Now is not a bad time to be taking on Barcelona. With midweek games on the horizon in five of the next six weeks, following six weeks of continuous Copa del Rey action, and no shortage of season-defining moments to be crammed into the next three months, there’s a school of thought that says the Blaugrana have been easing up of late, subconsciously doing just enough and keeping something back.
If that’s the case, then you suspect it’s going to bite them soon or later and there’s no shortage of incentive for Celta Vigo to end Barca’s club-record unbeaten run at 29 matches with a third victory in four against against their former boss Luis Enrique. Last season, the Galicians were 1-0 winners at the Camp Nou. Earlier this season, they were 4-1 winners at Balaidos.
Both of those victories, of course, were driven by the excellence of long-time Barca target Nolito and he will be absent from the Celta squad that travels to Catalunya with a mysterious injury that has kept him sidelined for the past two months, during which time Barca have failed in another transfer window to prise him away on the cheap.
Celta were well within their rights to hold out for the €18m buyout clause on their star performer and should be furious at how they’ve been dealt with as a club. So while the visitors are weaker without Nolito, their season having taken a nosedive with five defeats in seven league matches since the winter break, the siege mentality that stems from the whole saga might just inspire them to a monumental display here.
As ever with Barca, it’s a matter of scale and you have to be prepared to look stupid. But at what point does the balance tip, whereby the price on offer for going against them outweighs the brilliance of the most devastating front three of all time? In this scenario, I’m prepared to say odds of 33/1 are big enough about a team who were fourth at Christmas and quite evidently ‘the best of the rest’ until Nolito disappeared.
Given how Barca’s standards have dipped in recent weeks, it makes practical sense to cover the jackpot wager with a confident Asian handicap punt on Eduardo Berizzo’s men. Taking the +2.5 line, we make an overall profit even if Barca win by two goals, something they’ve only managed to do three times in the last nine league outings.
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