Barcelona’s young season continues this weekend with a La Liga match against Real Valladolid at the Spotify Camp Nou on Sunday evening in Catalonia.
The Blaugrana picked up their first win of the season last Sunday away to Real Sociedad at Anoeta and are now back home looking for their first league victory at Camp Nou to keep pace with Real Madrid in the early days of the title race.
Xavi Hernández’s men played a highly entertaining friendly against Manchester City in midweek, which provided important minutes to a few players and showed the team is ready to compete against the continent’s elite.
Valladolid picked up their first point of the season with a very impressive performance away to Sevilla last week, and will come to the Catalan capital confident in their ability to pull off an upset. Here’s how we think Barça could line up for Sunday’s clash.
After the quality of last week’s performance at Anoeta and just how good the team looked going forward, it seems pretty safe to assume Xavi will stick with the back three system he picked in that match.
Jules Kounde is expected to be registered in time to make the squad and played 80 minutes against City to increase his sharpness, and it’s very possible that the Frenchman will start in his official debut for the Blaugrana. Despite two bad mistakes against City Kounde was quite impressive with his ability to bring the ball from the back and initiate plays with his passing skills, and his pace and smarts as a defender will be a big boost.
However, it would be slightly unfair to “punish” one Ronald Araujo, Andreas Christensen and Eric García with a place on the bench after their performances so far, so we might see Xavi rewarding the trio and keeping them together for a third straight game before finally giving Kounde the keys to the kingdom.
Sergio Busquets is back after suspension and there is no doubt the captain walks right back into the team, especially with Gavi’s early struggles this season. The team is clearly quicker and more dynamic without Busquets, but they also felt the calming presence of Busi at times in the first half against Sociedad. He’s Xavi’s coach on the pitch, and can be very important against the type of defense Valladolid is expected to play at Camp Nou.
Frenkie De Jong had a couple of shaky moments but was one of the bright spots of Barça’s win at Anoeta, and he should keep his place alongside Pedri in the middle of the park. If Xavi decides to stick with the 3-3-4 system that worked so well in the second half last week, De Jong will have the chance to play his best position as a deep lying playmaker alongside a more defensive central midfielder while Pedri will get to use his vision, skills and football IQ to wreak havoc alongside the front four.
Ansu Fati was sensational as a substitute last week and looks ready to make his first start this season, with reports this week claiming he’s as close to 100% as he’s ever been since returning from injury. The Prince looks very comfortable playing with Robert Lewandowski, and Ousmane Dembélé continues to get better and better since Xavi became the manager 10 months ago.
Assuming Dembélé will start on the right and Lewandowski will play through the middle alongside Ansu Fati (or Ferran Torres if Xavi decides to give him another chance), there is one spot remaining on the left wing. And there is zero question about who should be there: Alejandro Balde was the surprise selection last week and was amazing as a left-back/left winger hybrid, providing crucial defensive balance and being a real threat going forward.
Raphinha and Jordi Alba both have a chance to take Balde’s place, but Xavi should have no doubts about keeping the youngster and giving him more and more confidence playing at home against a worse team than Real Sociedad. Let the kid play.
Possible XI (3-3-4): Ter Stegen; Araujo, Christensen, Eric; De Jong, Busquets, Pedri; Dembélé, Lewandowski, Fati, Balde
How do you think Barcelona will line up against Real Valladolid? Let us know your thoughts, predictions and teams in the comments below!