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.