Straight back from the international break and thrown into the deep end against Atletico Madrid, Barcelona have their work cut out for them. That the league has not been a fairytale for the Catalans is well known, and aptly reflected in the standings. Barcelona sit eighth in the table, having won less than half the games they have played. Yet, the silver lining to this dark cloud is the fact that their last game in La Liga was a dominating 5-2 demolition of Real Betis.
Nevertheless, there are doubts aplenty heading into this heavyweight clash. Ronald Koeman finds himself at the centre of a rather uncomfortable position, on multiple fronts.
A nasty clash in the game against Real Betis finds Ansu Fati ruled out for four months. The Guinea-Bissau born youngster was undoubtedly one of the star performers for the Catalans and one of their go-to men for goals. In his absence, who will lead the scoring?
To rub salt into the wound, Sergio Busquets too has been sidelined for the game on Saturday. Pedri too received a minor knock in his game with the Spain U-21 and did not participate in the following encounter as a precaution. Yet, will the 17-year-old be ready? The questions continue to pile up, and Koeman needs to find the answers on Saturday.
What to expect from Atletico Madrid?
Los Rojiblancos find themselves at third on the League standings, with five wins from their opening seven encounters. True to their philosophy, they have only conceded two goals in their seven games while scoring seventeen. If anything, this is an indication of their capability.
Atletico Madrid under Diego Simeone has become one of the few sides in Europe to be distinctly associated with a particular style of play. The side is feared for their defensive resilience, compact lines and hardworking players. Their disciplined lines render them one of the most difficult sides to break down, a trend recent clashed against Barcelona reflect too.
Simeone has largely stuck to his successful 4-4-2 formation this season too, however with some personnel changes. Barcelona legend Luis Suarez now plays in the famous red-and-white colours of Madrid and is the first choice no.9 for the side. Unfortunately, however, he will miss the clash against Barcelona after testing positive for Coronavirus in the international break.
Felix and Suarez have formed a strong partnership, and Barcelona will be lucky that only one of them will feature against them. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)
The last-minute departure of Thomas Partey left Los Rojiblancos in a fix. Nevertheless, a side that has the likes of Koke, Saul Niguez, Hector Herrera and Marcos Llorente can seldom be in trouble.
The key for Simeone’s side, however, has been the young Portuguese prodigy up-front, Joao Felix. Many regard him as the best player in La Liga this season. Hs magical feet are capable of breaking down even the most experienced of defences with astounding ease. He is a match-winner and one that Barcelona will have to keep a close eye on throughout the game.
How should Barcelona line-up?
Compensating for the loss of Ansu Fati will be an uphill task for the Dutchman. Nevertheless, there is no denying that Barcelona do have a lot of firepower left in their ranks
Lionel Messi who has been started in relatively central positions this season could drift wide to his old position on the right-wing. With his first goal from open play in the bag, it is now time for the captain to put his foot on the gas.
Lionel Messi will be key tonight, as he always is. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)
On the left-wing, Ousmane Dembele could get a well-deserved start. The Frenchman has impressed in the few minutes he has received this season. Undoubtedly, he will be a crucial part of the front line. At centre-forward, one would expect Antoine Griezmann to get a start after a positive yet mixed performance before the break.
With Phillipe Coutinho receiving the medical all-clear ahead of the game, the Brazilian could feature in the attacking midfield position. Given Pedri’s recent knock, it would be wise to provide him time to recuperate.
In the midfield, Sergio Busquets’ injury leaves no doubts as to who will feature on Saturday. Frenkie de Jong, on whom Xavi Hernandez recently had a lot of praises to shower, will undoubtedly start. Alongside him, Miralem Pjanic will almost certainly get the nod with Busquets out of the squad. It will be one of the best chances for the Bosnian to capitalise on and stake claim on a regular starting spot.
🗣 — Xavi: "De Jong is an extraordinary player. He isn't afraid to receive the ball in areas where it is difficult to turn. De Jong is De Jong, he has nothing to do with Iniesta, Busquets or me." pic.twitter.com/JhIkPbNuNb— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) November 19, 2020
Jordi Alba returns to action after a two-week hiatus and will be raring to go ahead of the herculean challenge. At right-back, however, Sergino Dest could get a well-deserved start. The former Ajax star’s technical ability along with his pace could be the key to overcoming Diego Simeone’s infamous low block. Koeman has trusted him against the other Madrid based side, and the outcome was very conspicuous.
At central defence, Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet will hold onto their starting spots. With Ronald Araujo still not fit, there are no other first-team options on the platter too. Yet, the duo will need to come up with an inspired performance to stop the red-hot Joao Felix.
In goal undoubtedly, Marc Andre ter Stegen will be looking forward to his third start of the season since his return from surgery.
Predicted Barcelona lineup against Sevilla — Pedri, Mingueza to start
Barcelona are on a tightrope once again. This time, however, the cup, which is usually neglected as the least important target is the primary objective of Ronald Koeman’s men.
Just under 72 hours of facing Lopetegui’s men at the Ramon Sanchez Pijzuan, the Catalans welcome the side home to host the second leg of the semi-final of the Copa del Rey. The Blaugranas trail by two goals, which amps up the graveness of the situation. Koeman and co. need to score at least three goals to go through, not to mention that they cannot afford to concede. An away goal to Sevilla would be a wound too deep for the Blaugranas to recover from.
In many respects, this is the most important game of the season for the hosts. While it could seal a place in the Cup final, more importantly, it would provide the side with some much needed psychological reinforcement. It would send down the belief that they, too, can be on the right side of remontadas. And it would instil the confidence to repeat the feat against PSG, where they need to score five goals. Here is how Barcelona can lineup against Sevilla, with fans almost inclined towards the 3-5-2 again.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s injury in warm-up scared fans across the globe. However, the German wall started the game and finished it without much trouble. While the same opposition did not ruffle too many feathers at the weekend, tomorrow may be a whole different ballgame. With Sevilla knowing that an away goal could be enough to see them through, Ter Stegen will have a big night ahead.
Ronald Araujo’s return from injury did not last long, as he was taken off once again owing to a sprain. It is unlikely that he will be risked on Wednesday.
Koeman would ideally not look to tamper around with the winning formula, moreover against the same team. Gerard Pique will the ideal option to start through the centre at the back. The World Cup winner has been a silent rock since his return. Given how much the Spaniard is usually criticized, a silent period from the media implied fantastic performances.
Oscar Mingueza will start at the right of the defence. The youngster has been wonderful defensively, with a slowly improved passing range and spatial awareness. Given Araujo’s injury, his chance seems to be set.
The Spanish duo will be complemented by Clement Lenglet, who will start at left centre-back. The Frenchman once again had a rather poor outing midweek. However being part of a working formula, the coach may not want to tamper with things.
A three man defense means a five man midfield. An utter domination of the middle of the park, while spreading the play to both wings equally. At the Camp Nou again, that will be the norm.
Sergino Dest and Jordi Alba will continue as wingbacks on the right and left sides, respectively. With the three-person defence, they will have their defensive duties cut short. Once again, as on Saturday, they will look to be the threat on the wings.
Sergio Busquets will continue as the anchor, following up a textbook performance against the same opposition. The Spanish International was crucial in recovering the ball for the Catalans whilst also opening up latent channels in the attack.
Frenkie de Jong has now earned the right to be placed at the elite class of midfielders at the moment. The renewed version of the Dutchman has been almost unstoppable for oppositions. He will again start on Wednesday given the weight of the clash.
Pedri was supposedly ruled out for 2 weeks, however, through a miracle, he is back training with the group within 48 hours! The player is determined to participate in the game against Sevilla, knowing well the weight riding on it. Pedri’s attitude just cannot be faulted. If at all the Canary Islander is indeed fit, he will return to his permanent starting spot.
The front two in attack combined beautifully to score the opening goal on Saturday, and nothing will change for the Cup game.
Ousmane Dembele‘s pace was one of Sevilla’s biggest troubles at the Ramon Sanchez Pijzuan. The Frenchman destroyed the high line of Lopetegui’s side. He will undoubtedly start.
Lionel Messi has always been Sevilla’s Achilles heel. The Red-and-white of Seville are the Argentine’s favourite target, and he added a goal and an assist to that amazing tally at the weekend. The side seemed to have no answers to the Catalan captain’s guile and genius. If Leo turns it on again, Barcelona are surely going straight into the final.
Dembele · Messi
Alba · Pedri · Busquets · de Jong · Dest
Lenglet · Pique · Mingueza
One has to start with the man of the moment. Ilaix Moriba was given his second chance of the season midweek and responded by providing his second assist. His physicality matched the opponents like for like, and his comfort on the ball further destabilized the defence. He would be a crucial cog.
Antoine Griezmann was once again not used in the 2-0 win, however, any desperate situation demanding a goal could see the Frenchman subbed in.
Martin Braithwaite could be an asset on the night, too, as his growing chemistry seems to be reaping rewards. The Dane has evolved into much more than a traditional no. 9, and he would be an option for the coach on the latter half.