After a hard-fought but crucial Champions League victory over FC Porto in midweek, Barcelona return to La Liga action this weekend for their final game before the international break as they travel to Andalusia to face struggling Granada on Sunday night.
Barça will end an incredibly busy run of tough fixtures and will look to remain unbeaten while keeping pace with the top of the table if they get all three points from this one, and the Blaugrana are big favorites against a Granada side that’s made a very poor start to the season.
Here’s how we think Xavi Hernández will line up his troops for Sunday’s battle.
Barça are exhausted and have to find enough energy to play one last good game in a run of tough, important matches that have caused key injuries and asked a lot of the entire squad. The injury crisis leaves very few options available, and Xavi has to be smart about managing minutes in this one while also having a team good enough to take all three points.
One player who absolutely needs a rest is João Cancelo, and we are trying to speak it into existence for this one. Andreas Christensen was on the bench against Porto and would come back into the defense if Cancelo is indeed rested, moving either Ronald Araujo or Jules Kounde to right-back and reuniting the BACK quartet alongside Alejandro Balde on the left.
The injuries in midfield leave very few options left for Xavi when it comes to rotation, but someone who also needs at least 45-60 minutes of rest on Sunday is Ilkay Gündogan, who could use a substitute cameo after playing almost non-stop over the last month.
That would open the door for a maiden start for young Fermín López, who continues to earn more minutes and always makes an impact with his energy and attacking intent. The other two midfield spots would most like go to Oriol Romeu and Gavi, but Sergi Roberto could also come into the team if Xavi decides to rest Gavi as well.
But it’s hard to see the coach taking out two starters with Frenkie de Jong and Pedri not available, so we are expecting Gavi to start again in this one.
The latest key injury is the ankle sprain suffered by Robert Lewandowski after a brutal tackle in the visit to Porto, and the striker is expected to miss at least a month of action. Thankfully there is an international break so he won’t miss too many matches, but his absence will stretch an already thin forward line considering Raphinha’s injury.
There are only three healthy, available forwards, and unless Xavi returns to the four-midfielder system, which we don’t expect to see at least from the start, then all three will start: Ferran Torres came on for Lewandowski and scored the winning goal, and The Shark’s excellent form provides confidence he can fill in the void until Lewy returns without hurting Barça’s chances of scoring goals.
The wings belong to Lamine Yamal and João Félix, and it is absolutely paramount to keep these two healthy until Raphinha and Lewandowski return. Expect both of them to be substituted if Barça wrap up the win early, and we all need to get together and pray that they return from the international break without any issues.
Possible XI: Ter Stegen; Araujo, Kounde, Christensen, Balde; Fermín, Romeu, Gavi; Yamal, Ferran, Félix (4-3-3)
How do you think Barcelona should line up against Granada? Let us know your thoughts, predictions and teams in the comments below!