FC Barcelona step into the third game of what has been a hectic week. Three home games which as Ronald Koeman said, are a “must-win”. Two wins down, they must now mirror their form against Valencia at Camp Nou.
The first half against Real Sociedad was probably one of the best halves seen under Koeman. That being said, the second half was equally disastrous. That aptly summarises Barcelona’s season in a nutshell: One step forward, two steps back.
Looking forward to Saturday’s game, Barcelona remain without the services of Ousmane Dembele. The Blaugranas recorded their first comeback win of the season. If anything, that should be a major confidence booster for the side. Here is how Barcelona could line-up against Valencia:
Post the game against league leaders Real Sociedad, appreciations poured in for the young guns all over the pitch. Barcelona’s attack did indeed seem voraciously sharp in the first period. Yet, the Catalans walked away with three points owing to some masterful saves from Marc-Andre ter Stegen. The German recorded four stupendous saves, including one close-range attempt by La Real. With the tests getting harder by the day, ter Stegen will be gunning for the starting spot once again.
Ronald Koeman made a loud statement midweek by starting the young duo of Oscar Mingueza and Ronald Araujo ahead of Clement Lenglet against the League leaders. The young guns passed the test with flying colours and showed that Barcelona does indeed have a depth of resources in defence.
Against Valencia, Ronald Araujo could be the one to hold onto the starting spot. Mingueza, however, could be benched as Lenglet looks to make his return.
Jordi Alba was unarguably the man of the match on Wednesday. A goal and an assist coupled with a solid defensive showing can be called be paradise for a fullback. Up against his former club, the Spaniard will be more eager than ever to put up a night to remember.
Completing the defence at right-back, Sergino Dest will look to once again brighten Barcelona’s dark wing. Going into a direct clash with Jose Gaya will be a challenge for the USMNT star. Nevertheless, Dest’s initiative and skill will be the key on the night.
After a couple of nights on the sidelines, Miralem Pjanic could get a well-deserved start ahead of Sergio Busquets. Busquets has started two games in less than a week. Undoubtedly, resting the Spaniard would be the more sensible option for the managers, especially given the plethora of resources available.
Frenkie de Jong has seriously stepped up his game in the last two clashes, leaving Culés wanting more. The Dutchman will once again look to dominate the game in his new-found role.
The star of the last game, Pedri is no longer a surprise in the starting XI. The 18-year-old has been one of the brightest lights of Barcelona’s season, piling masterclasses up for fun. The youngster is slowly but undoubtedly gaining the confidence of his teammates. He would be the ideal choice to start on the left-wing.
Since Pedri on the left wing will not provide the width to potentiate the Catalan attack, the right-wing will have to compensate for the same. Fransisco Trincao would be the ideal option for this. The young Portuguese talent may have had a terrible start to his Barcelona career in terms of finishing. However, there is no denying the quality and skill he brings with him.
Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann could complete the attack to form a fluid combination. On paper, Antoine Greizmann could start as the #9, with the Argentine Maestro working in the spaces behind him. Yet, as seen in the past, the duo could easily switch roles during the game
Carles Alena could make an appearance off the bench for Miralem Pjanic. The La Masia graduate has not enjoyed much game time, but Koeman has not left him in the dark altogether either. One more cameo could be on the cards for Alena.
Phillipe Coutinho might see minutes in the second half for Pedri. The 18-year-old has been phenomenal, no doubt. However, Koeman must be patient and provide him with the rest his growing body requires.
Martin Braithwaite for Antoine Griezmann will be an expected change in the latter part of the game. It will be a move to further tighten the screw on Valencia’s defence as the Danish striker would look to exploit the spaces in between the lines.
Dest · Araujo · Lenglet · Alba
Pjanic · de Jong
Trincao · Messi · Pedri
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.