Barcelona are on the road this weekend looking to start a winning streak after their first victory of the season last week, but the La Liga champions have a very tough assignment in the form of Quique Setién’s Villarreal at the Estadio de la Cerámica on Sunday afternoon.
It’s been another tough week for Barça with even more transfer uncertainty and another tough injury blow: Pedri suffered yet another thigh injury and will be out at least through the international break, joining Ronald Araujo on a growing and worrying list of key starters missing a significant period of time.
But the Blaugrana should still have enough to pick up all three points against the Yellow Submarine, who have injury problems of their own and are yet to produce a convincing performance. Here’s how we think Xavi Hernández will line up his Barça troops for Sunday’s battle.
Araujo’s injury gave Xavi the chance to play a false center-back at home against Cádiz last week, but playing away from home without a key midfielder will probably force the coach to adjust his backline for this one.
There is some doubt about the availability of Alejandro Balde after a bit of an ankle issue during Friday’s training session, but the left-back will most likely start on Sunday with Jules Kounde once again playing at full-back while we await the arrival of João Cancelo. If Xavi does pick a more conservative back four for this one, then Eric García will likely get a rare start alongside Andreas Christensen.
The five-midfielder setup against Cádiz was surprising, interesting and resulted in a solid overall performance, but Pedri’s injury derails any plans of a consistent run for that particular lineup. But Xavi still wants a lot of midfielders in the team, so we are expecting four of them to start at El Madrigal.
Oriol Romeu has fit in seamlessly and looks like a very shrewd summer signing in these early days, and he’ll benefit from playing alongside Frenkie De Jong as the Dutchman will likely move to a more classic central role for this one. Ilkay Gündogan and Gavi will be the more advanced midfielders in the system, with Gavi most likely playing in his usual false left wing role when the team has the ball.
Lamine Yamal had a memorable full debut last week and is already generating buzz as a senior international for either Spain or Morocco, and the 16-year-old will once again start on the right wing looking to impact the game with speed, smarts and skills.
That leaves Robert Lewandowski once again as the man to lead the line, though it is becoming harder and harder to look at the Pole as the undisputed striker up front considering the form of Ferran Torres and just how inconsistent Lewandowski has been for most — if not all — of 2023. But it’s hard to see him out of the team, at least for now, so he’ll again play from the start on Sunday and look to finally score his first goal of the season.
Possible XI: Ter Stegen; Kounde, Christensen, Eric, Balde; Gündogan, Romeu, De Jong; Yamal, Lewandowski, Gavi (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!