After a miracle win away to Real Sociedad at the weekend in La Liga, Barcelona turn their attention back to continental play as they look to officially clinch a spot in the Champions League knockout rounds when they travel to Hamburg, Germany to face Shakhtar Donetsk in their fourth group stage clash.
Barça remain perfect in Europe with three wins from their first three games, and need just a point in this one to guarantee mathematical qualification. A victory will leave them just one point away from clinching top spot in the group, and Xavi Hernández will be looking at this game as a chance to rebound after a very poor performance despite the result at Anoeta.
Shakhtar proved at the Montjuïc Olympic Stadium when these teams met 10 days ago that they can absolutely cause problems, and have one last chance to get a good result and stay alive in the fight for a spot in the Round of 16. Here’s how we think Xavi will line up his troops for Tuesday’s battle.
The injury crisis is now behind us, which means Xavi has a whole lot of options to choose from as the squad’s depth is almost back at full strength with only Frenkie de Jong and Sergi Roberto out injured. The defense is the part of the team with the most options, with a lot of players deserving of a spot in the starting XI.
Xavi has opted for three center-backs in the last two games, but we think he’ll go back to a classic back four in this one with João Cancelo and Alejandro Balde at the full-back spots and only two central defenders. There are four legitimate center-back starters available right now, and it’s really a shot in the dark to guess which two Xavi will choose. We’ve gone with Ronald Araujo and Andreas Christensen here, but Jules Kounde and Iñigo Martínez are just as likely to be picked.
Pedri made his long-awaited return from injury against Sociedad, and while he looked a little rusty he had moments of brilliance that show he can absolutely have a big impact once he’s back to 100% match sharpness. We think he starts this one to begin regaining that rhythm, with Fermín López moving to the bench.
Gavi is suspended for the weekend’s league match against Alavés so it’s only natural that he starts this one, leaving one spot left in the middle of the park. Oriol Romeu could get a rare start here, but given the importance of the game we think Ilkay Gündogan will retain his spot and perhaps get a rest at the weekend.
The Cancelo at right wing experiment should be over by now with the return of Robert Lewandowski and Raphinha giving Xavi more options up front, and we think those two will start this one to continue their return to top form after recovering from injury.
That leaves a spot open on the left wing, and João Félix has come down to Earth recently after an incredible and perhaps somewhat unsustainable start to his Barça career. He hasn’t done anything to merit a spot on the bench yet, however, and Ferran Torres and Lamine Yamal aren’t exactly shining either.
Possible XI: Ter Stegen; Cancelo, Araujo, Christensen, Balde; Pedri, Gündogan, Gavi; Raphinha, Lewandowski, Félix (4-3-3)
How do you think Barcelona should line up against Shakhtar Donetsk? Let us know your thoughts, predictions and teams in the comments below!