The madness of January continues for Barcelona as the Catalans play yet another match just three days after a successful Copa del Rey trip to Salamanca, with their attentions now back to La Liga for a huge clash away to Real Betis on Sunday evening in Seville.
Barça beat Unionistas on Thursday to set up a huge Cup quarter-final tie with Athletic Bilbao and showed some signs of life for the first time in a while, with an encouraging second half performance from most of the team. Xavi Hernández and his troops now have to build on that, and try to start a run of positive results in performances as we approach the home stretch of the season.
But Betis away is a monster test, with Manuel Pellegrini’s side always creating massive problems for Barça at the Benito Villamarín. Here’s how we think Xavi will line up his troops for Sunday’s battle.
Despite the many injuries and a couple of suspensions Xavi was still able to rotate his squad against Unionistas, but the team will be back to full strength for this one with a couple of key pieces returning. One of them is Ronald Araujo, back from a one-game suspension after his red card in El Clásico a week ago.
The Uruguayan’s return should reunite the ‘BACK’ quartet, with Jules Kounde at right-back and Andreas Christensen as Araujo’s partner in the middle. Alejandro Balde, fresh off an amazing goal in midweek, should have his confidence back and is ready to rediscover his best football.
Barça’s midfield gets a big boost for a big game as Pedri is expected to make his first league start in over a month, with the magician’s minutes carefully monitored since his return from injury. He might not be ready for the whole 90 just yet, but Pedri looks sharp and closer to being ready to step up his usage again.
The Spaniard’s creativity is a perfect complement to Ilkay Gündogan and Frenkie de Jong, who have played essentially as a double pivot in recent games and have a very good understanding of their positions and roles in the team. The more they play together, hopefully with Pedri, the better the team will be.
Xavi may choose to start four midfielders in a big away match, which wouldn’t be a surprise, but we think the coach will opt for a lineup with a little bit more speed and juice to take advantage of a Betis team that likes to attack and leaves space in behind.
Lamine Yamal is back after serving the final game of a two-match suspension in the Cup, and the 16-year-old deserves a start and a chance to build on a couple of strong recent performances. Ferran Torres is also playing well and scored in midweek, and with João Félix continuing to struggle there is no point in benching the Spaniard.
Robert Lewandowski will lead the line, hopefully with two true attackers alongside him and Pedri in behind proving quality service. The Pole has played well since the turn of the calendar, and there is no doubt about his ability to finish chances as long as his teammates can create them.
Possible XI: Peña; Kounde, Araujo, Christensen, Balde; Pedri, De Jong, Gündogan; Yamal, Lewandowski, Ferran (4-3-3)
How do you think Barcelona should line up against Betis? Let us know your thoughts, predictions and teams in the comments below!