Camp Nou, Saturday, 7pm, live on Sky Sports 4
BARCELONA will need to see off relegation candidates Sporting Gijon today without the suspended Lionel Messi. The go-to man for every Spanish betting fan will be forced to sit out this 90 minutes at Camp Nou after picking up five bookings this season, with the clincher coming in last week's win at Atletico Madrid.
It's a big blow considering the Argentine ace has missed just one hour's worth of play in the league this whole season, playing some part in every game and out of the seven goals scored over the last two weeks, he's netted five of them.
With the second-leg of their Champions League second-round clash with Bayer Leverkusen following three days after this one, Pep Guardiola is likely to rest key players with the likes of Thiago and Eric Abidal reporting back from international duty with injuries.
This could pave the way for La Masia youngsters Christian Tello, Isaac Cuenca and Sergi Roberto to start with the returning Seydou Keita also in with a shout.
The last clash between these two ended 1-0 to Barcelona with Adriano getting the solitary goal. However, Sporting have been on horror run that's seen them go six matches without a win and the misfiring outfit will be without their biggest threat, Adrian Colunga, as he also deals with suspension. Barca are likely to make the most of this with a 3-4-3 formation.
Sporting are in 19th and a club in crisis. Manolo Preciado, the man who had kept the Rojiblancos in the top division for years, was bulleted after his own run of dire results and replaced by Javier Clemente. Little else has changed, however.
In 19 home games this term, Barca have netted 78 goals, which is an average of four goals per game. Discounting Messi's goals at home (28) sees Barca net an average of 2.5 goals at the Camp Nou through other players.
An unscientific approach to betting on this one will be to go for a smaller margin of victory but still not undershooting what the European champions should do to the side clinging for life at the bottom of their domestic table.
Scores predictions are tough but three could be the magic number in this one with Barca likely to keep a clean sheet. My tip for a 3-0 victory pays out at 13-2 with Totesport and Betfred. And 4-0 pays 8-1 with Blue Square and 888sport.
I can't see a poor Gijon side finding the net here unless there's some major mistakes made by the Barcelona defence. There's the potential of falling foul to an early counterattacker as they go for the throat from the off but go for “no” on the both teams to score market (8-13, Ladbrokes).
Anytime scorers could be where the money's at. Spanish winger Pedro (evens, Stan James) has been a sterling find for Guardiola; a player that looked confident and cool right from his Blaugrana debut and who has steadily improved.
I've spoken about the two-footed Tenerife local in depth before but with Messi missing he could be the most experienced man in his side's attack tonight.
Cesc Fabregas has been steady all season and he's fulfilled his attacking potential since switching from Arsenal last summer, scoring 15 goals in all competitions. He was a central midfielder at Highbury and the Emirates but has been thrust into the “false No.9” role and attacking midfielder slot in Catalonia.
A thumping return of four goals in his first four games at the club is the most for any new midfielder.
He's 11-8 to score during the 90 minutes with BetVictor and 7-1 to net two or more. Xavi (5-2, Skybet) and Iniesta (11-4, Skybet) to simply score are also tough to dismiss. For Barca to win both halves, Paddy Power pay a lowly, but likely, 2-5.