Barcelona have enjoyed a rare full week of rest and training and are now ready to begin another busy stretch of crucial matches in three different competitions, and this Sunday they make a trip to Villarreal for a meeting with the Yellow Submarine in the marquee La Liga matchup of the weekend.
Barça are eight points clear at the top of the table and had one of their most complete performances of the season against Sevilla last Sunday, but they’ll be severely tested this weekend against a Villarreal team that’s played very well under former Barça manager Quique Setién.
The Blaugrana also have the massive Europa League playoff first leg against Manchester United next Thursday, so this is a huge week ahead for the Blaugrana. Here’s how we think Barça should line up on Sunday.
Despite the full week off this has been a very busy start to 2023, and Xavi Hernández has to carefully manage his squad as Barça will potentially play four Europa League knockout games, two Clásicos in two different competitions and 11 total games before the March international break.
So even coming off a week without games, I still believe the coach should rotate his squad for the Villarreal match to go into the United clash at the Spotify Camp Nou with the strongest available team. But Xavi needs to be careful to not weaken his team too much since Villarreal are a very dangerous team and keeping the eight-point lead intact is also a big priority.
Threading that needle won’t be easy, so there might only be two or three changes to the team in this one. I’m expecting one at the back, with Sergi Roberto giving Jules Kounde a necessary night off at right-back given how much the Frenchman has played so far this year, and Jordi Alba deserves to stay at left-back after his performance last week. Ronald Araujo and Andreas Christensen should continue to develop their excellent partnership in the middle.
Even thought I know it won’t happen, I want to speak it into existence: Xavi really needs to rest Pedri. Like, at least once. He tried it against Girona a couple of weeks ago but an injury forced the Spaniard to come into the game just 20 minutes in, but it’s time for Pedri to get at least 45 minutes off and be an option for the second half.
Franck Kessie was very solid against Sevilla and is starting to really gain Xavi’s confidence, and he’s the immediate replacement for Pedri. Gavi seemingly has unlimited energy at his young age, and Frenkie De Jong is the only logical substitute for the injured Sergio Busquets.
I’ll say it again so it happens: REST. PEDRI.
If Xavi has the chance to rotate some pieces at the back and in midfield, he doesn’t have much to tinker with up front. Memphis Depay’s departure and Ousmane Dembélé’s injury leaves the team thin at the forward spots, and without Busquets there isn’t the option of the four-midfielder system for the next couple of weeks.
And with Ferran Torres’s alarming lack of form, the only three forwards with a realistic chance of starting are Raphinha, Robert Lewandowski and Ansu Fati. They’ll start on Sunday, with Raphinha looking to build on his excellent night against Sevilla and Fati looking for some much-needed confidence and consistency.
Possible XI: Ter Stegen; Roberto, Araujo, Christensen, Alba; Kessie, De Jong, Gavi; Raphinha, Lewandowski, Fati (4-3-3)
How do you think Barcelona should line up against Villarreal? Let us know your thoughts, predictions and teams in the comments below!