Barcelona have to quickly rebound from a painful defeat in La Liga against leaders Girona on Sunday and travel to Belgium for another important game as the Catalans face Royal Antwerp in their sixth and final group stage match of the season.
Thanks to a big win over FC Porto two weeks ago Barça are not under pressure to get a result to qualify in the last game, but there’s still something to play for as the Blaugrana need a draw to guarantee first place, but they can also win Group H with a defeat if Shakhtar Donetsk don’t beat Porto in the other game.
But Barça are thinking about nothing other than a win to restore their confidence after a humbling loss to their Catalan rivals, and have a good opportunity to do so against an Antwerp side that has struggled mightily in their debut Champions League campaign.
Here’s how we think Xavi Hernández will line up his troops for Wednesday’s battle.
Even though they haven’t mathematically guaranteed top spot in the group, Barça are very close and will face the worst team in the group which has given Xavi the chance to rest some important players. Four of them — Robert Lewandowski, Frenkie de Jong, Ronald Araujo and Ilkay Gündogan — didn’t even make the trip, and a few others will most likely be on the bench for most if not the entire night.
One of those players should be João Cancelo, with this being a rare chance to rest the Portuguese full-back and give Alejandro Balde a start on the left. Sergi Roberto will start at right-back if Cancelo is indeed rested, and Jules Kounde and Andreas Christensen will be the center-back pairing without Araujo and the injured Iñigo Martínez.
Xavi won’t have too many options to work with in midfield having chosen to rest De Jong and Gündogan, which means the three players most likely to start in the middle of the park are Oriol Romeu, Pedri and young Fermín López.
Pedri is still looking for 100% match fitness and could use another start to improve his level, but he can’t be risked too much and will probably be substituted early in the second half if Barça are able to wrap up the win without much trouble.
If there’s one player in the Barça squad that desperately needs a boost of confidence against the worst team in the group in an almost meaningless game, it’s Lamine Yamal. The teenager has struggled to have any meaningful impact for quite some time now and could definitely use a start and at least 60-70 minutes to enjoy as many touches as possible and look to rediscover his amazing form from the first two months of the season.
Yamal should start ahead of Raphinha on the right wing, with Ferran Torres the natural replacement for Lewandowski through the middle and João Félix the expected starter on the left. Youngsters Marc Guiu and Ángel Alarcón could see some second half action depending on the score, and are both talented enough to earn more playing time the rest of the season.
Possible XI: Peña; Roberto, Kounde, Christensen, Balde; Pedri, Romeu, Fermín; Yamal, Ferran, Félix (4-3-3)
How do you think Barcelona should line up against Antwerp? Let us know your thoughts, predictions and teams in the comments below!