Barcelona don’t have time to rest after Thursday’s thrilling match against Napoli as they play on Sunday afternoon in what is always a brutal La Liga vist to Valencia at Mestalla.
Barça played very well and could have wrapped up their Europa League tie against the Italians, but their finishing cost them a victory and they’ll have to settle things up in Naples. But the race for the Top 4 in the league is also hugely important, and after last week’s draw against Espanyol Barça must find a way to return to winning ways.
Even though they are strulling at the moment, Valencia are always an incredibly tough opponent to face in their home stadium, and Barça must be at their best to leave Mestalla with all three points. Let’s see how they could line up on Sunday.
The lack of defensive depth at the moment is almost comical, and Xavi Hernández is once again dealing with big problems at the back. Dani Alves will serve the second of a two-game suspension for his red card against Atlético Madrid, Gerard Piqué will miss out because of a late sending off at Espanyol, and Ronald Araujo has not fully recovered from his calf injury yet and will not be risked on Sunday.
Clément Lenglet is still out with a hamstring injury, while Samuel Umtiti is a long-term absence with a broken foot, and all of that leaves Xavi with only four available defenders: Sergiño Dest, Óscar Mingueza, Eric García and Jordi Alba. There is a chance Xavi plays Frenkie De Jong in defense, a role the Dutchman is comfortable with going back to his Ajax days, but it is more likely that the four defenders start together in this one.
If he doesn’t play at the back, Frenkie De Jong should retain his place in midfield after a quietly influential performance against Napoli in what usually is Sergio Busquets’ position. The captain was surprisingly left out of the starting XI on Thursday but that won’t happen in two straight games, and his experience and passing ability will be necessary away to a Valencia team that is expected to play very defensively.
With De Jong and Busi expected to start, the third place in midfield is up for grabs. Pedri looked exhausted at the end of the Napoli match and would benefit from not starting this one, especially with such a short turnaround. Nico González started on Thursday and played well, and would deserve to keep his place. But we will most likely see the return of Gavi, who has a very positive impact on the team every time he plays.
Ferran Torres’ performance against Napoli has been scrutinized enough, but despite all the outside noise it’s hard to see Xavi dropping Ferran on Sunday for a couple of reasons: it’s a return to the club and stadium where Torres grew up and become a star, and being sent to the bench after missing those big chances against Napoli would be a major hit to the confidence of a player who must be a crucial piece of Barça’s present and future.
Ferran should start, and he might do it up front on Sunday: Adama Traoré will once again be on the right wing, and we could see Ousmane Dembélé starting this one on the left after another excellent substitute cameo on Thursday. Luuk De Jong works perfectly as a super sub at the moment, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has not earned a permanent starting spot just yet.
Possible XI: Ter Stegen; Dest, Mingueza, Eric, Alba; F. De Jong, Busquets, Gavi; Adama, Ferran, Dembélé (4-3-3)
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