The final group stage match of the 2016/17 UEFA Champions League season takes place at Camp Nou, as Barcelona welcome Borussia Mönchengladbach to the greatest football stadium on Earth for the Group C finale.
The three points in this match don't matter, as you've read in almost every post on this blog about the game. All the positions are locked, Barça will top the group and Gladbach will play in the Europa League, and it really doesn't seem like there's a reason to care about this game. But there are a few.
First, Barcelona will be playing, and that's enough reason. Second, Barça have won just once in the last five games, and it'd be nice to get the winning feeling again. Third, Andrés Iniesta is back, he will probably start and to watch the greatest midfielder in history is something we haven't done for the last two months. I miss Iniesta.
Iniesta is being tipped to start by every single outlet covering this game, and Luis Enrique won't disappoint us. The magician needs to build up his fitness, and a game where the three points don't matter will be competitive enough for Iniesta to break a good sweat but won't be intense enough to risk any type of setback on his injury. It's just the perfect setting for 60-70 minutes of play, maybe a couple of assists, and a nice Camp Nou ovation when substituted.
So who starts around Iniesta?
Six players seem to be locks: Jasper Cillessen, Sergi Roberto, Javier Mascherano, André Gomes, Arda Turan and Lionel Messi. That's seven guaranteed starts, but then we don't know the other four. Let's try and figure out.
With Cillessen, Roberto and Masche we have three of the back five. Jordi Alba will probably be rested in this one, which means Lucas Digne is likely to start. Gerard Piqué has a small muscle problem and is doubtful to play, but if this was a big game, he would definitely be on the starting lineup. It's not a big game, so expect Piqué on the bench but not playing, so Samuel Umtiti will be given minutes. So that's the defense.
In midfield, with Gomes and Iniesta starting, there's one more spot that on any other day would be given to Sergio Busquets. This is a good opportunity to rest Busi, so Denis Suárez and Rafinha Alcântara will be fighting for that spot. Rafinha was left out of the squad for El Clásico, but with the absence of Rakitic through suspension, the Brazilian will be in uniform, and probably wins the battle with Denis for this game.
Messi starts forever unless it's a Copa del Rey game, so he will play this one. Arda Turan is the natural replacement to Neymar. The striker seems to be the biggest doubt: it's a given that Luis Suárez or Paco Alcácer will start and then be replaced by the other in the second half. Most analysts are starting Suárez, but I'll go the alternative route and I see Enrique starting Alcácer alongside Messi. Maybe with Leo providing the service, Paco can FINALLY score.
The natural formation would be a 4-3-3, but if Rafinha and Arda start, Messi would slide to the middle and be almost an Enganche, the playmaker behind the striker. So I see some sort of a 4-4-2/4-2-3-1, with Messi having people either side of him and playing ahead of Iniesta and Gomes. Gladbach play with five at the back and are very good defending the wings, so Leo would be a waste on the flank in this particular matchup. With him in the middle, his involvement and effectiveness will increase. The more Messi, the better.