Barcelona host Real Valladolid at Camp Nou on Saturday night hoping to return to winning ways following a run of three consecutive draws.
Heading into their 24th fixture of the 2018/19 LaLiga campaign, Barcelona remain top of the table despite dropping points against Valencia and Athletic Bilbao.
But the in-form Real Madrid have now moved up to second place and are just six points behind their Catalan rivals after winning five of their last six league outings.
On the back of last weekend’s 3-1 derby win at Atletico Madrid, it appears that Los Blancos’ hot streak will not be coming to an end just yet and an unlikely title bid cannot be ruled out now.
Therefore, Barcelona need to respond right away and end their winless run before Real can recoup further ground on them in the title battle.
A key part of this will hinge on the availability of captain Lionel Messi, who has been struggling with a thigh problem.
Despite not being fully-fit, Barcelona took an ill-advised risk on Messi and played him anyway in their goalless draw with Athletic last weekend.
But manager Ernesto Valverde revealed at a charity event on Thursday that Messi has resumed normal training and is “at the top of his powers”.
Meanwhile, Valladolid head over to Catalonia this weekend looking to grab anything that will help in their bid for survival.
Overall, it’s been a mixed first season back in LaLiga for La Pucela with the highlight being their four-match winning run and their low-point being a 4-0 defeat to bottom-side SD Huesca on February 1.
Sergio González’s side have only claimed one win in their last eight league games and no team in LaLiga has scored fewer goals than them this season at 19.
The last time these two sides met came in August with Barcelona claiming a 1-0 win at Valladolid through Ousmane Dembele’s second-half goal.
Barcelona have been boosted by the return of Samuel Umtiti to training after being sidelined since November due to a knee problem.
Although the French defender may have to wait a little longer for a return to competitive action with Valverde announcing he’s unsure whether Umtiti will feature against Valladolid or at Lyon in the Champions League on Tuesday.
Therefore, Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet are expected to continue at the heart of the Blaugrana defence.
Brazilian midfielder Arthur Melo is out with a hamstring problem, which leaves Arturo Vidal and Carles Aleñá to compete for his place.
But Jordi Alba will likely return to the starting line-up after serving a one-match ban in last weekend’s draw at Athletic.
As mentioned above, Messi will likely feature against Valladolid to partner Dembele and Luis Suarez up front due to his progress in the past week.
On the other hand, Valladolid welcome back Fernando Calero from suspension for their trip to Camp Nou.
However, Óscar Plano will be serving a one-match ban with Pablo Hervías (knee) and Duje Cop (muscular) sidelined for the encounter.
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Sergi Roberto, Piqué, Lenglet, Jordi Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Arturo Vidal; Dembélé, Messi & Luis Suárez.
Valladolid: Masip; Moyano, Olivas, Calero, Nacho; Alcaraz, Borja, Míchel; Keko, Toni Villa & Sergi Guardiola.