The biggest goal of Barcelona’s season so far was achieved on Tuesday when the Catalans guaranteed a spot in the Champions League knockout stages thanks to a hard-fought 2-1 win over Porto at the Montjuïc Olympic Stadium.
Now the Blaugrana can fully focus on two gigantic La Liga clashes, the first of which this weekend when they welcome Atlético Madrid to the Catalan capital as third faces fourth with both of their hopes for a title run on the line.
Diego Simeone’s team is having a fantastic season in Spain and in Europe, and Antoine Griezmann is quite possibly the best player in the league right now. This is a monster clash, and here’s how we think Xavi Hernández will line up his troops for Sunday’s battle.
For the third game in a row, the status of Marc-André ter Stegen is in serious doubt as the German goalkeeper continues to recover from a back injury and is yet to participate in any training session this week. Iñaki Peña has proven he has what it takes to replace Ter Stegen, and the youngster will be ready to start again if need be.
In front of him, the back four of Ronald Araujo, Jules Kounde, Iñigo Martínez and João Cancelo was a little too vulnerable against Porto but are likely to remain the preferred choice for Xavi this weekend. The coach likes to stick with lineups that win big games, which means Andreas Christensen and Alejandro Balde might watch this one from the bench as well.
Xavi could go with a back five and start Cancelo and Balde as wing-backs to match Atlético’s 3-5-2 formation, but we think that’s unlikely with Barça playing at home.
The season-ending injury suffered by Gavi and the poor form of Oriol Romeu makes it pretty easy to guess Xavi’s midfield selection for this one: Frenkie de Jong, Ilkay Gündogan and Pedri will start again and their performance will be crucial against an Atlético side that owes a lot of its success this season to their midfield play.
Gündogan and Pedri were a little too quiet against Porto, and they must step up their creativity levels to help break down what is always a well-organized Colchonero defense.
It has been a while since Barça’s front players, especially their wingers, had a legitimately strong performance but that was the case against Porto as both Raphinha and João Félix played a crucial part in the Blaugrana’s win. Félix will be eligible to play against his parent club despite being on loan, and will be hungry to show Atlético why he was right to demand a move to Barça in the summer.
Robert Lewandowski will lead the line, and the Pole will be hopeful that Raphinha, Félix and Cancelo can replicate their performances against Porto so Lewy can take advantage of their service and find the back of the net in a big game.
Possible XI: Peña; Araujo, Kounde, Iñigo, Cancelo; Pedri, De Jong, Gündogan; Raphinha, Lewandowski, Félix (4-3-3)
How do you think Barcelona should line up against Atlético? Let us know your thoughts, predictions and teams in the comments below!