Following Barcelona’s disappointing defeat to Athletic Bilbao in their opening game of the 2019/20 La Liga season, the Blaugranes are short on manpower. While captain Lionel Messi was ruled out of last week’s match due to a calf injury, Luis Suarez had to be taken off the field with a calf injury of his own. To make matters worse, fellow attacker Ousmane Dembele has been ruled out for an approximate five weeks due to hamstring issues, while in-form goalkeeper Neto is out with a broken hand. With so many injury concerns, how can the Blaugranes best line up against Betis in order to earn their first three points of the new season?
First and foremost, let’s take a look at each of the best alternatives that Barca has in attacking positions. We already know that Marc-Andre ter Stegen is the first choice keeper, and will start the match against Real Betis, with Barca B keeper Inaki Pena being brought in as backup from the bench. This leaves the question of who’s left to take over the club’s attacking duties in place of three key attackers?
First and foremost, with Suarez out, that leaves new signing Antoine Griezmann as the sole centre forward up for selection. This circumstance only allows Barca the option of playing one striker up front, with the exception of utilising a false 9 formation. Because of his versatility, it may be worth surprising Betis with a formation incorporating a false 9.
With Griezmann up front, it’s time to look at which players are available to slot in on the wings. Currently, the only natural right winger available is Carles Perez, who traditionally plays on the right. This means that at least one other player will have to be taken out of position to fill the outstanding attacking role. While Rafinha’s primary role is central or attacking midfielder, he has been extensively used on either wing and it would thus be feasible to use him on the vacant left wing if fit.
Fortunately, Barca are spoilt for choice in midfield. Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic and Frenkie de Jong can all suitably fill the role of holding mid, while Arturo Vidal can be utilised as a box-to-box midfielder if the need arises. Both Carles Alena and Riqui Puig have proven themselves as promising young talents, and together with Arthur, can all fill a regular center mid role. With so many options, it’s hard to justify why Valverde felt the need to use utility player Sergi Roberto as a centre mid in Barca’s last outing, particularly with so many specialists on the bench.
Ideally, De Jong should be used due to his promising start to life at Barca. While his creative ability was restricted against Athletic, this was largely due to the absence of another physical holding mid who could cover for his defensive duties while he pushed forward. Enter Busquets or Rakitic - both of whom will certainly have the ability to provide de Jong with the support he needs. After picking one of these Barca veterans, there will still be one more midfield position to fill. There’s no doubt that Vidal is ageing, and for this reason, it may be worthwhile giving either Puig or Alena an opportunity as these youngsters have not only shown their hunger for gametime, but proven their potential in a Barca shirt.
At the back, it’s clear that Samuel Umtiti is not at his peak following his poor performance against Napoli in pre-season. While Clement Lenglet started against Athletic last week, he also churned in a poor performance. Perhaps it is time to allow Jean-Clair Todibo the chance to prove his worth? Gerard Pique would be the default choice as his partner in the middle, particularly since it will mark his 500th appearance for the club, while Jordi Alba is the clear favourite for left-back, despite Junior’s potential. This leaves a spot to fill at right-back. Nelson Semedo has been adequate in this position but has clearly not been a standout player as of late. With Moussa Wague fresh for selection, perhaps it’s time to allow the Senegalese right-back the opportunity to provide the Blaugranes with some depth.
Possible XI: Ter Stegen; Semedo, Pique, Todibo, Alba; Busquets, De Jong, Puig; Perez, Griezmann, Rafinha,
Who do you think should start for Barcelona against Betis? Let us know your thoughts, line-ups and predictions in the comments below!