After a hard-fought, gritty win over Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey it is time for Barcelona to focus their attentions fully on La Liga as they look to return to winning ways when they welcome Valencia to the Spotify Camp Nou on Sunday afternoon.
The defensive manner of the victory in El Clásico has been discussed heavily in the hours since the visit to the Bernabéu, but even if it didn’t look pretty it was a massive morale boost for a team in desperate need of one after two tough losses last week.
But one of those losses, the defeat to Almería, cut their lead at the top of the table down to seven points ahead of a crucial stretch of very tough matches, including another Clásico that could very well decide the title.
Valencia are in terrible form and in the relegation zone, but still have plenty of talent and are desperate for a result at Camp Nou which means a very difficult battle for Xavi Hernández and his troops. Here’s how we think Barça will line up on Sunday.
The unusual kickoff time on Sunday afternoon means a shorter rest after the trip to Madrid, and even with a full week of rest and recovery ahead after this one it seems as though Xavi will have no choice but to make a few changes to freshen up the team.
A couple of them could come at the back, with Andreas Christensen most likely available to return after sitting out the win in Madrid with a sore ankle. If the Dane indeed returns, the other likely change is at left-back with Jordi Alba replacing Alejandro Balde. The two have traded starts in recent games, and the trend will probably continue in this one to give Barça more attacking punch against what will be a very tight Valencia defense.
Barça’s midfield worked incredibly hard against Madrid and all looked exhausted at the end of the game, but Gavi’s suspension doesn’t give Xavi many options to rotate in the middle of the park. Sergio Busquets should be fit enough to start again after the unexpected rest he had during his injury recovery, so the captain will be playing in this one.
Frenkie De Jong has virtually played every second of football since the end of January and badly needs a rest, and this should be the game he sits out at least for the first 45 to 60 minutes. Pablo Torre deserves a shot but is unlikely to start, so if Frenkie is rested then Sergi Roberto and Franck Kessie will complete the midfield trio.
If De Jong does play, the door opens for the four-midfielder system to continue with Roberto replacing Gavi on the left wing, but a possible rest for the Dutchman would result in a more traditional front three look from Xavi.
If that’s the case, Ansu Fati will partner Ferran Torres and Raphinha, even though Fati has really struggled recently. You can only get out of a slump by playing, however, and against a Valencia team low on confidence and struggling at the back Ansu might have the big night he desperately needs.
Possible XI: Ter Stegen; Kounde, Araujo, Christensen, Alba; Kessie, Busquets, Roberto; Raphinha, Ferran, Fati (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!