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Barcelona approach Espanyol with one eye on Champions League and “MSG” upfront

Reports say to expect few changes from the team that won against Villarreal


Barcelona have one immediate objective, one moral victory in mind, and one medium-term big goal as they take on Espanyol.

First of all, Barça have to win to keep their relatively slim title hopes alive. Not winning would spell certain doom for their La Liga campaign. The next mission is to boost morale, by continuing the good feelings from their 4-1 win over Villarreal. That a win would also send bitter rivals Espanyol down to the Segunda is just a cherry on top for the good mood the team would be in.

And then there’s the slightly longer-term view. Can Barcelona solidify and improve enough to be a contender for the UEFA Champions League? It didn’t look that way not that long ago, but there is fresh hope after the 4-1 win over Villarreal. Another assured performance would make it look like a trend rather than a false dawn.

Quique Setién may opt for broadly the same team and formation as he used before. The “MSG” trio upfront are sure to start - Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez, and Antoine Griezmann, in a 4-3-1-2.

Messi is usually the player at the tip of a midfield diamond, with the other two ahead, but they switch frequently. The boss has put faith in the trio to work out how to fluidly switch places, when to attack, when to defend, when to press, when to conserve energy. And it seems he has put more faith in bringing on his subs such as Martin Braithwaite and Ansu Fati off the bench when his starting forwards tire.

In midfield, we may once again see Sergi Roberto take the role of a left-sided interior, to the exclusion of Riqui Puig. Arturo Vidal seems in line to remain in the team as well, but let’s see what Ivan Rakitić has to say about that. Arthur seems out of contention, while Frenkie de Jong is still on the mend.

The rest of the team picks itself, then. Nélson Semedo has to play right-back if Roberto plays in midfield, and Gerard Piqué and Clément Lenglet have to play in defense with Samuel Umtiti injured. And on the left, Jordi Alba would start anyway, but Junior Firpo is also out. Marc-André ter Stegen, of course, starts in goal, and Sergio Busquets probably starts in the pivot position unless Setién wants to give him a rest.

Let’s see whether Setién’s men can get the job done convincingly.

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