Lewandowski, Gavi start in a 4-3-3: How Barcelona could line up against Athletic Club
After seeing Real Madrid make light work of RCD Espanyol on Saturday, the onus will be on FC Barcelona to get the job done against Athletic Club tomorrow in order to reinstate their nine-gap advantage in the La Liga title race.
The Blaugrana have not been their fluent best in recent games but have shown solidity and mental fortitude to hold on to back-to-back 1-0 victories over Real Madrid (Cup) and Valencia in the last week.
Now, a trip to San Mames beckons for Xavi Hernandez & co. who will be boosted by the return of superstar striker Robert Lewandowski. But the league leaders will still be without two of their crucial players in Pedri and Ousmane Dembele.
On top of that, Barcelona will also be unable to call upon defensive mainstay Ronald Araujo, who is suspended for the game after his sending-off against Valencia. So, Xavi will have some key decisions to make regarding his defensive personnel on Sunday.
Barça Universal tries to predict how the Blaugrana will set out on the pitch in the Basque country against Ernesto Valverde’s Athletic Club outfit.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen is on his way to winning his first-ever Zamora Trophy and will look to take another step towards that objective by keeping another clean sheet on Sunday. However, he will have to tackle the threat of Inaki Williams, who has a healthy record against him.
Meanwhile, Araujo’s absence creates a vacancy in defence and it would be fair to assume that Marcos Alonso is likely to get the nod ahead of Eric Garcia. The makeshift centre-back is someone that Xavi is quite reliant on and used him in the cup Clasico last week.
Alonso will likely partner his former Chelsea mate Andreas Christensen at the heart of the Blaugrana defence while Jules Kounde and Alejandro Balde line up as the full-backs on the right and left sides, respectively.
Barcelona captain Sergio Busquets is a certainty to feature at the base of the midfield unit as usual. Frenkie de Jong, who has gone from transferable last summer to untouchable this season, will partner the veteran star in the middle of the park.
Sergi Roberto, meanwhile, is likely to make way for Franck Kessie, who is starting to grow in stature and prominence in Xavi’s plans in recent weeks.
Robert Lewandowski is fit again and is certain to start as the centre-forward for Barcelona, given what he offers to the team. Gavi, back after serving a one-match ban for accumulation of cards, should slot in as the false-winger on the left while Raphinha slots in on the right.
Barcelona Predicted XI: ter Stegen; Kounde, Christensen, Alonso, Balde; Kessie, Busquets, de Jong; Raphinha, Lewandowski, Gavi.
Ferran Torres, who was guilty of missing a penalty in the last game against Valencia, will get some minutes off the bench, as has been the norm for the majority of this season. The same holds true for Ansu Fati as well.
Sergi Roberto, given his versatility, has a good chance of coming on as a substitute at some stage in the game. Jordi Alba and Pablo Torre would also be options for Xavi if he wishes to add more creative impetus on the pitch.