Coming off a disheartening defeat against Real Madrid last weekend, Barcelona will look to get back to winning ways as they lock horns vs Real Sociedad tomorrow.
The goal is to close down the gap between them and and the top of the table, that has been extended to four points.
A lot has happened for Barça between the two games, though, as Frenkie de Jong’s return seems to have been delayed by another fortnight, while Pedri is back in the squad and could get some minutes.
Meanwhile, Ilkay Gundogan’s comments post El Clasico have been received in good taste by the blaugrana coaching staff, who believe that the German’s leadership and confidence could propel them to bigger achievements this season and beyond.
Ahead of the Sociedad clash, it has been reported that Xavi will be looking to change up the starting lineup a fair bit, making personnel switches across multiple positions.
Barça Universal takes a stab at predicted Barcelona’s XI for the game.
Defence: Cancelo at left-back?
First things first, while there have been criticisms aimed at Marc-Andre ter Stegen for his performance against Madrid, and especially for the first goal scored by Jude Bellingham, his place in goal remains cemented, mostly due to a lack of an able replacement.
Xavi opted for a back-three against Madrid, but will likely revert to a quartet this weekend. Inigo Martinez once again put in a flawless shift, and should get the nod to start to start in central defence alongside Andreas Christensen.
We predict Joao Cancelo to get the nod ahead of Alejandro Balde at left-back, primarily in an attempt to regain numerical superiority in midfield that went missing in the second half last weekend.
Balde’s productivity has taken a hit as well, and some time on the bench might be an important wake-up call for the Spaniard.
With Sergi Roberto out of action, and Jules Kounde not fit enough to start the game, Ronald Araujo is expected to play as the right-back in an attempt to secure the backline against Imanol Barrenetxea’s attack-minded side.
Midfield: Pedri starts on the bench
The midfield was flawless for the most part against Madrid, and it is unlikely that we will see any changes to the trident Xavi opted for at the start. Oriol Romeu did come in around the 70th minute mark, but his presence only made things worse for Xavi’s side.
Fermin Lopez will get his fifth-ever senior start, and will be deployed in central midfield with the license to push up as an attacking midfielder. His ball-striking and final-third dynamism could be the key to unlocking Sociedad’s defence.
Ilkay Gundogan and Gavi put in an absolute masterclass in midfield vs Madrid, playing deeper and more aggressively.
The latter, especially has been one of the best player for Barcelona this season, and there is no reason for Xavi to make any changes to this duo in such an important game.
Attack: Lewandowski returns
Robert Lewandowski returned to the team against Madrid, but did not start the game. He replaced Ferran Torres in the second half, but his performance came under scrutiny due to a lack of offensive intent.
That said, with him 100% fit as per reports, it seems unlikely that Xavi will start him on the bench. The Pole has five goals and three assists in nine league appearances this season, and will look to cover the gap between him and Bellingham in the race for the Pichichi.
Raphinha is in contention to start the game after making his return from injury vs Madrid, but Xavi will be cautious with his minutes given the thin squad at his disposal.
Consequently, we expect to see Lamine Yamal to start in the right-wing position. The Spaniard has been one of the best dribblers in Europe, completing six take-ons per 90 minutes, which is the best record among U-23 players in the continent.
He will be paired up with Joao Felix, who has been a revelation for Xavi this season. The 23-year-old has played his heart out every game, and will once again receive the nod to start as the left-winger.
Felix · Lewandowski · Yamal
Fermin · Gundogan · Gavi
Cancelo · Inigo · Christensen · Araujo
Back from injury, we will likely see Pedri play his first game since the game week two against Cadiz, when he scored. The Spaniard could come on for around 20-25 minutes in the second half.
Elsewhere, Ferran Torres and Raphinha are expected to come on to replace two of the attackers, likely Lewandowski and Yamal. The former has only recently returned from injury, while the latter is not expected to complete 90 minutes anytime soon.
Alejandro Balde‘s introduction will not be surprising, either, while Jules Kounde could come on to gain some match sharpness ahead of a crucial part of the season.