Barcelona’s “gala” XI is all but settled, except for two spots - left central defender and right midfielder.
Otherwise, you can name the lineup with clear certainty barring injury: Marc-André ter Stegen; Sergi Roberto, Gerard Piqué, [LCB], Jordi Alba; [RM], Sergio Busquets, Andrés Iniesta; Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez, Neymar.
That left central defender spot is just between two people: Javier Mascherano, the starter over the past 5 years or so, and newcomer Samuel Umtiti.
But that right-sided midfielder spot - or “interior”, if you prefer that nomenclature - is a lot more open.
Ivan Rakitić has been the starter there almost since he was signed, the first year Luis Enrique arrived. Xavi held on to the starting job for about half a season before being phased out in favor of the Croatian, with Xavi as a “12th man” guaranteed substitute. Rakitić’s grip over the starting job only became more secure as Xavi moved away to Qatar for semi-retirement.
But this year he faces a stiff challenge, particularly from newcomer André Gomes. Denis Suárez, Arda Turan, and Rafinha could all be in contention, but Gomes seems the one most primed to bypass Rakitić.
Gomes started the match against Real Madrid (albeit in Iniesta’s spot as the captain was returning from injury), and he started the most recent match, that 3-0 win over Osasuna, as well.
Opinions over Gomes among Barcelona fans may be divided, but a report in Sport claims Luis Enrique has the utmost confidence in him and believes the young player will only get better.
Turan has found his groove deputizing for Neymar on the left wing, while Rafinha has been deployed as Lionel Messi’s substitute.
Lucho seems to prefer Denis Suárez on the left, as a replacement for Iniesta. But, he’s perhaps the second-most likely candidate to take over from Rakitić.
With that said, the Croatian cannot be counted out. He remains a faithful, selfless servant of Luis Enrique’s system and has proved useful time and again.
And regardless of who starts, given that the midfielders are supposed to run and cover more than perhaps anyone on the team bar the fullbacks, it’s probably true that many of them will be given minutes throughout the year, as subs if not starters.