Barcelona’s European journey this season continues with the first leg of the Europa League quarterfinals, away to Eintracht Frankfurt in Germany on Thursday night.
The Blaugrana continued their amazing run in 2022 with a crucial victory against Sevilla in La Liga to put them in great position to finish second in the league and clinch a Champions League place. They will also continue to fight for a trophy this season, and the Europa League remains their best shot at a title in Xavi Hernández’s first campaign in charge.
Frankfurt have been a mid-table team in the Bundesliga but fantastic in Europe, topping their group and eliminating an excellent Real Betis side in the Round of 16. Let’s see how Barça could line up on Thursday.
For the first time in a while there is a bit of a selection headache for Xavi when it comes to the defense. With Sergiño Dest still out with a hamstring injury and Dani Alves unavailable for the Europa League, there is no right-back available for the first leg which will force the Barça coach to get a little creative.
The easy answer is to play Ronald Araujo at right-back with Eric García as Gerard Piqué’s partner in the middle, with Jordi Alba at his usual left-back spot. But Xavi might decide to rotate a bit and rest Piqué, which would then open the door for Clément Lenglet to play at the back.
Speaking of rotations, Xavi has been using different midfield combinations throughout the Europa League games which have mostly meant giving Sergio Busquets at least 45 minutes on the bench. The captain didn’t play for Spain in the international break and has had four days to rest since the Sevilla match, so it’s less likely that he does see the bench for fitness reasons alone.
But there is still a good possibility for rotations in the middle of the park, which opens the door for Gavi to start either for Busquets or Frenkie De Jong. Nico González hasn’t played much recently and is unlikely to start, while Pedri is pretty much untouchable at the moment as he enjoys the best run of form of his young career.
The attack will most likely see the biggest change from the Sevilla match, with both Pierre-Emrick Aubameyang and Ousmane Dembélé good candidates to go to the bench simply to preserve their fitness and health as the two have become crucial pieces of the attacking engine.
That opens the door for Adama Traoré, who has been an ever-present in the Europa League even if his recent form hasn’t been exactly stellar. If both Dembélé and Aubameyang get a rest, then Memphis Depay also gets a rare chance to play with Ferran Torres retaining his place on the left wing.
Frankfurt usually play with a back three, so it is at least possible that Xavi goes with a 3-5-2 system on Thursday. If that does happen, Adama and Alba would be the wingbacks, with Memphis and Ferran as the two strikers up front.
Possible XI: Ter Stegen; Araujo, Piqué, Eric, Alba; Gavi, F. De Jong, Pedri; Adama, Memphis, Ferran (4-3-3)
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