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Felix, Fort start in a 4-3-3: How Barcelona could line up against Villarreal | La Liga gameweek 22

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Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER/AFP via Getty Images

It has been a distressing start to 2024 for Barcelona. Worse than most people would have imagined.

Real Madrid beat them, rather convincingly as well, in the Spanish Super Cup final, with Vinicius Jr, of all players, dropping a hattrick on their heads.

And just when a win against Unionistas and Real Betis was starting to boost their confidence, Barcelona were eliminated from the Copa del Rey quarter-finals by Athletic Club at the San Mames.

Today, Xavi came as close to admitting defeat during the press conference, saying that he hopes the fans miss him when he’s gone.

The first step towards that would be a win and a solid performance against Villarreal tomorrow at the Saint Olympic Montjuic.

Barcelona have a few important players still out of action for this game, including Gavi and Marc-Andre ter Stegen. Raphinha and Inigo Martinez, too, are sidelined, and will be unavailable for selection.

Alejandro Balde is the most recent addition to this list, and is expected to miss the rest of the season with injury.

With so many players out of action, what starting lineup will Xavi select for tomorrow’s big game?

Defence: Joao Cancelo back?

With ter Stegen still unfit, Inaki Pena’s place in goal will remain uncontested despite underwhelming performances. The Spaniard has made a fair few mistakes leading to goals, but will hope to bow out in style in the remaining handful of games he has left to play.

Joao Cancelo was part of the squad for the Athletic clash, but remained an unused substitute on the bench as he is not quite at 100% fitness yet. Following on that trend, we expect Hector Fort to continue as the left-back.

Jules Kounde will likely be asked to provide width from the right side, while Ronald Araujo and Andreas Christensen line up as central defenders, much like the midweek game.

Pau Cubarsi is also in contention, but with Christensen fit, it seems unlikely that Xavi will start two teenagers as part of the back-four.

Midfield: Unchanged trio

Despite starting and playing over 90 minutes each for the Copa del Rey game, it seems unlikely that there will be any changes to the midfield for this game. Maybe in midweek when the Catalans host Osasuna.

For now, Ilkay Gundogan should once again take over the pivot spot, while Frenkie de Jong starts alongside him on the left side. The two often form a double pivot deep in midfield, shuffling as the first receiver from the backline.

Pedri is expected to be the final piece of the puzzle, as the the most advanced midfielder of the three. The Spaniard put in an underwhelming shift against Bilbao, and will be hoping to prove his worth tomorrow.

Attack: Felix returns, Yamal rested

Joao Felix has not started the last two games once again, with Xavi opting to play Ferran Torres on the left-wing, and Lamine Yamal on the right side.

However, with Raphinha out of action, the 16-year-old has played nearly 200 minutes this week already, and needs to be rested before Xavi and the club regret their actions.

Too young to be under so much pressure. (Photo by ANDER GILLENEA/AFP via Getty Images)

As such, for tomorrow, Joao Felix should be a part of the attacking trio, operating from the left side. Ferran Torres will retain his spot despite a poor display in midweek.

Robert Lewandowski will once again lead the line, having scored three goals in his last four games for the club. He does get subbed off a fair bit now, though, with Xavi opting to use Marc Guiu, Torres, and Vitor Roque as no. 9s to add more fluidity.

Felix · Lewandowski · Torres
de Jong · Gundogan · Pedri
Fort · Christensen · Araujo · Kounde
Pena

Off-the-bench

Lamine Yamal has proven to be the most decisive attacker in this Barcelona team over the last week, and will almost undoubtedly come off the bench, unless the starting trio pulls off a masterclass.

Similarly, Xavi will also give minutes to one or both Marc Guiu and Vitor Roque. While the former has been preferred over the latter on a few occasions, including against Athletic, the Brazilian is bound to get his chances soon.

Fermin Lopez deserves to come on at some point in this game. In fact, there were a few surprises when he did not against Bilbao as Xavi chose Sergi Roberto to replace Pedri.

Finally, Joao Cancelo could get some time, too, as he readies himself towards full match fitness.

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