Arron from our sister site Barca Blaugranes has shared some fantastic insights on Sunday's match against Barcelona B. Hope this whets your appetite until tomorrow. Enjoy!
1. Recent form -- What explains the recent downturn in form (aside from having nothing to play for)? Where have the goals gone?
Well, I'd say a major factor in our recent downturn in form would have to be the defense. Much like the senior squad, Barça B really struggle to keep the opposition at bay (and that's no surprise when you're signing guys like David Lomban) and without a "superstar" (or perhaps more pertinently, a raft of "superstars") the kids just can't consistently find the firepower required to grind out results. We opened with four clean sheets in opening ten matches and managed just two since then - and with statistics like that, you're going to get punished sooner or later. Also, I think you have to point at Grimaldo's injury as something of a turning point as well. He went down in the Hercules match with a terrible knee ligament injury - and up until that point, he could have been our player of the season, even though he's just 17. Since then, we've got just three wins - probably in part due to what he offered on the overlap at the offensive end.
And it seems a little odd to talk about a lack of goals with the division's joint-best offense, but there's no denying that the goals have dried up. Gerard Deulofeu hasn't scored since early March, Araujo has only got a couple of goals in the past four months - and the same applies for Luis Alberto who was really on fire at the start of the season. Without the production of those guys, there's no-one consistently stepping up - almost certainly the downside of a team of youngsters - and whether that's down to a lack of talent (Dongou was tipped for great things, but has been a little quiet in front of goal) or the management remains to be seen.
2. Expected starting XI -- Who will be away on youth team duty? Any stars to watch for in the lineup? Weak spots?
As mentioned, pretty much any team can get at this defense - and even more so this weekend. Marc Muniesa is away on international duty with the Under 21s and the senior squad is missing a whole host of players as well, meaning that some of the usual B team players are going to be called up for the match against Pellegrini and Malaga. There'll be more indication as to who that might be later on, but my instinct would be that Iván Balliu and possibly even Deulofeu and Rafinha will miss the game on Sunday. If that's the case, I would absolutely pinpoint the partnership of Lomban and Sergi Gómez as a clear weakness and that struggling attack could be missing some of its best members as well.
That could have opened up some space for Eusebio to give Adama some game-time - he's been great for the Juvenil A team this season and is tipped to be Deulofeu's replacement when he inevitably leaves the B team this summer but he's likely to be away with the Under 19s, along with Sergi Samper - and that means it could be possible (although unlikely) that Sandro could get a rare call-up as well; he's got the eye for goal that the team has been lacking in recent weeks.
Clearly though, the stars are the usual candidates - Deulofeu if he's available, and then we have the likes of Rafinha, Sergi Roberto and Luis Alberto, who should be returning to Sevilla this summer. Alberto in particular could have a bright future in La Liga - while the others will probably have to leave on loan in the summer if they want regular game-time.
3. Motivation -- What is the team playing for? How many spots should be available in the 'A' team next season? Any affinity for Girona, meaning we should expect an extra effort?
You're right in the sense that there is no overall motivation for the team. Obviously, we can't get promoted, or reach the play-offs and we avoided relegation a long time ago - but there should be some motivation from each individual. In a bigger picture sense, Eusebio should have the team motivated, as he's still fighting for his job. Most Culés dislike him as a manager and would like to see him gone, and who knows what the club is thinking after this recent stretch of form. Guys like Sergi Roberto, Deulofeu and Rafinha should be fighting for a place in the senior squad but have clauses in their contract that ensure that anyway (from next season onwards) and that's probably hurting their effort in the final few matches. At least, in comparison to you guys who are fighting tooth and nail for a spot in the Primera. And as a result of these clauses, there's not really any room for anyone else to be promoted. Marc Muniesa could have a chance, but he looks set to leave on a free transfer this summer - and misses this game anyway. Position-wise, there's the small matter of finishing ahead of Castilla - but I'd expect us to cement that in the final matchday, when we face Xerez, and Castilla take on Girona.
Being honest, I am probably not best placed to talk about Barcelona's affinity with Girona, but I do know that we performed poorly against them last weekend - and with Espanyol safe for another season, there will still be a local derby next season, regardless of whether Girona are promoted or not. I'd also like to think that there's a certain relationship between our two clubs as well though - we've given Villarreal a lot of tickets, and the response has been staggering from what I've seen. The sheer number of fans making the trip up the coast is extraordinary - and in my eyes, it demonstrates exactly why La Liga needs you guys back next season. Girona have a play-off spot guaranteed thanks to our match against them last weekend; I really hope that's the only favour we give them!