FC Barcelona will look to finish January with a perfect record and maintain their three-point lead at the top of the La Liga table when they make the short trip up north for a Catalan Derby against Girona on Saturday’s early kickoff at the Montilivi Stadium.
Xavi Hernández’s side had to work hard to escape their Copa del Rey quarterfinal against Real Sociedad on Wednesday and now turn their focus back to the league as they look to continue their title chase.
Girona have had a very solid season and were on a seven-game unbeaten streak in La Liga before a narrow loss to Villarreal last weekend, so they certainly will prove to be a tough opponent for their Catalan rivals. Here’s how we think Barça will line up on Saturday.
Here are the five games in Barcelona’s schedule after the visit to Girona: Real Betis away, Sevilla at home, the first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final, Villarreal away, and Manchester United in the Europa League. Those are five giant games with massive implications in three different competitions, so there is no option but to rotate the team this Saturday and take advantage of the good run of health of the squad to change some players around.
At the back, Jules Kounde and Andreas Christensen should be protected at all costs. Both are quickly becoming two of the most important players in the entire team, and their health will be crucial to maintain Barça’s excellent defensive record this season. Ronald Araujo was rested last weekend and should be able to play two games in a row, and Eric García seems to have gone ahead of Marcos Alonso in the defensive rotation at least as of now.
Araujo and Eric should be the center-back partnership on Saturday, with Sergi Roberto returning at right-back and Jordi Alba (or Alonso) replacing Alejandro Balde on the left.
Barça seemed to have dodged a bullet with Pedri’s injury scare against Sociedad, but there is simply no reason to risk anything with their most precious property in midfield this weekend with the big games ahead in the next two weeks. Pedri should rest, and ideally never play if his replacements do their job.
It’s also be a good idea to give Sergio Busquets a day off, with Frenkie De Jong playing in his spot and Franck Kessie and Gavi ahead of him. Pablo Torre should get a serious look as a substitute in the second half if Barça get off to a solid lead early.
Robert Lewandowski and Ferran Torres will serve the final game of their suspensions this weekend, which means once again that Ansu Fati will have to play striker unless Xavi decides to start one of his midfielders as a false nine, something that would be very unusual considering the coach’s tactical system.
Fati was disappointing against Getafe but might find himself more suited to play against a Girona defense that takes more risks and often plays a high line. With Ansu expected up front, Raphinha and Ousmane Dembélé will be on the wings hoping to provide good service to Fati and maybe score a goal or two themselves.
Possible XI: Ter Stegen; Roberto, Araujo, Eric, Alba; Kessie, De Jong, Gavi; Raphinha, Fati, Dembélé (4-3-3)
How do you think Barcelona should line up against Girona? Let us know your thoughts, predictions and teams in the comments below!