Barcelona look to rebound from their Champions League exit as they go in search of a third straight La Liga victory when they travel to Mestalla for a very tough clash against Valencia on Saturday night.
The Blaugrana were relegated to the Europa League thanks to a 3-0 loss to Bayern Munich for the second year in a row, and this one was even more painful after all the excitement surrounding this European season after the busy summer of signings. Barça went out in embarrassing fashion in front of the home fans, and clearly have a lot of work to do to be a real competitor in a continental level.
But they remain a force in domestic competition, and will be looking to stay close to leaders Real Madrid as they focus solely on winning La Liga this season. But Valencia always provide a brutal test away from home, and Gennaro Gattuso’s side has made a solid start to the season and will no doubt make things very tough for Xavi Hernández and his troops. Here’s how we think Barça will line up on Saturday.
Barça’s defense struggled mightily against a Bayern attack that barely even had to try on Wednesday, and Héctor Bellerín had a nightmare evening at right-back. Sergi Roberto was actually playing very well before his unfortunate shoulder injury, so Xavi has a bit of a headache when it comes to that position.
With Bellerín clearly out of form and still working his way back from injury, it might be time to revisit Jules Kounde in that position and play Eric García with either Gerard Piqué or Marcos Alonso at center-back until Andreas Christensen is ready to return from his injury. Alejandro Balde continues to impress and improve with every match and should be given a real run as the starting left-back now.
Every Barça player struggled against Bayern, but the midfield was especially bad and Sergio Busquets is somehow untouchable in the games that matter the most. The captain is a legend and will forever be known as one of the greatest defensive midfielders of his era, but it really is time to move on.
Busquets shouldn’t be on the team this Saturday, and Frenkie De Jong deserves an extended run at the pivot role. Gavi will return after sitting out the Bayern disaster, and Pedri got a few extra minutes of rest in the second half on Wednesday which suggests he’ll be playing this one from the start.
Ousmane Dembélé and Robert Lewandowski were amongst the very few Barça players who actually tried against Bayern, even if they couldn’t produce any meaningful offensive without any help from their teammates. They have been very consistent all season and will be a big reason for Barça’s success if the Catalans continue to challenge for the league title.
The challenge will always be to find a reliable third option in attack, and Pedri on the left wing just makes the team too stiff and predictable against good defenses. The third forward should be an attacker, and Ansu Fati continues to not play for some reason. He should be starting this one, especially with Raphinha completely out of form and Ferran Torres being used more and more centrally over the last few games.
Possible XI: Ter Stegen; Kounde, Eric, Alonso, Balde; Gavi, De Jong, Pedri; Dembélé, Lewandowski, Fati (4-3-3)
How do you think Barcelona should line up against Valencia? Let us know your thoughts, predictions and teams in the comments below!