Barça prepare to welcome local rivals Espanyol to the Camp Nou for what will be a fiercely fought derby. In a game that could potentially relegate Espanyol, what should the Barcelona line-up be tonight?
Derbies are amongst the most passionate games played in the world of football. It is indeed games like these that form the heart and soul of the sport. The level of emotion, passion and fury these games involve is what gives football meaning. The Derbi Barceloní is no less.
What makes tonight’s match between Barça and Espanyol even more special is that it may be the last Barcelona derby for the foreseeable future. A victory for the blaugranas would see the Blanquiazules effectively relegated and cement their position in the Segunda Division for the next season. Given the gravity of the clash, here is how Barcelona should line up to ensure the three critical points:
Marc-André ter Stegen
The German shot-stopper Marc-André ter Stegen has undoubtedly been the game-changer for Barcelona on multiple occasions. His lightning-quick reflexes often cover up any defensive lapses on the counter. After keeping five consecutive clean sheets, he missed out on the stat for the last three fixtures. With such an important game coming up, he will be more motivated than ever to get back on a fresh streak.
Time and time again, Gerard Piqué is one of the most heavily criticised players for the azulgranas. Despite being unable to keep clean sheets in the last two games, it is impossible to undermine the importance of the Spaniard in the team. He has been largely on point for the Catalans since the restart. Given Samuel Umtiti‘s injury, he will certainly be one of the first names on the team sheet.
After a classy display in Sunday’s 1–4 victory against Villareal, Clément Lenglet will be eager to continue his good run of form. He is cool, calm and collected, yet firm and solid even in the most tricky situations. His partnership with Piqué goes from strength to strength with every passing game. Surely one of the easiest picks for the coach.
Clément Lenglet has been an unbreakable wall at the back in recent weeks | Photo by Alejandro García via Imago
Like most of his compatriots, Nélson Semedo has been rejuvenated since the restart. His new role against Villareal saw him venturing more forward than usual and he delivered a solid show. After Sergi Roberto delivered a midfield masterclass against the Yellow Submarine, it seems Semedo will hold on to his starting role.
After racking up another assist in the last match, Jordi Alba continues to impress. After struggling for fitness in the first half of the season, the two-month hiatus did him a world of good. He looks as fit as ever. Junior Firpo missed out on selection owing to a hip injury, which leaves no doubt as to who will start at the left-back.
It has been a long time since Sergio Busquets got some much-deserved rest. But the wait might be extended for another duel till Frenkie de Jong returns. In a formation that is heavily attack-oriented, the magical number 5 provides vital defensive reinforcement while integrating the team as a unit. His genius will certainly be in high demand against a team like Espanyol that plays a low block.
Iván Rakitić has been on the rise since the resumption of football. While posing an attacking threat, the Croatian also wins the ball back swiftly which is an asset. Derbies can be very intense and his experience and defensive solidity could provide the side with a lot of stability.
After being out with injury for a couple of games, Sergi Roberto announced his return to the side in grand fashion. He dropped a stellar performance against Villareal at the left interior role on the weekend. He showed a remarkable connection with Jordi Alba and the front three, thereby contributing to extremely potent attacking openings. Undoubtedly, he deserves a second start to continue what he started.
“[Against Villarreal] Sergi Roberto helped and did things very well”
Lionel Messi has not seen a minute of rest since the resumption of football. At the same time, it doesn’t look like he will want to be rested anytime soon. He continues to break record after record, delivering masterclasses week in and week out. He is one assist away from becoming the first player ever to record 20+ goals and 20+ assists in a single season. Given his impressive form, expect some more records broken in the all-important derby.
The game against the Yellow Submarine was arguably Antoine Griezmann’s best performance in the red and blue Barcelona colours. After 34 long La Liga matches, the Frenchman finally looked cohesive with Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez, showing the world what the MSG trio is capable of. Quique Setién will be looking forward to giving him another chance to replicate his success.
“He [Griezmann] has enough ability to show his level. The other day [against Villarreal] there was a moment of inspiration and the players who played on the inside and the threat on the outside were closely linked”
Luis Suárez has been a curious case. He hasn’t been at full fitness and struggles to make the runs. At the same time, though, he scores absolute screamers. After Setién has seemingly found the solution to maximising the rewards from the MSG spearhead, it would be surprising to see one of them not starting tonight.
Barcelona player ratings vs Sevilla — Hosts unable to get past Mingueza, the wall
Turning headless chickens into mature students of the game turned out to be Ronald Koeman’s biggest achievement at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, where the Catalan giants had recently just suffered a disappointing loss. On the score-sheet, the margin may not have looked considerable, but on the field, Barcelona were pretty much untouchable, courtesy in large parts to the structural change made by Koeman.
A performance this cohesive and harmonized was much needed after the countless defeats Barça have suffered on the big stage. Everything Cules have strived to see in this team, was present, and while consistency has been the club’s biggest hurdle, this win undoubtedly holds a great deal of significance.
The Blaugranas have arguably exerted more energy in other games over the course of the campaign, but the spirit Barcelona lacked suddenly came to life. The pressing was in sync, every move was calculated and well crafted. Playing the Barcelona way in hostile territory against a team as dominant as Sevilla brought back life into a team devoid of wins in high magnitude encounters.
Marc-André Ter Stegen: 7
Ter Stegen oozed confidence as he came off his line and claimed the ball several times. Not only did he display composure, but the German rushed out of his box on one occasion to clear the ball and remove any danger that Sevilla’s potential attack possessed. With the exception of a poor pass, his distribution was immaculate. Even so, it must be admitted that the Sevilla forwards barely tested ter Stegen in goal with dangerous attempts on target.
Oscar Mingueza: 8.5
Oscar Mingueza was a vital reason as to why the Blaugrana defence was impenetrable. Piementa’s prodigy did not allow Lopetegui’s men to advance into any areas on the right side of the field. He won 6 out his 9 duels along winning 5 tackles, proving the 21-year-old’s precise ball-winning abilities remain crucial. Not to mention, his exceptional ball-playing ability enabled Barça to play with a high line thus applying further pressure on Sevilla.
Pique was the nail in the coffin to Barça’s counter-pressing strategies. The players would press the Sevilla Keeper and force him to heave the ball away, and this is where Pique’s aerial ability flourished, which particularly authorized the Catalans to regain possession. The Spanish veteran won 5 out of 7 of his aerial duels, thus showing his dominance in that area of play. His distribution was reliable as always and allowed the Catalans to retain a high defensive line at selected times.
The Frenchman is on route to recovering the form he once had, and this performance should do his confidence a world of good. Still prone to making errors, he dealt with Sevilla’s threat in a respectable manner. An improvement was observed in his ability to stay ahead of his man, which led to his positioning being marginally better. His second-half performance was key to the win as he stepped up after Pique and Ronald Araujo had to be subbed off. Lenglet must be appreciated for his tackling as they successfully neutralized a few well-structured attacks from the hosts.
Sergiño Dest: 7
Despite typically being perceived as a full-back, Ronald Koeman handed Dest the responsibility to play higher up the field as a right-wing-back. The American speedster enjoyed his new role with piercing runs behind Sevilla’s defence and looked a lot more explosive, with defensive cover behind him.
Sergino Dest vs Sevilla:— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) February 28, 2021
• Touches: 58
• Accurate passes: 36/42 (86%)
• Shots: 2
• Ground duels (won): 4 (2)
• Fouls won: 2
• Clearances: 2
• Interceptions: 2
— SofaScore pic.twitter.com/IjN74fDwhc
Dest launched a couple of promising crosses, but a major issue was that he shied away from entering 1v1 duels and instinctively looked to send in crosses. The US international also came oh-so-close to scoring after striking the post on one occasion.
Jordi Alba: 7.5
Similar to his wing-back partner in crime, Jordi Alba raided forward at any given opportunity, stretching the play wide and utilizing his raw pace throughout. Without having to worry about his defensive duties, the marauding Spaniard looked a lot more imposing. He was just inches away from tapping the ball into the opposition net after proceedings.
Frenkie de Jong: 8.5
De Jong’s season just proceeds to take massive leaps as the Dutchman proved to be a defining factor in the Catalans’ applaudable 2-0 victory. In spite of not stamping his name on the score-sheet, De Jong’s performance was worthy of endless praise, almost making it seem as if he was carrying around an extra pair of lungs. The former Ajax wonderboy surged forward, breaking the opposition’s lines tirelessly and constantly squirming his way out of tight areas.
Sergio Busquets: 7.5
The ageing veteran appeared to be recreating glimpses from the past as his counter-pressing was absolutely decisive in the Catalans’ attacking plays. Sergio Busquets – unlike most big game he has participated in – was not cheaply bullied off the ball and made possession purposeful for the Blaugranas. With defensive aid behind him, Busquets was back to his brilliant best.
The cog in Ronald Koeman’s midfield was once again a trusty figure in midfield and managed to string together some impressive plays in what appeared to be a 3-5-2 formation. Though Pedri’s involvement was substantially lower than usual, his display was mainly impeded by an injury he suffered in the 71st minute, disabling him from completing the full 90 minutes.
Lionel Messi: 8.5
Against his favourite opposition, Lionel Messi savoured the occasion to the fullest. The Argentine was an influential figure in the club’s victory away from home, with his creativity and efficiency in front of goal second to none. In the 29th minute of the game, Leo spotted a raiding Ousmane Dembélé through on goal as he bagged himself an assist for the Frenchman’s finish.
To cap off his outing, Barcelona’s captain weaved his way past a couple of Sevilla defenders and, after failing to chip the keeper, delicately slotted it into the net.
Ousmane Dembélé: 8
Sevilla were haplessly left chasing Ousmane Dembélé’s shadows. The Frenchman – without having to worry about his defensive tasks – waltzed forward continuously and enjoyed playing as a secondary striker, making runs in behind the defence and eventually proving his worth with a beautifully placed goal just before the half-hour mark. A much more mature and composed exhibition from the electric winger.
Ilaix Moriba: 7
Ronald Araujo: N/A
Martin Braithwaite: N/A
Samuel Umtiti: N/A