Barcelona’s busy March continues as they return to European action with the first leg of the Europa League Round of 16 against Turkish giants Galatasaray at Camp Nou.
The international break is less than two weeks away but Barça have four big games to play until then, with the two European ties and El Clásico included in a crucial stretch for the Catalan giants.
Barça are in great form having won their last four in a row, and Xavi Hernández continues to get the best out of his squad. Galatasary will provide a tough challenge, however, and with the second leg in Turkey the Blaugrana must get a strong result at home. Let’s see how they could line up on Thursday.
There has been some pre-match noise about a possible rotation for this one, but it is unlikely that Xavi makes big changes. Getting a big result in the first leg to allow more rotations in the second leg, which will take place three days before El Clásico, would be a more sensible approach and will most likely be the path chosen by the Barça manager.
With that in mind, we will probably see the strongest possible defense in this one. Eric García and Clément Lenglet will be hoping for a chance to start, but Gerard Piqué and Ronald Araujo continue to play very well together and should retain their places in the middle of the backline. Jordi Alba will start on the left, and with Dani Alves not available for the Europa League there’s only one man for the right-back role: the in-form Sergiño Dest.
There shouldn’t be too many doubts about Xavi’s midfield choice for this one: with Gavi suspended for the first leg, Riqui Puig pretty much out of the picture for now and Nico González settling into a nice role as a do-everything midfielder off the bench, Xavi will most likely go with his favorite midfield trio: Sergio Busquets, Frenkie De Jong and Pedri.
The improvement in midfield has been a somewhat underrated aspect of Xavi’s coaching job so far, and those three players have worked the best together over the last couple of months. Busquets can always use a rest at his age, but the captain will almost always be a lock for these kinds of games.
The attack only scored two goals against Elche on Sunday but every front player was impressive once again, and the frontline depth is seriously good right now. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Ousmane Dembélé, Adama Traoré (and his muscles), Ferran Torres and Memphis Depay all have legitimately good cases to earn a starting spot on Thursday, and Xavi will have a tough time picking just three out of that group.
Despite his misses, Ferran had a very positive impact off the bench against Elche and will most likely return to the starting lineup for this one. Aubameyang looked tired in the second half on Sunday and would benefit from a rest, and Memphis is ready to step up having scored twice in the last two games. Adama or Dembélé will get the other spot in the attack, and given the fact they’ve mostly alternated starts lately it is more likely that Traoré plays in this one.
Possible XI: Ter Stegen; Dest, Araujo, Piqué, Alba; F. De Jong, Busquets, Pedri; Adama, Memphis, Ferran (4-3-3)
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