Let’s start with defence. Victor Valdes has cemented his place between the sticks but what about the outfield players? Assuming Barcelona adopt their favoured 4-3-3 formation you are left with four starting places and eleven players contesting for their spot.
Starting with the left-back spot, for the purpose of this article all players are fit and healthy, there are three options 23 year old summer signing Jordi Alba, 27 year old Adriano Correia and 33 year old Eric Abidal. With Alba and Adriano you have pace and an attack minded full-back but with Abidal you have aerial strength and the guarantee of more disciplined defensive cover.
Next you have the centre-back spots, where you have the choice of Gerard Piqué, Carles Puyol, Javier Mascherano, Marc Bartra, Andreu Fontas and Marc Muniesa. For me it is a choice of three. While Bartra, Fontas and Muniesa all show promise, I think the real contest is between Puyol, Piqué and Mascherano.
Puyol, or Captain Tarzan to affectionate Culés, has the experience and the leadership but his lack of pace can be singled out as a weak spot.
Mascherano is proving to be an accomplished defender but with his conversion from midfield to defence only coming two years ago now you can’t help but wonder if he has the skills that a thoroughbred defender possesses.
Meanwhile, Gerard Piqué is arguably one of the best defenders in the modern game. Tall, strong and fast, but the 25 year old is still liable to a lasp in concentration which may be an issue for Vilanova.
Now here comes the tricky bit, the midfield. Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, Fàbregas, Song, Thiago and Dos Santos are all contesting for a spot in a three man midfield. One holding midfielder and two attacking midfielders. For the holding spot, Busquets looks to be favourite and rightly so. The young Spaniard looks to be improving game by game. But the one flaw to his game is his attacking prowess, or lack of it. Busi rarely bombs forward, which shows his impeccable defensive discipline, but a charging midfielder can be a frightening sight as a defender.
Song, on the other hand, is the opposite. During his Arsenal days, Song would produce delicious assists to Robin Van Persie. But Song still shows some of the Premier League toughness that gets pulled up in La Liga. Diving into 50-50 challenges typifies the English game and Song will have to learn to curb his enthusiasm if he is to avoid a high number of bookings.
Then you have the two attacking options and is there any question that it won’t be Iniesta and Xavi? The two footballing juggernauts would take some shifting if they were to lose their first team spot. Fàbregas is a world class player and Thiago symbolises the future of Barça but the two captains are far too strong not to feature routinely.
Next you have the diverse front three. Lionel Messi will always occupy the centre forward spot but who will partner him? Alexis Sánchez has settled in well on the right wing, providing pace and a directness that Barça has needed in recent matches. Iniesta has also been occasionally used in the same position but it is clear, the World Cup winner is strongest in midfield.
The left wing has been more varied. Pedro, Villa, Cuenca and Tello have all featured but it is hard to determine which is the strongest.
The experience of David Villa makes him a bona-fide goal getter. His spontaneity and pace have shown you don’t become the all-time top scorer for the Spanish national side without immense talent.
Pedro became one of the key players of the Pep regime. The Spaniard, like Villa, is pacey with a keen eye for goal. Pedro is very well respected within the Barça camp, if he doesn’t always get the respect he deserves from the rest of the world.
Young Tello is an exciting prospect for Tito. Lightning quick, good first touch and not afraid to get himself into those goal scoring positions, it would be hard to overlook the 21 year old when picking a strongest XI.
Isaac Cuenca is another hot prospect emerging from La Masia. Football smart, Cuenca displays key concepts learned from his time within the Barcelona academy.
Cesc Fàbregas is also a possible candidate. The ex-Arsenal man showed his ability to play an advanced role during the start of last season and also during his time with Spain at this summer’s Euro 2012. It seems he would be suited to a role similar to the one Iniesta plays on the right wing.
So that’s the options, now it’s down to you to decide which is the strongest XI.
I’ve listed my eleven below.
Alves Piqué Mascherano Alba
Sanchez Messi Villa