FC Barcelona will be looking to extend their winning run tomorrow, when they travel to Germany to take on Borussia Monchengladbach at Borussia-Park. After an opening matchday victory over Celtic FC, the Blaugrana currently top the standings in Group C and Luis Enrique will be keen to ensure his team remain top after tomorrow’s match as well, particularly with two consecutive showdowns with Pep Guardiola and Manchester City on the horizon.
While Gladbach do not possess the same threat of a Bayern Munich or a Borussia Dortmund, they are still a very strong team who boast an incredible home record; with a 2-0 win over Ingolstadt on Saturday, Andre Schubert’s side recorded their tenth consecutive home win and it will take a monumental effort from the visitors to end that streak tomorrow. Without the services of Lionel Messi, Barça will need strong performances from all of their remaining key players – and particularly from their goalkeeper, former Monchengladbach star, Marc-André ter Stegen.
It is sure to be an emotional night for the German shot-stopper as he returns to the club that kick-started his career and entrusted him with his first starting role – a role he used to engineer his transfer to Barcelona. Ter Stegen has already spoke of his excitement about returning home, and applauding the fans that supported him throughout his tenure, but his focus remains on securing the three points for his team.
Just as he did in the successful 2014-15 UEFA Champions League campaign, ter Stegen started the group stage with a clean sheet as he saved a penalty in the previous fixture against Celtic – if anything, the German would probably prefer a quieter night tomorrow and let his colleagues steal the headlines with their performances at the other end of the pitch.
Will ter Stegen be celebrating at the end of the evening upon his return home, or will Borussia Monchengladbach spoil the party by extending their run of form?
Date/Time: Wednesday, September 28, 2016, 8:45pm local time (CET), 7:45pm BST (UK), 2:45pm ET, 11:45am PT (US), 12:15am IST (India, next day)
Venue: Borussia-Park, Mönchengladbach, Germany
Referee: Damir Skomina (SLV)
Luis Enrique has been keeping his cards close to his chest in the build-up to this one; all 20 available first teamers are making the trip to Monchengladbach, including all three first team goalkeepers and Aleix Vidal, who has missed the past two matchday squads. In that respect, Enrique has plenty of options at his disposal and is likely to leave a few decisions right up until gametime itself.
Of course, Marc-André ter Stegen is certain to start in goal, but could we see some rotation in the defense deployed ahead of him? Sergi Roberto has been excellent at right-back this season and looked particularly superb against Sporting Gijon on Saturday, registering two assists and playing a part in another one of Barcelona’s five goals on the night; as such, it would be wise to expect him to continue tomorrow.
However, Lucas Digne and Jeremy Mathieu also started on Saturday, and neither could be considered as regular starters; does that mean that we will see Javier Mascherano and Jordi Alba back in their place tomorrow? I would not be surprised if that is the case, although there is also a possibility that Mascherano may be required to fill in at pivote ahead of Sergio Busquets, if Luis Enrique decides to rotate Busi out of the starting line-up.
Gerard Piqué is the other certainty in the backline – his composure, strength and reading of the game is absolutely crucial to this team performing at its best. I would even argue that in some respects, his strengths may even make up for the loss of Sergio Busquets – if Enrique were to decide to rotate.
That being said, there’s not really any reason not to expect Busquets to start tomorrow, and he’s likely to be joined by his usual partners, Ivan Rakitić and Andrés Iniesta, both of whom were rested on Saturday.
In attack, Luis Suarez and Neymar will continue to lead the frontline, the only question is who will join them up top; Rafinha Alcântara performed admirably once again on Saturday, notching his second goal of the season and would love another chance to start again tomorrow. Likewise, Arda Turan scored again in the second half and that his fourth goal of the season if you count the brace he grabbed in the Spanish Super Cup.
Paco Alcacer also made a bright cameo appearance off the bench and perhaps this would be a good opportunity for him to start and build his confidence? Enrique has a plethora of options – and all of them look good; but my money is on Rafinha getting the nod.
Andre Schubert enters the match with one major injury concern; their star striker and top-scorer Raffael is sidelined with a muscle injury and it’s unlikely that he will be back in time for tomorrow’s match. His replacement, Lars Stindl, scored the opening goal in the weekend win over Ingolstadt, but Raffael’s absence is a big one that could very well influence the way the game is played tomorrow.
Of course, Monchengladbach still possess world-class talent in their line-up; Eden Hazard’s brother, Thorgan Hazard, has been superb thus far this season and Christoph Kramer is a World Cup winning midfielder, although Schubert must have concerns over a defense that is missing arguably it’s best player, Alvaro Dominguez.
Borussia Monchengladbach: WLLWDW
This will be the first time ever - EVER! - that these two teams face each other.
Barcelona (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Roberto, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba; Busquets, Rakitić, Iniesta; Rafinha, Suarez, Neymar
Borussia (3-4-1-2): Sommer; Christensen, Elvedi, Jantschke; Traore, Kramer, Dahoud, Wendt; Hazard; Hahn, Stindl
I think we’ll edge this one; 2-0 is my prediction.