After a dramatic win over Athletic Bilbao to get closer to the top of the La Liga table Barcelona have no time to rest as they face a second straight crucial home game this week, this time against Shakhtar Donetsk in their third Champions League group stage match.
Barça will pretty much guarantee a spot in the Round of 16 if they win this one, a big priority for the club before the start of the season. Getting all three points will also be a big confidence boost ahead of the weekend with El Clásico on the horizon, and despite all the injuries the Blaugrana will be big favorites against a Shakhtar side in managerial turmoil coming into their visit to the Montjuïc Olympic Stadium.
Here's how we think Xavi Hernández will line up his troops for Wednesday's battle.
Xavi isn’t expected to have any of his injured players back for this one, so the coach needs to remain cautious and smart with his approach to avoid injuries to the very few available players and try and steal some extra rest minutes ahead of the Clásico will also starting a strong side to beat Shakhtar at home.
We have been calling for a rest for João Cancelo for a while but it’s hard to see the right-back rested for this one with no one else available in his position, so he will remain in the team with Marcos Alonso likely to start on the left after Alejandro Balde was forced to leave the Athletic Bilbao game with 10 minutes to go due to a sore calf.
Balde avoided injury but it would be smart to keep him out on Wednesday and have him fully ready for the weekend, so the young full-back would move to the bench where he’ll probably be accompanied by Iñigo Martínez as Xavi is expected to reunite his best center-back pairing from last season in Ronald Araujo and Andreas Christensen.
There is a scenario where Xavi rests Cancelo and plays Araujo at right-back, in which case Christensen and Iñigo would play in the middle. It’s not the most likely option, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see it either.
An already thin Barça midfield will be without yet another crucial player for this one as Gavi will miss the game through suspension due to his late red card against FC Porto three weeks ago.
That leaves only three available options for the midfield: Oriol Romeu, Ilkay Gündogan and young Fermín López, who shined against Athletic and continues to earn more and more trust from the coaching staff and his teammates with his energy, intelligence and creativity. He could play a bigger part than we expect in the Clásico if Frenkie de Jong and Pedri aren’t back in time, so a start in Europe will do the youngster a world of good.
Another youngster who could use a confidence boost ahead of Saturday is Lamine Yamal, who wasn’t risked from the start against Athletic due to his groin soreness but should be fully fit to play in this one from the get-go.
Yamal will return to his customary place on the right wing, which will move Ferran Torres back to the middle after playing on the right at the weekend. João Félix will start on the left, looking to continue his amazing run of form to start the season and perhaps find the back of the net against Shakhtar to gain even more confidence ahead of his first Clásico.
17-year-old overnight sensation Marc Guiu is expected to be in the squad and might see some action in the second half depending on how the game goes, and it would be truly amazing if the youngster were to follow up on his dream debut with his first European goal if given the chance. As he’s already proven, you never know.
Possible XI: Ter Stegen; Cancelo, Araujo, Christensen, Alonso; Fermín, Romeu, Gündogan; Yamal, Ferran, Félix (4-3-3)
How do you think Barcelona should line up against Shakhtar? Let us know your thoughts, predictions and teams in the comments below!