Barcelona look to end a two-game losing streak and start to rebound from a crisis as they travel to Mestalla for what is always one of the toughest matches in the La Liga calendar when they meet Valencia on Saturday night.
The Blaugrana come into this one on the back of two horrible losses to Girona and Royal Antwerp that have put Xavi Hernández’s status as first team coach in jeopardy and led to a lot of criticism of everyone involved with the club, from coach to players and management as well.
It’s a tough period for the club and its fans, but a win against Valencia can help begin to restore confidence as the Bats are always a brutal test in their home stadium. Here’s how we think Xavi will line up his troops for Saturday’s battle.
After resting a few of his key players with disastrous results in the Champions League in midweek, Xavi will revert to a strong starting XI looking for the spark of confidence and quality that his best players can bring on a tough environment.
The back four of Ronald Araujo, Jules Kounde, Andreas Christensen and João Cancelo has been the coach’s favorite in recent games, but it probably won’t be the case for this one. Kounde has been better at right-back than center-back since returning from injury last month and Araujo is fully rested after being given the night off in Belgium, so it makes sense to give the Frenchman a spot on the bench on Saturday and put Cancelo back on the right.
That opens the door for Alejandro Balde’s return to the left-back spot, as Xavi looks for a spark from the two attacking full-back setup that worked so well in September and October.
The season-ending injury to Gavi has proven very costly as Barça looked completely lost in midfield without any of their starters on Wednesday. Frenkie de Jong was left home due to a fever but should be back for this one, and his presence is absolutely crucial now that Oriol Romeu has provided definitive evidence that he is simply not good enough to play for Barça.
Pedri and Ilkay Gündogan will complete the midfield, and have played reasonably well enough together with De Jong as their partner in the middle to provide hope that this trio can be the long-term solution as long as they stay healthy until the end of the season.
Barça’s attack was unwatchable against Antwerp, and even though the midfield was the real issue there is very little good to be said about the attackers as well. Lamine Yamal and Ferran Torres did combine for a goal and had some other moments of danger, but they were mostly below par like the rest of the team.
The less said about Robert Lewandowski the better, but until Vitor Roque’s arrival in January there is no better option at the striker position than the Pole with Marc Guiu still too young and raw to be considered a viable alternative up front.
Raphinha and João Félix will start on the wings, and before a disappointing night against Girona the two had played two very strong games against FC Porto and Atlético Madrid, which gives at least some hope that they can provide enough danger and service against Valencia to get a big result on the road.
Possible XI: Peña; Cancelo, Araujo, Christensen, Balde; Pedri, De Jong, Gündogan; Raphinha, Lewandowski, Félix (4-3-3)
How do you think Barcelona should line up against Valencia? Let us know your thoughts, predictions and teams in the comments below!