Heading into the new year, one would assume facing 15th placed Mallorca halfway through the season will not be concerning business for Barcelona. That assumption, unfortunately, would be incorrect.
If anything, the clash on Sunday night is probably the most challenging test for Xavi yet. The squad is missing 17 members, with ten of them ruled out because of COVID. A few have injuries, and there are suspensions as well. Barça have nine senior team members at their disposal of the game, which includes two goalkeepers.
The Blaugranas could leap into the top-four with a victory and some luck, but choosing a lineup will be the most challenging part of the night. For both Xavier and us. Without further ado, let’s try and predict the XI.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen will hope to stand tall in the green of the goalkeeper kit. The German has been one of the loose screws in this Barcelona unit, but with the dawn of the new year, a lot can change.
Clement Lenglet and Samuel Umtiti are out for the game after testing positive for Coronavirus, which leaves Barcelona with four central defenders. With no fullback available, either, all four will form the backline tomorrow night.
Oscar Mingueza has found a new position on the pitch under Xavi at left-back, albeit unsuccessfully so far. The La Masia graduate will start there on the night, hoping to deliver an all-important performance that turns his season around.
On the far right side, Ronald Araujo will take stand. By far Barcelona’s best defender, the Uruguayan will have to cover as a fullback.
Eric Garcia and Gerard Pique will sit in the heart of the defence, as they have so often this season. Their collective proactiveness, coupled with superb long-range passing, makes them a threat on two fronts for Mallorca.
Gavi and Sergio Busquets are suspended for the game, leaving Xavi with Nico Gonzalez, Frenkie de Jong, and Riqui Puig.
Neither Nico nor de Jong are sitting 6’s and probably cannot cover for Busquets alone at the base of the midfield. Therefore, we predict them to form a double pivot on the night. When one sits, the other can join the attack, as a box-to-box midfielders.
Puig will be happy to start a game, no less one in his favoured attacking midfield position. The Spaniard is capable of a lot of damage in the final third with an incredible eye for a pass and his ball-carrying ability. This could be his chance to prove himself with extended minutes finally.
The forward line is where the real concerns lie. Memphis Depay, Ansu Fati, Martin Braithwaite, and the soon-to-be free Ousmane Dembele will be absent from this game. Ferran Torres has not been registered yet so far because of wage-bill trouble, leaving Barça with just one first-team attacker.
That senior player happens to be Luuk de Jong, who could well be on his way out soon with Cadiz working on signing him. He will, however, undoubtedly lead the line tomorrow.
This also means Ferran Jutgla will get to start his natural position as a winger. He’s started as a no. 9 so far, scoring a goal against Elche.
We round the lineup off with Ilias Akhomach. The teenager got some minutes against Espanyol on Xavi’s debut, but has not been seen since. As a left-footed inverted winger, he needs to make his presence felt in the final-third.
Jutgla · Luuk · Ilias
de Jong · Nico
Mingueza · Eric · Pique · Araujo
There will not be many options available for Barcelona tomorrow, who will almost certainly name limited players on the bench. One of the players who could see some minutes is Guillem Jaime. The right-back could be called to fill in a more offensive role from the back.
Estanis Pedrola has been training with the senior team this past week, and his hailed as one a really promising winger. If Barcelona need to shift gears, the 18-year-old could definitely get his debut.
With no natural 6 in the team, Alvaro Sanz could be pushed into the field of action to reinforce the defence.
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