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
Preview: Barcelona’s strongest XI against Real Madrid
The title race is well and truly wide open. With Atletico Madrid still leaking points and Real Madrid trying to cope up with the tight schedule the Champions League brings with it, Barcelona would hope to be the favourites.
Barcelona travels to Madrid to face a team missing some big names. Sergio Ramos, Rafael Varane, Eden Hazard and Daniel Carvajal all miss out on the decisive clash. Nevertheless, if Los Blancos‘ performance against Liverpool is anything to go by, El Clasico will be a battle to remember. Meanwhile, Barcelona will once again have the services of Gerard Pique and Sergi Roberto.
The result on Saturday will count for so much in the title race. In this creme-de-la-creme of clashes, here is how Barcelona could lineup against Real Madrid.
Marc Andre ter Stegen is always the first name on the list for Ronald Koeman. At the Alfredo de Stefano, the German wall will don the gloves and aim to keep the Madrid attack at bay.
Gerard Pique finds himself back in the Squad, however, it seems unlikely he will be given a start considering lack of match fitness. The three-man defence system has worked wonders for the Catalans, and Koeman will not look to change the system. A trio of Ronald Araujo, Oscar Mingueza, and Clement Lenglet could possibly start on Saturday.
Oscar Mingueza has been rock solid and on a constant rise. With every passing game, the youngster’s confidence grows, and so does the performance. Meanwhile, Clement Lenglet had a tremendous game against Real Valladolid, hardly placing a foot wrong. The Frenchman finally looks to be hitting his stride. Ronald Araujo is fit and ready to start once again and will have to be the leader on the field on the night.
The midfield is where the game will be won or lost for Barcelona. The hosts boast of one of the most fearsome trios in midfield, who reiterated their greatness against Liverpool midweek.
Up against Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, it will be crucial for Frenkie de Jong to start in midfield. The Dutchman is one of the best in the business in controlling the tempo of the midfield.
The No.21 will be accompanied by Barcelona’s veteran maestro Sergio Busquets. Busquets will account for so much of controlling the midfield. Moreover, his distribution and defensive contributions will be invaluable.
Pedri will complete the midfield alongside the others. The recently internationally capped Spaniard will have to be on the top of his game at the di Stefano. He will be the fulcrum of Barcelona’s creative outlet.
Sergino Dest did face stagnation in performance last month. In the last few games, however, there has been a resurgence. The USMNT fullback has been more lively than ever in attack and has been completing take-one for fun. It will be crucial for him to exploit the right-wing on the night.
Jordi Alba will unsurprisingly continue to start at left wing-back. With Real Madrid being weakened at right-back, Alba will have his chance on a platter to once again come up trumps.
Ousmane Dembele has often been Koeman’s go-to option as a central player in the new formation. Once again, a two-man forward line could see the Frenchman return to duties in the front line.
Lionel Messi had a relatively quiet game against Valladolid, his first one in 2021. However, he will look to step up on the biggest stage in El Clasico, as he always does. The Argentine has been at the peak of his powers this year, and he could inspire the side to another title with a great game tonight.
Dembele · Messi
Alba · Pedri · Busquets · de Jong · Dest
Lenglet · Araujo · Mingueza
Antoine Griezmann, who recently welcomed his third child, will be more motivated than ever to return to his peak powers. The Frenchman undoubtedly has a celebration or two in store for the latest member of his family and will hunt for a chance to showcase it on Saturday.
Fransisco Trincao could come on for Ousmane Dembele late in the second half to bring in fresh legs. His intricate dribbling could prove invaluable on the night.
Ilaix Moriba could be utilized to ramp up the pressure in the midfield, while Riqui Puig is bound to get a few minutes as well.