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Fati, Balde start in a 4-3-3: How Barcelona could lineup against Villarreal



Photo by PAU BARRENA/AFP via Getty Images

The Xavi-neta rolls on as Barcelona travel to the gorgeous Estadio la Ceramica tomorrow to take on familiar foes in Villarreal. The Blaugranes have the chance to go 11 points clear on top of La Liga, putting pressure on Real Madrid, who play Elche on Wednesday.

The Yellow Submarine have lost three of their last five matches in all competitions, winning just one. However, they have found new light through former Barça manager Quique Setien.

They are slowly, but surely, moving to a positionally nuanced style of football, and will be as tough as they have been in the last few seasons.

Currently seventh, Villarreal are challenging Rayo Vallecano, Real Betis, and Atletico Madrid for a spot in Europe, with Athletic Club and Osasuna closely trailing.

And while this game should be taken utmost seriousness, Xavi will have one eye on the clash against Manchester United on Thursday night. With that in mind, we expect him to make a couple of changes in the starting XI, as follows.


Starting with the attack, Barcelona have opted to use a four-midfielder system more often than not, recently, with Gavi on the left-wing. However, without Sergio Busquets in the team, we might see a change of plan.

There has been a lot of talk regarding Ansu Fati‘s future recently, with rumours suggesting he is unhappy with his playing time. Tomorrow’s clash could serve as the perfect pedestal for him to change the narrative in his favour, and we predict Xavi to start him as the left-winger, especially after his words.

“Ansu Fati is non-transferable, like everyone in the squad right now. He’s a very important player. I have tremendous hope,” Xavi said ahead of Villareal vs Barça.

Robert Lewandowski should be the furthest man forward in his aid, with Fati’s ability to shadow him inside the box serving as the perfect attacking setup. Raphina will likely round off the trident, starting on the right-wing, with his line-breaking passes serving Fati and Lewa.

Gavi could be pushed down to midfield, where he belongs, paired up alongside none other than Pedri. Sergio Busquets’ injury opens up a spot for Franck Kessie, but the Ivorian will have to wait until the United clash for a chance, most probably.

Consequently, it is likely that Frenkie de Jong starts as the base as the defensive midfielder, pulling strings from deep. His mobility on the ball will be crucial in breaking Villarreal’s mid-block.

Jules Kounde has been in spectacular form since the World Cup ended, and could continue as the right-back tomorrow.

His ability to invert will help Barcelona retain the ball during the first-phase of buildup, while also providing cover for de Jong, who will likely look for empty pastures up the field.

Alejandro Balde will return to the left-back spot after Jordi Alba replaced him there vs Sevilla. The Spaniard is expected push wide and high, with Fati playing a narrower role.

Golden Boy 3.0? (Photo by JOSEP LAGO/AFP via Getty Images)

Ronald Araujo is arguably Barcelona’s best centre-back, but should be used sparingly given the tough fixture schedule. His exclusion could be the biggest switch in the XI, but also not surprising or particularly problematic.

Eric Garcia could be given a chance in central defence after he lost his place in the back-four. Andreas Christensen will partner him, while the duo screen Marc-Andre ter Stegen at the back.

Fati · Lewandowski · Raphinha
Gavi · de Jong · Pedri
Balde · Garcia · Christensen · Kounde
ter Stegen


Franck Kessie will undoubtedly be one of the first names introduced off the bench. It could be for one of the interiors, or even one of the wingers to return to the midfield quadrant system.

If Barcelona struggle to break down Villarreal’s defence, Jordi Alba‘s introduction also becomes integral, with Ferran Torres another offensive chance Xavi can introduce around the hour-mark.

Marcos Alonso has just returned from grieving the loss of his father, but could immediately be a part of the Barcelona setup tomorrow.

Further, the lack of options on the bench also means Pablo Torre could be given some spare minutes, especially if Xavi’s men have the game in wraps.

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