The craziness of January in Spain finally comes to an end for Barcelona as the Blaugrana play their ninth and final match of this month as they welcome Osasuna to the Montjuïc Olympic Stadium on Wednesday evening.
Barça effectively said goodbye to the La Liga title race with a wild defeat at home to Villarreal, and then Xavi Hernández dropped the bombshell news that he’s leaving the club at the end of the season. The Catalans now have four months to finish the season in the highest possible position in the league and try to make a deep run in the Champions League, all while looking for a new manager for next season and beyond.
The immediate future brings a tricky matchup against an Osasuna side that just lost to Barça in the Spanish Super Cup at the beginning of the month, but Barça are not in good form and Osasuna have always given the Catalans a tough time and will undoubtedly do so again.
Here’s how we think Xavi will line up his troops for Wednesday’s battle.
The loss to Villarreal and the need to pick up as many points as possible in La Liga over the next month to ensure a strong Top 4 place before they start thinking about Europe again makes this a game simply have to win, and Xavi will not even consider rotating his squad.
There’s very little rotation possible at the back anyway due to injuries, so the four starters are pretty much set: João Cancelo was very critical of his own performance in his return to action from a knee injury but will have a chance to play 90 minutes and start to regain rhythm, and he’ll probably start at left-back for most of the games until the end of the campaign due to Alejandro Balde’s season-ending surgery.
That means Jules Kounde will have to play at right-back, a role he doesn’t like but seems to suit him and the team well, and the Frenchman has no choice but to be a full-back with all the absences around him. Ronald Araujo and Andreas Christensen will be the two center-backs, though Christensen is once again struggling with his Achilles and might be rested in this one. If that’s the case then young Pau Cubarsí will get the nod in the middle, and the 17-year-old has done plenty to prove he’s good enough to play at this level.
Barça played a brilliant game for the first 35 minutes of the second half after a disastrous beginning and just before a late collapse against Villarreal, and most of that came courtesy of the improved play of the midfield after the halftime substitution that brought Pedri into the mix.
The magician looks fully back to his best, and his health is the number one priority if Barça want to have a successful finish to the season. He played deeper against Villarreal in a double pivot alongside Frenkie de Jong, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Xavi use that formula again. That would theoretically push Ilkay Gündogan further forward to play as a number 10, but we won’t know Xavi’s choice for sure until the game starts.
Barça’s attack was a disaster for 45 minutes, and then it came to life once Ferran Torres came off the bench. The Shark is in the form of his life and is crucial to the team right now, and he and Lamine Yamal provide the biggest hopes for creativity and scoring prowess in the front three.
That’s because Robert Lewandowski once again looks like a shell of himself, and the Pole might very well be following Xavi out the door in the summer if he doesn’t find a way to turn his fortunes around. But his coach still believes in him, and he’ll probably start this one again.
João Félix has done very little to deserve a spot anyway, and Vitor Roque has shown good signs in his first few appearances but is yet to get off the mark and still looks too raw to have any kind of immediate impact. Look out for Marc Guiu, however: Xavi is clearly a fan and has alternated between using the La Masia striker and Vitor Roque so it wouldn’t be a surprise at all if we see Guiu appear in this one, maybe even from the start if Xavi is feeling frisky and doesn’t really care that much anymore now that he’s leaving.
Possible XI: Peña; Kounde, Araujo, Christensen, Cancelo; Pedri, De Jong; Yamal, Gündogan, Ferran; Lewandowski (4-2-3-1)
How do you think Barcelona should line up against Osasuna? Let us know your thoughts, predictions and teams in the comments below!