Welcome back, Barcelona football! After a seven-week break for the World Cup, the much-anticipated return of the Blaugrana to action takes place on Saturday afternoon in the Catalan capital with a very tough Derby against crosstown rivals Espanyol at the Spotify Camp Nou.
Every international returned over the last two weeks of training and most players are fully fit and ready to go, and Xavi Hernández won’t have too much of a selection headache when it comes to availability ahead of what is going to be a very busy post-World Cup schedule.
Barça have been notoriously bad in the first match after an international break and must find a way to reverse that trend in what is always a brutal matchup against Espanyol, even in a season where they are in the thick of the relegation battle and in desperate need of a result at Camp Nou. Here’s how we think Barça will line up on Saturday.
The good news about the seven weeks off for Barça was that almost all of the injured players are now healthy and either fully fit or close to it. That is especially important at the back, which was struggling with injuries before the break and badly needed bodies.
The biggest news is that Ronald Araujo is back, but the Uruguayan may not be quite ready for this one after a long recovery from a groin injury. Jules Kounde, Eric García and Andreas Christensen are all available, though, so at least two of them will be in the lineup. Alejandro Balde will continue to be the first-choice right-back until a new one is signed, and Jordi Alba should start ahead of Marcos Alonso on the left.
Frenkie De Jong is once again involved in annoying, unimportant conversations about his future at Barça, but his performances prior to the break proved that Barcelona are a better team when he plays. He should start Saturday and continue to prove that he should be the engine of Barça’s midfield for the next decade.
Sergio Busquets is another one with his future up in the air, but it seems pretty clear the captain will stay until the end of the season and there is zero indication he’ll be out of the team. He starts, which leaves one final spot in midfield which will go to Pedri. Gavi is always in contention to play, but might miss out in this one.
Barça will be without the suspended Robert Lewandowski for the next three league games, which presents a giant challenge for Xavi when it comes to replacing the team’s top scorer and best player this season.
Memphis Depay had a very good World Cup and is the natural replacement in the position, but Ferran Torres can also play centrally and was in great form before the break. It seems that the striker position will come between one of them, with Ousmane Dembélé starting on the right and Ansu Fati expected to be given a golden opportunity on the left to play from the start and make a big impact.
Possible XI: Ter Stegen; Balde, Kounde, Christensen, Alba; De Jong, Busquets, Pedri; Dembélé, Memphis, Fati (4-3-3)
How do you think Barcelona should line up against Espanyol? Let us know your thoughts, predictions and teams in the comments below!