Barcelona were looking to start life after the last international break of the year in style against Rayo Vallecano, but fell short massively, with the game ending 1-1.
Their only goal of the game, too, came thanks to a cruel deflection from Vallecano’s defender Florian Lejeune.
With only two wins in their last five games, and a streak of poor performances lasting months at this point, the pressure is on Xavi. He can start the road to redemption tomorrow, when Barcelona host Porto in the UEFA Champions League.
After having drawn Porto, Shakhtar, and Royal Antwerp in the UCL, nothing short of finishing top of the group and qualification to the round of 16 would have sufficed, but as it stands, the Catalans sit second in the table on amount of goals scored.
There is no scope to slip up tomorrow, especially with most of the squad back from injury, including Frenkie de Jong, who played 90 minutes against Vallecano on the weekend.
Will Xavi risk the Dutchman for a crucial game, or will he have one eye on Atletico Madrid, who visit the Catalan capital at the end of the week? This is how Barça Universal predict the garnet and blue to lineup tomorrow.
Defence: Ronald Araujo captains
With Marc-Andre ter Stegen still injured, and unlikely to return against Porto, Inaki Pena will get his second start in a row for Barcelona. The La Masia graduate failed to impress vs Rayo as he conceded a loose strike from 30 yards out.
Arguably the most important player in defence for Barcelona, Ronald Araujo has to start the game tomorrow against Porto.
The Uruguayan was rested this weekend, and should be fully fit and in contention to go all guns blazing from minute one, with the captain’s armband, as well.
Inigo Martinez’s solid form cannot be ignored, but we expect Xavi to pick Jules Kounde over the Spaniard tomorrow, especially because the Frenchman was benched for the entire 90 in La Liga.
Xavi must go all in tomorrow, with no scope of holding back. Which is why Joao Cancelo and Alejandro Balde both are expected to start the game at right and left back, respectively.
That said, it will not be surprising if Xavi opted to use the Portuguese as an inverted left-back, and Kounde as the right-back.
Midfield: Ilkay Gundogan returns
After starting 16 games in a row, Ilkay Gundogan was deservedly rested this weekend. However, he should be kitted up to participate vs Porto, playing as the deepest of the midfielders as the pivot.
He will be paired up alongside Frenkie de Jong and Pedri, the club’s undisputed first-choice midfielders over the past three seasons at this point. While the former is fresh off an injury, his profile will be crucial against an intense Porto side.
Attack: Lopez, Raphinha
We expect Xavi to revert to a four-man midfield system despite the availability of all forwards including Joao Felix and Ferran Torres. However, it is clear that the team is craving more control in midfield, and thus, Fermin Lopez could get the nod at left-wing.
There are four players competing for a spot on the other wing, but Lamine Yamal played the full 90 against Rayo, which means he will start on the bench and Joao Felix is not particularly comfortable on the right-wing, leaving Raphinha and Torres.
However, given that Torres failed to impress on Saturday, Raphinha could be given the starting position, especially after making a decent impact off the bench against Rayo.
Finally, despite an underwhelming run of form, Robert Lewandowski will almost definitely spearhead the team tomorrow as the no. 9.
Fermin · Lewandowski · Raphinha
Pedri · Gundogan · de Jong
Balde · Kounde · Araujo · Cancelo
Joao Felix will be among the first players off the bench tomorrow, that is, if he does not start already. Xavi will also rely on Ferran Torres and/or Lamine Yamal to make a difference off the bench if push comes to shove.
Oriol Romeu will remain an option regardless of the state of the game, especially because Frenkie de Jong cannot be asked to play another 90 minutes.
Xavi could also give minutes to Sergi Roberto, if he is included in the squad list for the clash tomorrow.