A year ago, nobody would have expected Barcelona to hover one loss away from being in the relegation battle. Yet, as things stand, Barcelona have just 14 points from their opening ten games. They now host a relegation-threatened Levante side on Sunday at the Camp Nou. Paco Lopez’s side sits just three points behind the Catalans and could produce another stunning display as they have in the past against Barcelona.
A win for the Valencia-based side could see them leapfrog Barcelona. Nevertheless, the problems get worse for the Catalan giants as a loss could mean that they find themselves in the battle at the wrong half of the table.
Even being associated with the term relegation is a humiliation for a club of such grand stature. There is no doubt that Koeman has to step up and do so right now. The team looked largely uninspired against Juventus, echoing the performance against Cadiz once again.
The three points are worth more than gold and diamonds at the moment. Unquestionably, finding the right line-up will account for a massive part of the final result. Here is how Barcelona could line-up against Levante:
The past few games do not portray a delightful image of Marc Andre ter Stegen. Two direct mistakes leading to goals added by a 3 three-goal defeat to Juventus are not numbers one would associate with one of the best in the world.
The German shot-stopper will be looking to make a statement in the crucial week ahead. It starts at home against Levante, and ter Stegen will be eyeing redemption through the starting position.
The full-backs to start no longer remain in doubt. Owing to Sergi Roberto’s injury, Sergino Dest will be the first choice right-back for Koeman. Complimenting him at Left-back would be Jordi Alba, who will look to wreak havoc on the left side.
Alba needs to fin a stable ground for his defensive performances. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)
The conundrum, however, lies in central defence. Clement Lenglet has been largely uninspiring this season. Yet, it is difficult to fathom how the Frenchman does not start for a side in such deep defensive crises. Alongside him on the night, one would expect Ronald Araujo to get the start ahead of Oscar Mingueza.
Despite Koeman’s repeated justification of his 4-2-3-1 system, there is a feeling that the Dutchman might tweak things a little with his position going into Jeopardy. Riqui Puig was the one positive against Juventus, and this is Koeman’s opportunity to give the youngster a full-fledged start in a new system.
The renewed 4-3-3 approach if taken could feature Sergio Busquets as the defensive midfielder. It would be a much more natural position for the Spaniard and one that could allow him to play with a noel sense of freedom.
Riqui Puig deserves more game-time and he proves it each time he steps on the field. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
The final cog in this three-man midfield would be Frenkie de Jong. The former Ajax man has not exactly lit this season up with his magic yet, despite being in a more comfortable system. It would be interesting to see how the trio works out on the field.
A three-man midfield mandates a three-man forward line as well. In the central role, one could expect to see Antoine Griezmann feature. The world cup winner has been much more involved in the play in recent games and seems to be enjoying his football more than ever.
Pedri could start on the left-wing, and it will be a dream come true for Culés to watch the young duo of Puig and Pedri combining to produce wonders. Pedri has proved to be a monstrous weapon for Koeman down the left side, and he will look to replicate his past success.
Despite being just 18, Pedri has been a revelation for Barcelona. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
The front-line can only be rounded off by Lionel Messi playing from the right. The Argentine was by far the most inspiring player on the field against Juventus, though plaudits went a certain other direction. Yet, as he is, Messi will continue to work behind the shadows inspiring this Barcelona side in every step.
With the increased number of central players in the line-up, Koeman might be tempted to bring in a more natural winger in the latter half of the game. Given Ousmane Dembele’s injury, Konrad de la Fuente could see a cameo, most probably coming on for Pedri.
Riqui Puig and Konrad de la Fuente could play tomorrow.— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) December 13, 2020
— MD pic.twitter.com/0Hbqp9Sn36
Similarly, since the side lacks a target man, Martin Braithwaite may be introduced in the later stages of the game for Antoine Griezmann. The Danish striker has been on point in recent games and can be a lethal weapon if used smartly.
With the duo of Frenkie de Jong and Sergio Busquets not being the most harmonious ones, the manager might look to rejuvenate the midfield with some changes. The apt option in such a scenario would be to bring on Miralem Pjanic for Busquets. The Bosnian has not been a regular starter but has time and time against showed what he is capable of.
In addition to these tactical changes, Koeman might bring in some rotations keeping in mind the tight schedule ahead. Subject to a favourable score-line, one could expect to see Junior Firpo coming on for Jordi Alba.
Pedri · Griezmann · Messi
Puig · Busquets · de Jong
Alba · Lenglet · Araujo · Dest