Barcelona’s away tour continues as they move into the city of Bilbao, for their second away successive away fixture. La Liga has always had a distinct list of the toughest away grounds to play at and San Mames finds itself comfortably placed in the aforementioned list.
On Wednesday, Ronald Koeman faces another stern test in what has not been a very promising campaign overall. Barcelona played well against Huesca, hardly giving the hosts any taste of possession. However, unlike the blunt and uninspired attack of Huesca, Athletic Bilbao will not forgive on Barcelona’s backline. The likes of Inaki Williams and Iker Muniain amongst others make them more than a potent threat.
The margin for error is low in a game with high stakes. Here is how Barcelona should line-up against Athletic Bilbao
Even in a game where Barcelona faced hardly any threats on the counter, it took some sensational saves towards the end for them to walk home with all three points. Huesca had their chances to equalise in the last ten minutes but was faced by the rock-solid Marc Andre ter Stegen.
On Wednesday night, the German will look to do more of the same, with it being another chance to prove why he is considered amongst the best in the world
Sergino Dest had an average performance against Huesca with nothing promising to show for. Surely, the USMNT defender must be keen to get his performances back on track. He will be the undoubted starter on the right-wing.
With the Huesca game, it was clear that Koeman had dismissed the three-man backline concept. Once again, one would expect Clement Lenglet to maintain his start alongside Ronald Araujo.
The Uruguayan centre-back has been splendid this season and holds the key to containing the Basque weapon-Inaki Williams. Additionally, with performances like this, he could easily hold the key to his own future as Eric Garcia’s transfer is expected to become a reality soon.
At left-back, Jordi Alba will look to build on an impressive showing at the weekend. The Spaniard dominated the left-wing in the last game. This time, however, he will have a much larger defensive role to shoulder.
Frenkie de Jong is a guaranteed starter and will be more determined than ever after scoring the winner on Sunday. The Dutch protege has been more involved in attack than ever, and one hopes the formula continues to flourish.
It was a topsy-turvy affair for Pedri on Sunday, nevertheless not a bad game. The Spaniard constantly found the right passes, connected with his teammates and helped navigate the course of the game. He will continue to start at the in the midfield triumvirate.
Rounding off the midfield could be Sergio Busquets who had a flawless 80 minutes against Huesca. He will operate as the anchor in the centre of the pitch, and be crucial to hold the Catalans’ defensive structure.
Ousmane Dembele and Lionel Messi seem untouchable in the XI right now and could start on the wings. Both players put up brilliant performances that just lacked the finishing the last time around. It is indeed the wingers that hold the key against Atletic Club’s style of play. That said, Dembele will be absolutely immense on the night.
After a horror show, one would expect Martin Braithwaite to be dropped on Wednesday. The Dane was barely visible and failed to even tee up with his teammates in the last game. Antoine Griezmann could make a start once again, hoping for a game where he can show his impact.
Dembele · Griezmann · Messi
Pedri · Busquets · de Jong
Alba · Lenglet · Araujo · Dest
Miralem Pjanic coming on for Sergio Busquets is almost the tradition and looks set to continue again in the coming game. It is a great move on two fronts, providing the Bosnian with some game time as well as providing Busquets with rest. Riqui Puig’s chances in the starting XI, though, loom distant.
Like the last game, Oscar Mingueza could come on for Sergino Dest in the second half. The American has barely had a minute’s rest since Roberto’s injury. A little rotation could do him a world of good.
Fransisco Trincao could Come on for Antoine Griezmann if the Catalans are in desperate need of a goal. The transition to a formation with two true wingers could be a great weapon for Koeman.
Predicted Barcelona lineup against Rayo Vallecano
As Barcelona’s financial and institutional problems deepen their roots, the only source of respite and reassurance could be the on-field performance. Over the last few games, Barcelona have seen a redemption. The midfield engine finally seems to be clicking with Frenkie de Jong and Pedri demonstrating their monstrous abilities.
The fitness boost to Ousmane Dembele and the suddenly renewed form of Antoine Griezmann can only mean good things for the side. The cherry on the cake? The return of Lionel Messi after his two-game suspension.
The Cup returns, this time with Rayo Vallecano on the cards. The second division side progressed in the previous round having seen of Primera side Elche in an impressive 2-0 win. They now face off against Ronald Koeman’s side.
The cup has been a difficult hunting ground for Spain’s elite. With Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid falling prey to surprise oppositions, Barcelona will have to vary of the same. It can be the Blaugranas‘ only saving grace this season. Here is how Barcelona could lineup against Rayo Vallecano:
As is tradition in the Copa del Rey, Marc Andre ter Stegen could get a deserved rest. Koeman will turn to Neto to don the gloves on the night.
Samuel Umtiti had a promising game against Elche. Going by the Frenchman’s performance, it would not be a surprise to see him start. Ronald Araujo will be the second player in central defence. Barcelona are yet to lose a game while the Uruguayan has started, and he will be looking to keep that record unbroken.
Sergino Dest has been ruled out of the Cup clash, and Sergi Roberto is yet to be given his all clear. All signs point to Oscar Mingueza being given a third successive game at right-back. The La Masia prospect has been solid in defence but has a lot to improve going forward.
Junior Firpo will get another start as the left-back on the night. Last time around, the youngster failed to grab his chance. It will be a crucial performance for him on a personal level, as he looks to attract suitors for the upcoming window.
On a night where Koeman will look to look to heavily rotate his side, one could expect a fresher and novel combination in the middle of the park.
Sergio Busquets could continue to start, however, given his suspension for the upcoming League clash. The Spaniard will look to dictate the play in the middle of the park on the night.
Riqui Puig could well make a start after his game-sealing goal against Elche. The youngster was at the centre of limelight in the weekend, scoring just minutes after coming on. His start will be highly anticipated
The midfield will be completed by Miralem Pjanic, who has been less involved so far than he would have hoped for. The Bosnian has only had the odd chance to display his worth. Every game for him is a battle to climb up the pecking order.
Ousmane Dembele has been heavily involved in the past few weeks, and resting him would be a wise choice. Luckily for the manager, young Konrad de la Fuente offers a very similar profile and can fit it perfectly against Rayo Vallecano. His maturity and agility on the ball could be an X factor for the Catalans.
Finally returning home through the middle will be Lionel Messi, after serving his two-game ban. On any other night in the cup, the Argentine would be rested. However, after missing the last two games, this would be the ideal chance for Koeman to get him back into match rhythm.
At right-wing would likely be Antoine Griezmann. The Frenchman has had a resurgence of sorts and will be hoping to pull on the streak. Barcelona have struggled in the final third, and playing an experienced forward in Greizmann could be the difference on the night.
Konrad · Messi · Griezmann
Puig · Busquets · Pjanic
Firpo · Umtiti · Araujo · Mingueza
As in any knockout game, Koeman’s choices for substitutes will depend heavily on the scoreline
If Barcelona have a convincing lead, further rotations are very likely. This could include Ilaix Moriba for Sergio Busquets, Clement Lenglet for Ronald Araujo and Alex Collado for Antoine Griezmann.
However if his side trail, Koeman will once again turn to the difference makers on his bench. Pedri would be a certain option in such a scenario to replace Puig. Jordi Alba too can be called on replacing Junior Firpo.