Barcelona will probably win this weekend, but once again their defense will be under scrutiny as Rayo Vallecano will look to take advantage of TIto Vilanova's swiss cheese-like back line.
Rayo Vallecano will be looking to get their first home victory over Barcelona since December 2002, while Barcelona will just be trying to keep things moving in the right direction as they slowly being to get injured players back.
We know Tito Vilanova will deploy the usual 4-3-3 formation, but as always, it's a question of what to do with the defense. Javier Mascherano is suspended following his sending off against Deportivo La Coruña, so it makes sense that Marc Bartra will start alongside either Alex Song or Adriano. Bartra was solid against Celtic on Tuesday and it's really only of question of when, not if, he'll become a regular fixture on the back line. Moving Adriano inside allows Jordi Alba to stay at right back and Sergio Busquets to return to the midfield where he's more valuable.
Rayo will be without their experienced central defender Mikel Labaka as he serves a suspension, but Francisco Jémez will be boosted by the return of defender Jordi Amat and forward Nicki Bille from injury. Rayo's form has been up and down all season, good enough for a mid-table position but not exactly the type of team that's intimidating anyone. They key for them will be the same thing that the rest of La Liga faces when they play Barca (except for Real Madrid of course), try to take advantage of the Blaugrana's shaky defense and find a way not to concede more goals than you are able to score.
Rayo Vallecano injuries and suspensions
Out: Mikel Labaka (suspended). In doubt: Piti (illness), David Cobeño (illness)
Barcelona injuries and suspensions
Out: Gerard Piqué(ankle), Carles Puyol (elbow), Thiago Alcantara (knee), Javier Mascherno (suspended) In Doubt: Dani Alves (hamstring).
Rayo's only two doubts are Piti and David Cobeno, both of whom are suffering from an illness. For Barcelona, Puyol and Alcantara remain out with long term injuries, but the defense could get a boost with both Alves and Piqué back in training. Based on Vilanova's comments, seeing Piquéwould be a real surprise but Alves was given the all-clear in training and should at least make the bench.
Match Date/Time: 11 p.m. local, 4 p.m. ET
Venue: Estadio de Vallecas, Madrid, Spain
TV: beIN Sport 1 (U.S.), Sky Sports 1 (U.K.)