Barcelona's lead in La Liga is down to nine points, following a scoreless draw at last-place Huesca last weekend. Don't be alarmed, though. Ernesto Valverde fielded a second-string squad in that match, looking ahead to Barca's Champions League quarterfinal second leg. It was business as usual on Wednesday, with a 3-0 win over Manchester United, including two goals from Lionel Messi.
Messi was one of the many players who were rested last weekend, so I expect him to start on Saturday. Barcelona is also the biggest favorites of the week, at home against 10th-place Real Sociedad. As such, Messi will be my Tier 1 forward and captain.
I won't, however, be picking teammate Philippe Coutinho at Tier 1 midfielder, despite the fact that Coutinho scored against Manchester United. It was a beautiful strike, to be sure, but it also was Coutinho's only shot of the game. One moment of brilliance isn't enough to sway me after a season full of underachievement.
Instead, I'm going with Pablo Sarabia, who has heated up again, as my Tier 1 midfielder. He's played a big part in Sevilla's resurgence -- a team that has risen to fourth place (the final automatic Champions League spot), one point ahead of Getafe and three ahead of Valencia. Sarabia had a goal and an assist in his side's 3-2 win over Real Betis last weekend.
Sarabia has now scored in three of the past four games (plus two assists), and is averaging 2.75 shots and 4.0 chances created in those games. He's the only player in the league other than Messi in double-figures in both goals and assists (11 apiece). He also checks in at fifth in the league in chances created (63). Sevilla have won three in a row, and are slight favorites despite playing at Getafe.
To the Max
The two players I like at Tier 2 forward this week are Alvaro Morata and Maxi Gomez. The problem with Morata is that he hasn't started the past two games and, by the time Atletico Madrid play on Saturday, Celta Vigo will already have played. I'm not worried about Gomez's starting status, so I'm going with him as my my Tier 2 forward.
Plus Celta Vigo is a bigger favorite, playing at home against Girona, than Atletico Madrid is in visiting Eibar. Celta also certainly have more to play for than Atletico. They're currently in 17th place, just one point above the relegation zone. Also, Girona have lost four in a row and are now mired in the relegation battle themselves, just two points ahead of Celta.
Gomez didn't score last week, but Celta were without the suspended Iago Aspas, and played at Atletico -- the best defensive team in the league. Gomez did score in two of the previous three games and is now up to 11 goals on the season. He has averaged 3.0 shots per game in that stretch.
At Tier 2 midfielder, Giovani Lo Celso will be a popular pick, especially after scoring his eighth goal of the season last week against Sevilla, preceded by a brace the week before that against Villarreal. That said, Lo Celso's floor remains relatively low. He's only averaging 1.7 shots and 35.3 passes per game. He also failed to reach double-digit fantasy points in his previous five games, averaging just 6.3 points during that span. Also, Real Betis is going up against Valencia, who have conceded just 27 goals in 32 games. Only Atletico Madrid have conceded fewer (21).
Speaking of Atletico, Koke finished with double-digit points for the fifth game in a row last week, despite not scoring a goal in any of those games. He had 88 passes completed in their 2-0 win over Celta Vigo last Saturday, plus two chances created, and is averaging 64.0 passes completed and 3.0 chances created in the past five games. That's a high floor, so he'll be my Tier 2 midfielder.
Thomas, Atletico Madrid (Tier 3 midfielder): He was suspended last week and finished with just 4.1 points the week before, but Atletico were playing at Barcelona in that one. Thomas had averaged 11.4 points per game in his previous four starts before that meeting with Barca. He's a goal threat, with three already this season (and three assists) -- and there aren't many of those in Tier 3.
Gerard Pique, Barcelona (Tier 1 defender): With Sergio Ramos likely still out due to injury, I'm turning to Pique, who finished with 16.4 points in Barcelona's first meeting with Real Sociedad. Barca had 68.7 percent of the possession in that game, and Pique had 80 passes completed.
Jonathan Silva, Leganes (Tier 2 defender): He has now scored a goal in back-to-back games and has three on the season, plus six assists. The only defender with more assists in La Liga is Jordi Alba (8). Silva doesn't have a high floor, as he averages only 20.7 passes completed per game, but he is averaging 11.3 points per game since returning from injury in late March. Plus, Leganes is up against a relatively weak team defensively in Villarreal.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Barcelona (Goalkeeper): He's second in the league in clean sheets (14), behind only Jan Oblak (18). Ter Stegen is at home this week (Oblak is away) and has posted four consecutive clean sheets -- if you include Barcelona's two Champions League matches against Manchester United. Now he'll be up against a mid-table Real Sociedad side with little to play for. At least, it looked that way in their 1-1 draw against Eibar last week, in which they mustered just three shots.