come into this game with some confidence on the back of four matches unbeaten. No, this is more about Barcelona and anticipating the possibility that they might produce one of those dodgy displays where they just go through the motions.
Since the pivotal Clasico success in November, home wins over Real Sociedad (4-0), Real Betis (4-0), Athletic Bilbao (6-0) and Celta Vigo (6-1) have been interspersed with some pretty unconvincing displays against the likes of Valencia (1-1), Deportivo (2-2), Espanyol (0-0), Malaga (2-1) and Levante (2-0). Generally, it’s a coin-toss at the moment whether they turn up or not.
And there’s a growing school of thought that says Barcelona, for some reason, don’t like early kick-offs with three of the five below-par examples listed above played at 4pm (local time) and another at midday, so who knows what the Catalans might make of a midweek game in hand, brought forward a couple of hours so as not to clash with the evening’s Champions League action.
There’s also the intriguing sub-plot of Barca boss Luis Enrique returning to his birthplace to face former team-mate and current Sporting coach Abelardo Fernandez, a man he has known since early childhood and is "like family". Talking in the build-up, Enrique said: "If our (30-game) unbeaten run has to end, I hope it would be at El Molinón, but I hope it doesn’t."
It would be absurd to think Enrique would hands the points over lightly but any subconscious desire to avoid humiliating his hometown club might just leave the Blaugrana more vulnerable than usual. Take the 5/1 available on the Sporting-Draw double chance and invest in a couple ludicrous correct score prices, splitting a point between Sporting to win 2-0 at 200/1 and Sporting to win 2-1 at 60/1.
Click here for more information about Mike Holden’s shot-based ratings system