The much-anticipated start of Barcelona’s European season is finally upon us as the La Liga champions begin their journey in 2023/24 Champions League with the group stage opener against Belgian champions Royal Antwerp at the Montjuïc Olympic Stadium on Tuesday night.
The Blaugrana come into this one after a memorable victory over Real Betis, with a display for the ages and an all-around spectacle by the team as a whole as well as several brilliant individual performances. It was truly breathtaking to watch, and it sets the standard for what this team could achieve if healthy and if Xavi Hernández continues to push the right buttons.
The Catalans will look to continue the good vibes with a win in their European opener against an Antwerp side making their first-ever group stage appearance and looking to spoil Barça’s party at home. Here’s how we think Xavi will line up his troops for Tuesday’s battle.
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With the depth in the squad and the short turnaround from Saturday night, it would be natural to expect at least a couple of changes to the side that beat Betis. But when a team plays that well and the coach is able to rest key players for a few unexpected extra minutes, it is not out of the question that Xavi picks an unchanged side for this one.
Even if there are any changes, however, none of them are likely to come at the back. João Cancelo needs playing time to continue improving his fitness and match sharpness, and after his spectacular home debut there is no reason to drop the Portugal international for this one. Andreas Christensen was substituted early in the second half which suggests he will start again on Tuesday as Jules Kounde’s partner in the backline, with Alejandro Balde — who also went off earlier than usual on Saturday — staying at left-back.
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Midfield and attack are the areas of the team most likely to change if Xavi decides to freshen things up, but the midfield trio of Gavi, Oriol Romeu and Frenkie de Jong was spectacular together and deserves another run from the start. Ilkay Gündogan has already become a key piece of this team and could easily return either in Gavi’s place or as part of a midfield quartet, but the expectation is that Xavi sticks with the German on the bench for this one in favor of Saturday’s starting group and a front three in attack.
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João Félix not only silenced doubters but gained quite a few fans with his fantastic performance against Betis, and while the questions will remain about his ability to maintain such a high level there is no doubt that the 23-year-old has all the talent and potential to be a crucial part of the team and perhaps change Xavi’s plans about not using a 4-3-3.
Félix deserves to start on Tuesday, and Robert Lewandowski is now up to five goals in his last five games for club and country and looked like himself again with two real attacking players alongside him. That should be the case again against Antwerp, and Ferran Torres also deserves to stay in the team after a great performance and a beautiful free-kick goal against Betis.
Raphinha scored off the bench and could use another strong substitute cameo in the second half to continue building up his confidence, and what a treat it is to have a talent such as Lamine Yamal as another quality option instead of a 16-year-old savior.
In short: the vibes are immaculate right now, so keep the team as it is and change it in the second half if/when the win is wrapped up. As Ted Lasso would say: keep it simple, smarty-pants.
Possible XI: Ter Stegen; Cancelo, Kounde, Christensen, Balde; Gavi, Romeu, De Jong; Ferran, Lewandowski, Félix (4-3-3)
How do you think Barcelona should line up against Royal Antwerp? Let us know your thoughts, predictions and teams in the comments below!