The holiday break is over and La Liga returns to action this weekend, and Barcelona have a tricky one ahead of them as they travel to beautiful Palma de Mallorca to face Real Mallorca.
Barça finished 2021 with an encouraging performance and result away to Sevilla and were looking forward to start January strong, but a massive Covid-19 outbreak within the squad left the squad with very few options for the first game of 2022.
Xavi has just nine first team players available as of this writing, and his team selection will be very interesting. Let’s see how Barça could line up on Sunday.
Important note before the team prediction: according to La Liga rules, a team must have seven outfield first team players on the pitch at all times, unless there are fewer than FIVE such players available due to extraordinary circumstances — like a Covid outbreak. Because Barça have seven outfield first team players available as of this writing, all of them must start on Sunday — unless Xavi does something crazy like Neto in goal and Marc-André ter Stegen in midfield to have a first team player on the bench. We don’t anticipate that happening, however, so we expect all seven outfielders to start.
Barça’s defense was the most heavily affected part of the squad due to the outbreak, with Sergiño Dest, Dani Alves, Clément Lenglet, Samuel Umtiti, Jordi Alba and Alejandro Balde all testing positive, so Xavi is down to just four defenders available: Ronald Araujo, Gerard Piqué, Eric García and Óscar Mingueza.
They are all center-backs and all right-footed, which means no natural left-back, and with the absences of Dest and Alves there is no other option but to play Ronald Araujo again at right-back. He was solid against Sevilla but is clearly still uncomfortable in the role, but there is simply no other player for that spot on Sunday.
The fifth yellow card he picked up against Sevilla felt like a blessing in disguise to give him a rest, but with all the absences due to Covid it is now a bad thing that Sergio Busquets is suspended and not available to play in midfield on Sunday.
With Philippe Coutinho testing positive and Gavi also out due to Covid and suspension, there are only two first team midfielders available for this one in Frenkie De Jong and Riqui Puig. The two will most likely be joined by Nico González, which will give us the chance to see a fascinating midfield combination that will without a doubt be the most interesting aspect of Sunday’s game.
New signing Ferran Torres is not yet fit to make his debut, and with Ousmane Dembélé and Ez Abde testing positive and both Memphis Depay and Ansu Fati still unavailable due to injury, Xavi has a selection headache when it comes to the front three.
Luuk De Jong will start up front and Ferran Jutglà will move to the wing for his third consecutive start, so the question is who starts on the other flank. Based on his previous selections it is most likely that Xavi will pick Ilias Akhomach, but 18-year-old Estanis Pedrola was very impressive at Barça B in the last couple of games and could be the surprise name on the teamsheet this Sunday.
POSSIBLE XI: Ter Stegen; Araujo, Piqué, Eric, Mingueza; Nico, F. De Jong, Puig; Akhomach, L. De Jong, Jutglà (4-3-3)
How do YOU think Barcelona should line up against Mallorca? Let us know your thoughts, predictions and teams in the comments below!