The final international break of 2022 — other than the World Cup, of course — has come to an end and it’s time for club football to enter a frantic period with a crazy amount of games for all teams before the biggest tournament on the planet begins in six weeks.
Things are not different for Barcelona, who begin a crucial October with a trip to beautiful Palma de Mallorca to face Real Mallorca on Saturday evening for some La Liga action as they look to continue the great form from the first two months of the campaign.
The Blaugrana have made a near perfect start to the season and are just two points behind leaders Real Madrid, but they will be truly tested by a brutal schedule and several untimely injuries due to the FIFA Virus.
Xavi Hernández has quite the challenge to put together the winning formula time and time again this month, and Mallorca will provide a tough test this weekend. Here’s how we think Barça will line up on Saturday.
The defense was the area of the pitch most affected by the injuries during the break, with Jules Kounde, Ronald Araujo and Héctor Bellerín all expected to miss significant time with their respective hamstring, groin and calf injuries. Kounde and Bellerín might be back within the month, but Araujo will probably miss the entire pre-World Cup schedule as recovers from surgery.
Without the two best center-backs and the number one backup option at right-back, Xavi will need to be creative to put together a backline for this Saturday. Sergi Roberto is the easy answer at right-back, and Andreas Christensen and Eric García have the chance to once again play together after doing very well as the center-back pairing in the first two or three games this season.
But it’s not so simple with Roberto, who is still not cleared from the injury that kept him out of action for the last week of games before the international break. There is some optimism as of now that he will receive the green light, however, so there might not be the need to go with an ultra-creative solution.
What would that ultra-creative solution be? Marc Casadò from Barça Atlètic played at right-back for Xavi in preseason and could come in as an emergency, but we could even see Eric García go back to a position he played for Pep Guardiola at Manchester City for quite a few games back in 2020. It all depends on the health of Roberto.
Frenkie de Jong had a minor injury with the Netherlands that doesn’t seem to be too serious, and the Dutchman is expected to be available for the massive Champions League trip to Inter Milan next Tuesday. But it’s hard to see Frenkie being risked in this one, especially with Gavi, Sergio Busquets and Pedri having played fewer minutes than expected for Spain.
Luis Enrique’s favorite midfield trio will most likely start this one, though Franck Kessie is ready to go as well and clearly has the trust from Xavi if we look at the first six weeks of the season. If the coach decides to rest one of his three starting midfielders, the Ivorian will step up.
Memphis Depay was another casualty from the international break, which is a real shame given how well he played in the win against Elche two weeks ago. Starting the Dutchman against Mallorca to give Robert Lewandowski a rest before several crucial games in a row seemed like the most logical choice, but that alternative is now gone as Memphis is not expected to start or even be available this weekend.
But there’s still a chance to rest Lewandowski, with Ferran Torres and Ansu Fati also capable of playing through the middle. Xavi will most likely choose to start the Polish superstar, however, hoping he helps build a healthy lead early in the game so the coach can make some substitutions to rest the legs for the trip to Milan.
Regardless of who starts in the middle, it seems as though Raphinha and Ousmane Dembélé will start this one on the wings. Dembélé had a bit of a scare in France duty but seems to be fully healthy, and Raphinha played two brilliant games with Brazil that have him full of confidence right now.
Possible XI (4-3-3): Ter Stegen; Roberto, Christensen, Eric, Balde; Gavi, Busquets, Pedri; Raphinha, Lewandowski, Dembélé
How do you think Barcelona will line up against Elche? Let us know your thoughts, predictions and teams in the comments below!