Barcelona set to take on Espanyol in another edition of the Catalan Derby
The Word Cup break is over meaning it’s the return of club football for Barcelona. Their first match back is an intriguing one as they face Espanyol in the Catalan Derby.
The good news for manager Xavi Hernandez is he has every squad member available, including Robert Lewandowski whose three-match ban has been put on hold.
With that being said, let’s predict the starting line-up that will face Espanyol at the Camp Nou.
Barring a late injury, Marc-Andre ter Stegen will be the starting goalkeeper. The German should be well rested as he didn’t see playing time during the World Cup.
At right-back, expect Sergi Roberto to get the nod over Hector Bellerin. The former has recovered from his injury and is in front of Bellerin in the pecking order.
At center-back is where it gets a bit tricky. While Ronald Araujo also got the green light, he is not expected to start with Xavi taking a cautious approach toward the Uruguayan. Jules Kounde may also be given a rest given he reached the final of the World Cup with France.
Andreas Christensen is a lock to start and will be accompanied by Eric Garcia if he is fit. Garcia picked up a knock during training and had to come off. Should he not be available then Marcos Alonso will partner Christensen.
As far as the left-back position is concerned, despite playing better recently, it is Alejandro Balde’s spot to lose.
The midfield should be less tricky. Again, with the whole squad available, Xavi should have no problem making up the midfield trio.
Pedri and Gavi will start with the only question who occupies the spot in the middle. Frenkie de Jong performed well in the final games before the World Cup and his form continued into the World Cup. Sergio Busquets has been the go-to in the pivot position but Xavi may opt for the Dutchman who certainly gives him more mobility and the ability to cover more ground.
The surprise availability of Lewandowski is a surprise gift for both club and manager. One of the headaches heading into the match was who was going to replace the Polish striker and now that’s out of the way.
With the striker conundrum out the way, the question is who will accompany him?
Ansu Fati should get the nod on the left as he was a candidate to start in the lead up and Lewandowski’s availability should not impact that. He’s been screaming out to get more playing time and Barcelona need to see what they have with him and whether or not he’s fully recovered from his injury.
Similar to Kounde, Ousmane Dembele is likely to be rested given the amount of games he played with France. Thus, this leaves the likes of Memphis Depay, Ferran Torres and Raphinha as options on the right.
Torres and Raphinha are the better bets over Depay who was one of the options to play in place of Lewandowski. Given they want to see Raphinha improve and show what he did at Leeds, the Brazilian could be given an opportunity to impress.
The Catalan Derby is always a spicy affair with Espanyol trying to do everything they can to get one over on their neighbors. While they tend to have better luck at home, it’s still going to be an entertaining game considering Martin Braithwaite is set to face off against his former team.
In Barcelona’s case, pride is not the only thing at stake. They currently sit top of LaLiga, two points ahead of Real Madrid and will be looking to maintain that lead and head into the New Year as leaders.
Expected starting XI:
S. Roberto – Christensen – Alonso – Balde
Gavi – De Jong – Pedri
Raphinha – Lewandowski – Fati