Barcelona will be looking to continue their unbeaten streak across all competitions tomorrow as they shift their attention from La Liga to the Champions League for the away clash against Porto.
Xavi’s side are coming off a narrow 0-1 win against Sevilla on the weekend, and their task is not getting any easier given the hectic fixture schedule.
The fact that they will be up against a Porto side looking to bounce back after a defeat against Benfica in the league does not make it easier, especially since they are expected to lineup in a back-five.
The coaching staff will definitely have to make changes to the team tomorrow depending on fitness levels, keeping an eye out on the clash against Granada on the weekend and the international break.
Tomorrow’s game will also be an incredible milestone for Xavi as he will look to coach his 100th game as manager of Barcelona, a feat achieved by only ten other managers in the club’s history. Nothing less than three points will suffice.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen has been in exceptional form through the season with the Mallorca game as the only exception as he gave away both goals in a 2-2 draw. However, there is no displacing him in goal.
Ronald Araujo returned from injury last weekend, but was an unused substitute on the weekend against Sevilla. He should be given the keys to central defence to combat Porto’s pace and power in defence.
Jules Kounde is expected to partner him at the back as one of the most in-form centre-backs in Europe right now. Andreas Christensen has been in incredible form as well, but will likely start from the bench tomorrow.
Joao Cancelo and Alejandro Balde both should be starting tomorrow at right and left-back, respectively. While it definitely opens up Barcelona to more counter-attacks, the duo’s final third prowess could be the keys to unlock Porto’s low block.
Gavi is arguably Barcelona’s best player so far this season, and should be the first name on the team sheet in midfield. His technical prowess, coupled with unmatched energy off-the-ball make him one of the most important players in the squad.
Ilkay Gundogan played an important role as a pivot against Sevilla, but will likely start in an advanced role tomorrow to accommodate Oriol Romeu in defensive midfield.
The Spaniard’s athleticism and defensive aptitude will be key against a counter-attacking Porto side. Therefore, Fermin Lopez is expected to start from the bench.
Xavi will have to be cautious with 35-year-old Robert Lewandowski as the season goes on, but tomorrow is definitely not the game to rest the Polish international. He will spearhead the team as the no. 9.
He will likely be aided by Ferran Torres on the right side of the attack instead of Lamine Yamal.
The latter played over 80 minutes in an end-to-end game vs Sevilla, and needs to be rested to avoid exhaustion and injury. Further, Torres’ off-the-ball runs could be useful to stretch the opposition defence.
Joao Felix should be the final piece of the puzzle at left-wing. He will be looking to make a difference in his home country tomorrow, against Porto, no less, who are his boyhood club Benfica’s biggest rivals.
Felix · Lewandowski · Torres
Gavi · Romeu · Gundogan
Balde · Kounde · Araujo · Cancelo
Should this prediction hold its place during the game, Lamine Yamal and Fermin Lopez will definitely be coming on at some point in the game, regardless of the scoreline and the state of it.
Xavi will also be looking to give minutes to Sergi Roberto, who is technically the captain of the team, but has played less than 200 minutes so far this season.
Andreas Christensen could be asked to come on to provide more defensive solidity at the back in case Barcelona are holding on to a narrow lead in the final stages of the 90.