As Barcelona host Atlético de Madrid on Tuesday night, which line-up should Quique Setién pick for matchday 33 of La Liga?
Following two critical points dropped at Vigo against Celta, Barcelona will need to find their best form again to beat an improving and third-placed Atlético de Madrid at the Camp Nou. With Frenkie de Jong injured indefinitely, and Arthur Melo having completed his transfer to Juventus in spite of still being available to play for Barça, what should Quique Setién’s line-up choice be for this evening’s match?
Marc-André ter Stegen
There should be little doubts about the first name in the list. While Barcelona leaked two goals against Celta de Vigo, Marc-André ter Stegen was fundamental once more in saving one point in the last minute for Barça. If the blaugranas want to get back to their best defensive record prior to the Celta fixture, as they had recorded five consecutive clean sheets before Fyodor Smolov and Iago Aspas’ goals, Ter Stegen’s selection should not be negotiable.
At right-back, the debate is much more open than between the sticks. Sergi Roberto is returning from a rib injury that made Nélson Semedo be a starter in the last three games. If Sergi is not fully fit, it is undeniable that Semedo should start against Atlético de Madrid. But Quique Setién still seems to trust Roberto more, having even made him play through pain against Leganés before his injury aggravated. The Catalan’s role in the build-up play and circulation of the ball is much more important than Semedo’s, who needs more spaces to run. Considering Atleti are expected to use a deeper block, Sergi could be more useful in positional attacks.
Gerard Piqué was the man in charge of single-handedly keeping Barcelona’s defence tight against Celta de Vigo. While the culés ended up conceding two goals, he had to continuously fix the errors of his partner Samuel Umtiti, who left Piqué in frequent two-versus-ones against the celeste attackers. Gerard can’t miss a match of such high calibre, especially considering his impressive form in recent weeks.
After being surprisingly benched at Balaídos, Clément Lenglet should clearly be back to the XI tonight. If Samuel Umtiti had put an impressive display on Saturday, maybe there would be less certainty. But Umtiti, with poor fitness, positioning and continuous errors, didn’t cover himself in glory on the weekend. Following some rest, Lenglet is ready to partner up with Piqué at the heart of the defence.
Jordi Alba had been another of the standout performers since the return of football. Active and impactful in attack, Alba himself admitted that the extra rest had certainly benefitted him. Despite his performance against Celta de Vigo left much to be desired, if he performs at his recent level there still is a big gap separating him and Junior Firpo, mostly for a game of such magnitude.
“This break has benefitted me, because I needed to rest mentally and physically. You can’t always be at the top level. I had three injuries, but now I feel good”
One of the most improved players after the break, Iván Rakitić has earned a place in Barça’s midfield through his recent exhibitions. Apart from his winner against Athletic Club de Bilbao a week ago, in what was his first goal of the season, Rakitić has experienced a silent resurgence after being linked with a move away from the Camp Nou. With several question marks regarding the other midfielders, Iván seems to have risen in the pecking order.
Sergio Busquets missed the visit to Celta de Vigo through suspension, and Barcelona definitely noticed it. While the first half was marvellous from the visitors, Quique Setién’s men lost control as minutes went by. Busquets, another player benefitted by the break, is a master at dictating the tempos of the game. Irreplaceable for Setién.
If performances are to be prioritised over age and experience, there is no denying that Riqui Puig has done more than enough to deserve a spot in Barcelona’s starting line-up regularly. Arturo Vidal will possibly be picked by Quique Setién, for his status and know-how in such crucial duels. Meanwhile, facing Atlético de Madrid would be the biggest challenge in Riqui’s career. Yet he has demonstrated that he is ready for it. Very dynamic and proactive, Puig continuously searches for solutions on and off the ball.
Riqui Puig needs no experience to know what it means to play for Barcelona | Photo by Lalo R. Villar / Cordon Press via Imago
Additionally, it must be considered that Arthur Melo is not at his best level either. In fact, his transfer to Juventus, confirmed on Monday, may have him a bit unfocused for the present duel. In terms of merits, Riqui deserves it more than most other midfielders.
Lionel Messi continues to search for his 700th professional goal. He scored and assisted in the opening post-pandemic match against Mallorca, while he found the net from the spot in the following encounter against Leganés. Since then, though, he has not managed to get a single goal against Sevilla, Athletic Club and Celta de Vigo. Possibly the Argentinian needs rest after playing the full 90 minutes in the five previous games. But certainly today is not the day Barcelona can afford such luxury.
To partner with Messi upfront, there are many available options. Among them there are Luis Suárez, Antoine Griezmann, Martin Braithwaite and Ansu Fati. The latter two could act as wingers with Leo as a false 9. Nevertheless, Luis Suárez comes from scoring a magnificent brace against Celta, in what were his first goals since his knee injury in January. Despite he needs rest too, as this would be his fourth start in a row following a long period of inactivity, he offers something to Barça and Messi that no one else can provide. A lethal version of the Uruguayan would be really favoured by the azulgranas.
Again, there are many contenders for the remaining left wing spot. Former Atleti star Antoine Griezmann looks like the main candidate, for his status and proven quality. But, having sat on the bench against Sevilla and Celta, Griezmann will need to demonstrate more to have a guaranteed place in the team.
On the other hand, like Riqui Puig, Ansu Fati has been adding a breath of fresh air to Barcelona lately. His dribbling and one-on-ones, ability to stay patiently out wide, and gift and decisiveness in the final third should be taken into high consideration in spite of his 17 years of age. Again, though, the debate lies on experience versus merits.
How should Barcelona lineup against Dynamo Kyiv?
If the horrid performance against Atletico Madrid was not enough, injuries continue to plague Barcelona’s season further. The Catalans were outplayed at the Wanda Metropolitano. However, the question is: How does the team recover from a defeat like that?
After initial injuries to Ansu Fati and Sergio Busquets threatened to derail the Catalans season, the club has now confirmed both Gerard Pique and Seri Roberto to be out through injury for a long spell.
Yet, for all the mayhem in the league, Barcelona’s position in the champions league is safe. With three wins from their opening three encounters, they sit untouched at the top of the group. Ronald Koeman pointed to the same when asked about his decision of resting Lionel Messi and Frenkie de Jong. With so many key players out injured and others rested, how should Barcelona line-up against Dynamo Kyiv?
What to expect from Dynamo Kyiv?
The first game between the two sides provided more than it had promised. Kyiv were missing 13 players through COVID-19, yet that did not reflect on the pitch. Barcelona dominated the opening spell of the game. However, beyond the 25-minute mark, there was a sudden drop in energy levels. The Catalans seemed to ease off, opening the gates to a close-fought level headed battle which could have gone either way.
Mircea Lucescu has stuck to his successful 4-1-4-1 in the Champions League too. The overload in midfield is a potent obstacle to most oppositions, though one would expect Barcelona to break it down. The Ukrainians have often resorted to, and will most probably look to once again implement a low block. The press is high, however, isn’t very prominent in the opposition half.
Lucescu will bring up a harbour of troubles for Barcelona. (Photo by ATTILA KISBENEDEK / AFP)
Instead, Lucescu’s men look to hit on the counter. Victor Tsygankov, Vitaliy Buyalski and Vladydlav Supryaga have time and time again proved to invaluable for the same.
Learning from their mistakes, Barcelona will have to plug the spaces in between lines to come back home with all three points. It is a much younger side travelling to Ukraine. Moreover, with this being a chance for many of them to impress, one can expect the youth to step up.
How should the Barcelona line-up?
The only department that seems sorted for the time being is the Goalkeeper. Yet, ter Stegen too is coming off a horrid mistake at the Wanda Metropolitano. One that cost Barcelona the match. Undoubtedly, the German will be keen to make a statement on Tuesday.
The defence is in jeopardy. Gerard Pique could likely miss anywhere between three months to the end of the season after suffering a muscle sprain and partial cruciate ligament tear. Ronald Araujo is not fit to compete either, and with Samuel Umtiti’s state not helping the cause, Koeman stares into blackness.
Yet, one man’s loss is another’s gain. Given the situation, young Barcelona B centre-back Oscar Mingueza could get his chance to impress. In fact, it was a point Koeman specifically hinted to at the pre-match interview. Alongside him will undoubtedly be Clement Lenglet, whose importance is now more than ever. In Pique’s absence, the Frenchman will have to take up the onus of leadership and marshalling the troops.
Sergi Roberto’s injury opens the door for Sergino Dest to start the game at right-back. Unquestionably, his pace will be crucial to neutralise Kyiv’s threat on the counter.
At left-back, one expects Jordi Alba to start once again. In the absence of Lionel Messi, the Spaniard’s importance will be more than ever to create chances going forward.
Ronald Koeman could opt for a change in formation going into this clash, given his limited resources. Indeed, a 4-3-3 would be an ideal setup to try with the new crop of players. Miralem Pjanic could start as the defensive midfielder operating deeper in the position. Nevertheless, It is not a new role for the Bosnian, as he has played as a single pivot on many occasions in his career.
The midfield could be completed by the duo of Pedri and Carles Alena. Pedri had a comparatively quiet night against Atletico Madrid and will look to make amends. Carles Alena could finally get a well-deserved start after being neglected from the start of the season.
Antoine Griezmann could well start as the centre-forward on the night. The Frenchman has come under intense scrutiny by the media, both for his performances and statement made by people in his environment. Indeed, it will be an essential night for the World Cup winner, as he will lead the Catalan attack.
🗣 — Griezmann: "I am very well here at Barça, they have welcomed me very well. I want to help the team. They trusted me and now I want to reciprocate that trust by helping the team win. There is no problem with anyone, I'm really fine and I just ask you to leave me a bit calm." pic.twitter.com/XuOLl92GQH— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) November 23, 2020
Flanking him on the left side would be Ousmane Dembele, who is undoubtedly a major asset for Koeman. In these trying times with limited options, his all-round play comes as a whiff of fresh air.
On the right-flank, Fransisco Trincao would be the ideal option. Koeman has under-utilised the Portuguese winger so far. However, Tuesday night could be his chance to impress as the Dutch manager looks to rest key players. Moreover, his combination with Dest will be crucial for Barcelona to break down Lucescu’s side.