After a disappointing start to the season with a goalless draw at home against Rayo Vallecano, Barcelona are back in action with a trip to the Basque Country to face Real Sociedad at the cauldron of Anoeta.
The transfer speculation continues to dominate the headlines in Barça land, which turned out to be a good thing as it allowed coach Xavi Hernández and his team to work quietly in training throughout the week to try and improve on a subpar showing against a very tough Rayo team.
But things get even tougher against Sociedad, who are a brutal opponent to face at their home stadium in front of a wild crowd. Barça haven’t lost there since breaking the infamous Anoeta curse five years ago, but they still must be ready for war. Here’s how we think Xavi could line up his troops for Sunday’s game.
Xavi has been given excellent squad depth for this season, and he can’t be reluctant to make changes now that there are several good options all over the pitch. Despite keeping a clean sheet the defense did very little to provide help on the attack against Rayo, with both full-back positions proving quite problematic.
The coach started Ronald Araujo at right-back, but changed things in the second half with the Uruguayan back at the heart of the backline alongside Eric García at the expense of Andreas Christensen. Sergi Roberto came on in that one, and might get a chance to start on Sunday with Sergiño Dest out of the picture and a new right-back still being pursued on the market.
But the biggest change could come at left-back, with Alejandro Balde rumored to have won the starting job over Jordi Alba for this one. Whether this will be purely a showcase of his talents to attract some transfer interest or a real show of trust by the manager remains to be seen, but the youngster might get a golden chance to impress in a big game.
Of the many uninspired performances against Rayo, the midfield was certainly the area of most concern. Sergio Busquets and Gavi were especially underwhelming, and Pedri couldn’t carry the load by himself despite his best efforts to help the team with his glorious arsenal of skills.
Busquets was sent off against Rayo and is suspended, so one change will definitely happen. But with Gavi’s subpar showing and Frenkie De Jong’s fantastic substitute cameo we could see two alterations: the Dutchman will find himself back in the lineup either as Busquets’ replacement or taking over for Gavi, in which case Miralem Pjanic will come in at the pivot position for a rare appearance.
Ansu Fati made a strong case to be included in the starting XI with his performance off the bench, but it does still seem like Xavi trusts Raphinha, Ousmane Dembélé and Robert Lewandowski a tad more and will give those three a go once again.
Ferran Torres is yet to make his debut but is slowly working himself back into the picture, and Memphis Depay and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang are still options — for now. We’ll see whether Xavi pulls the trigger early on using his depth, but this still the second game of the season and the starting front three had enough strong moments last week to warrant another game together from the start.
Possible XI: Ter Stegen; Roberto, Araujo, Eric, Balde; De Jong, Pjanic, Pedri; Raphinha, Lewandowski, Dembélé (4-3-3)
How do you think Barcelona will line up against Real Sociedad? Let us know your thoughts, predictions and teams in the comments below!