Barcelona continue a busy start to the new year as they begin their Copa del Rey title defense with a Round of 32 match away to Third Division side Linares Deportivo in the Andalusian region.
Spanish Cup matches are now single-elimination ties all the way through the semi-finals, so it is win or go home for Xavi’s men on Wednesday. Barça started 2022 with a gutsy win away to Mallorca, and there is no time to rest for a Blaugrana squad still depleted due to injuries and Covid-19.
There is still a lot of uncertainty about the status of most of the squad ahead of this one, with seveal players who are positive for Covid as of this writing still hoping to test negative on Tuesday to make the squad, so figuring out the starting XI is quite the challenge. Let’s see how Barça could line up on Wednesday.
Important note before the lineup prediction: the rule that prevents Barça from fielding fewer than seven first team players in La Liga matches also applies to the Copa del Rey, so Xavi is still unable to use more than three outfield players from the youth ranks at the same time. Yes, the rule is stupid.
This is a Copa del Rey match against a Third Division team, so we shouldn’t expect a full-strength side even with all the absences. Dani Alves and Jordi Alba are back after testing positive and could possibly start, but with a tough trip to Granada at the weekend and El Clásico next week it is hard to see them playing from the beginning in this one.
The same goes for Gerard Piqué and Ronald Araujo, who are crucial pieces of the defense. Clément Lenglet played some left-back against Mallorca and Óscar Mingueza was excellent in the right full-back spot, so we might see them in those slots again with Eric García and Samuel Umtiti in the middle of the backline and Neto expected to start in goal.
The midfield continues to be heavily affected by the Covid outbreak, with Pedri added to the list on Monday. Gavi remains out as of this writing, although he could test negative in time to make the trip. The same goes for Philippe Coutinho, who hasn’t played much lately and might leave the club in this window but could still get some Cup action if he makes the squad.
Sergio Busquets was suspended for the trip to Mallorca and will most likely start to provide experience in the middle of the park, and Riqui Puig will probably get a second start in a row alongside him. Frenkie De Jong might get the night off, and if Nico González isn’t quite 100% after limping off the field against Mallorca we could see a first main squad start for young Álvaro Sanz against a team he’s familiar with at Barça B level.
Ansu Fati and Memphis Depay are back in full training and are expected to be named in the squad for this one, but both will probably start the game on the bench. It is still unclear whether or not Ousmane Dembélé will test negative in time to make the trip, but even if he does we are likely to see the same front three that played against Mallorca.
Luuk De Jong had his best performance in a Barça shirt on Sunday and deserves to lead the attack again, and Ferran Jutglà continues to impress and earn more minutes. Ilias Akhomach is yet to make his mark on the first team, but facing a level of competition he is used to at Barça B could give him the confidence to make some noise.
Possible XI (4-3-3): Neto; Mingueza, Eric, Umtiti, Lenglet; Sanz, Busquets, Puig; Akhomach, L. De Jong, Jutglà
How do YOU think Barcelona should line up against Linares? Let us know your thoughts, predictions and teams in the comments below!