After finishing an unbeaten September with a hard-fought and crucial victory over Sevilla last Friday, Barcelona are getting ready for the biggest match of the season so far as they travel to Portugal for their second Champions League group stage game against FC Porto at the Estádio do Dragão.
Barça are tired and dealing with key injuries after a busy start to the season but had one extra day to prepare for this one thanks to Friday night’s kickoff, and they’ll now look to establish their dominance in Group H against the second best team in the group and at a stadium a lot of big teams in Europe have struggled.
Porto have had a great start to the season so far but lost a massive rivalry game to Benfica last week, and are hungry for a response in front of the home crowd against the La Liga champions and play the kind of tough, physical defensive football that always causes Barça problems.
Here’s how we think Xavi Hernández will line up his troops for Wednesday’s battle.
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There is very little doubt about Wednesday’s lineup, but it doesn’t mean we know it for sure as Xavi has two big decisions to make about the XI. The first comes at the back, with the coach having to leave one of his five starting caliber defenders on the bench depending on what approach he has to the game.
If Xavi wants to go with the more attacking setup he’s chosen since the start of September, then Andreas Christensen will drop to the bench and Ronald Araujo and Jules Kounde will be the two center-backs in the middle. If Xavi decides to start his three best defenders with one of them at right-back, then one of João Cancelo and Alejandro Balde will play at left-back with the other starting as a substitute.
Cancelo’s versatility allows Xavi to play his most trusted system from last season in a big game on the road without sacrificing any quality at left-back, but because of Porto’s more defensive approach we think the coach will stick with what’s worked so well in the last three weeks and use the two attacking full-backs and have Christensen as a second half option to add more defensive steel off the bench if necessary.
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Pedri and Frenkie de Jong remain out but the lack of midfield depth hasn’t hurt Barça so far, with Ilkay Gündogan and Gavi playing a fantastic match against Sevilla as a double pivot and running the show in the center of the park with Xavi deciding to go with a very attacking lineup last Friday.
The two will start again on Wednesday, but it’s very unlikely they’ll be the only two Barça midfielders on the pitch as Oriol Romeuis expected back to add more strength and physicality in a game where Barça will need to battle as well as play football. Fermín López continues to shine as he earns more minutes off the bench, and we’ll no doubt see the youngster in action at some point during the second half.
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The other big lineup decision facing Xavi is up front, with the right wing position up for grabs as the coach decides who will partner Robert Lewandowski and João Félix in the attacking trio. The easy answer would have been Raphinha but the Brazilian is out injured, so two players will be fighting for his spot on Wednesday.
Lamine Yamal started and was absolutely sensational against Sevilla, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him start this one too. But this is a big game on the road and Ferran Torres is also in good form and plays very well on the right wing, and it does feel as though Xavi will prefer him to Yamal at least to start mostly due to his experience.
Xavi does trust Yamal a lot, however, so this is really a toss-up and there’s no wrong choice.
Possible XI (4-3-3): Ter Stegen; Cancelo, Araujo, Kounde, Balde; Gündogan, Romeu, Gavi; Ferran, Lewandowski, Félix
How do you think Barcelona should line up against Porto? Let us know your thoughts, predictions and teams in the comments below!