Just two games to go in La Liga before Barça turn towards the daunting Champions League. With so much still to come and not much to play for in the league, coach Quique Setién will be looking to rest some major players. What should the Barcelona line-up be against Osasuna to get the best of both worlds?
The last game of the league season at the Camp Nou awaits on Thursday night. An emotional affair for the likes of Arthur Melo, who will get to trot on the luscious grasses of the legendary ground one last time, unless he plays against Napoli in the Champions League.
Osasuna, the visitors have had an impressive run after their recent promotion. They sit 11th in the league standings, and every culé remembers distinctly how they made Barcelona suffer at the El Sadar stadium. That vision of Chimy Ávila and Roberto Torres tormenting the Catalan defence is an unforgettable memory as the game ended in a 2–2 draw.
“He will play if it’s essential or absolutely necessary”
on Arthur Melo
For this penultimate clash in La Liga, coach Quique Setién has some major changes in the squad. Antoine Griezmann misses out with an injury to his quadriceps. Meanwhile, midfielder Frenkie de Jong finally received his medical greenlight, and Arthur too has recovered from tonsillitis. After his one game of suspension, Ansu Fati too is available once again for selection. With such tricky opponents staring the blaugranas in the eyes, this is how Barcelona should line-up against Osasuna:
Marc-André ter Stegen
Marc-André ter Stegen was once again the star of the night at the José Zorilla, denying a late push by Real Valladolid to secure all three points for Barcelona on the weekend. With that result, the German reached 100 clean sheets with the Catalan giants. He will want to keep things going in the same direction, as he is an unquestionable starter.
Gerard Piqué deserves just as much credit as Ter Stegen for the win against Valladolid. With 11 clearances, two interceptions, two tackles, and 97% pass accuracy, he had one of his most stellar games of the season. The number 3 has been sensational for Barcelona on most nights this season, still finds himself heavily scrutinised because of his sky-high standards. Setién will be counting on him once again.
While several regular starters need rest, the fatigue has been less obvious in Gerard Piqué, who has been performing superbly lately and should have sufficient rest in the next league match and in the three weeks before the return of the Champions League | Photo by Imago
Exactly two years after being presented as a Barcelona player, Clément Lenglet is one of the most vital players in this team. It is absolutely impossible to imagine the defence without the Frenchman in it at the moment. His presence of mins, positioning and coolness are invaluable. With the Champions League coming up, Setién will want to keep him match ready.
Nélson Semedo found himself in a new role against Valladolid. Having been deployed to play the role of a wing-back whilst managing his usual duties, he shone under pressure. The Portuguese full-back was always threatening to make dangerous runs and create chances. On another night, he would have finished with a goal and assist. The coach will look to make the most of his recent confidence.
Jordi Alba started the resumption of football in his best form but has looked slightly off in the last few fixtures. Defensively he has been on point but hasn’t looked particularly sharp upfront. Undoubtedly, he will be looking to make amends tonight, despite Junior Firpo being available to come in at left-back too.
The heart and soul of the Barcelona team, Sergio Busquets’ importance can never be undermined. The new 4–4–2 diamond system has seen him pushed into a more defensive role. Despite not getting involved in the final third, he has played out his role to perfection time and time again. His genius is a necessity for Barça, especially to break down the lines of Osasuna’s defence. On his 32nd birthday, he will be looking to make a statement at the Camp Nou.
Frenkie de Jong
After exactly a month being out injured, Dutch prodigy Frenkie de Jong has made his way back into the team. The new system will undoubtedly suit him more, with his role being more central than in the traditional 4–3–3. After the recent rise of youngster Riqui Puig, De Jong has a point to prove to stay on top of the pecking order. Setién said in the pre-match conference that Frenkie is ready to start, and the manager will be counting on him to turn up on the night.
“He’s in a very good mood already, with his problem already forgotten. We’ll see if he plays at the start or during the game”
on Frenkie de Jong
Riqui Puig finally started against Valladolid after being looked over for two matches. In addition to increasing the tempo of the game and getting two shots on target, the starlet contributed defensively exceptionally too. One would expect that a midfield with Puig and De Jong is capable of great things. Certainly, it will be a major opportunity for Quique Setién to try out the combination ahead of the Champions League.
On a night when Barcelona created innumerable chances but lacked the finishing edge, it was Arturo Vidal that made the difference at the José Zorrilla. He has always provided an attacking edge to the azulgranas. With Lionel Messi in dire need of rest, he would be a good option for Setién to generate an offensive outlook.
“He has played more than 50 percent [of minutes] since we are here and is a footballer who transmits positivity, energy, and does things very well. He has already scored eight goals and he gives us a threat, and sometimes he also contributes with his quality. He is an important footballer, without a doubt”
on Arturo Vidal
It is no secret that Lionel Messi has looked unlike himself in front of goal off late. His finishing hasn’t been on the mark. More than that, his dribbling and conversion rate has also gone down. It would make sense for Setién to rest the Argentine for the game and use Ansu Fati’s pace and dribbling as an alternative. In addition to providing width, the 17-year-old is not afraid to have a go at goal. An invaluable option for the Cantabrian manager.
After an explosive start to his Barcelona career, Martin Braithwaite has slowed down due to inadequate chances. He will not be available to play in the Champions League, and it surely makes sense to use him now to provide rest to some crucial players. His pace and runs can provide freshness to the forward line. If played with Ansu Fati, the duo can terrorise Osasuna’s defence.
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.