As FC Barcelona prepare to face Levante with an ever-increasing list of players who are unavailable due to injures and suspension, we look at the possible starting XI they can put out against Levante.
Barcelona have won each of their opening three La Liga games, with the last one against Atletico Madrid their best performance till date. The Blaugrana’s winning momentum was halted by AS Roma, who held the defending European champions to a 1-1 draw in Rome in the opening game of the UEFA Champions League.
Barcelona also suffered the loss of midfielder Rafinha who is now out for up to six months with a torn ACL. They will also miss Claudio Bravo, Douglas, Dani Alves who are all out injured and Gerard Pique is still suspended following his sending off against Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish Super Cup.
We look at the possible XI and the substitutes the Blaugrana can deploy with Luis Enrique needed to make full use of his thin squad with the Catalans to play three games over the next six days.
Goalkeeper: Marc Andre Ter-Stagen
Despite signing for the Catalans last season, it was not until the injury to Claudio Bravo that Ter-Stagen got his debut in the league for FC Barcelona. The German stopper put in an assured performance against both Atletico Madrid and AS Roma, even though Barcelona did concede in both the games.
Ter Stagen will continue in goal till Claudio Bravo is back.
Defenders: Sergi Roberto, Javier Mascerano, Thomas Vermaelen, Jordi Alba
With Dani Alves and back-up right-back Douglas out to injuries, Sergi Roberto is likely to continue at the right side of the defence despite the return to fitness of versatile fullback Adriano. The make-shift defender has turned in assured displays in the slot despite not having played there before. Mascherano and Vermaelen have been impressive as a centre-back pairing and the duo are expected to continue to play in the heart of the Blaugrana’s defence. Jordi Alba is a fixture when fit at the left-back spot. Between Bartra and Ariano, one of the duo also stands a chance to make a bow from the bench should a midfielder or forward be subbed, leading to Sergi Roberto joining the midfield.
Midfielders: Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta
While Barcelona may be tempted to change the midfield at some point to give rest to the players given that they have played in midweek and have to play three games in six days, they will start with the Champions League winning trio of Rakitic, Busquets and Iniesta. Sergi Roberto can be drafted in midfield with a defender coming off the bench to take his right-back slot if Luis Enrique wants to rest the midfielders once the game is won (which Barcelona should, easily, without being disrespectful to Levante).
Attackers: Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi, Neymar Jr.
Luis Enrique will have a decision to make as to whom to bring on from the bench with Rafinha injured. The question has never been about who will start in the front three given the prolific and reletness nature of the MSN trio. Sandro and Munir along with Barca B star Gerard Gambau will be under consideration to make a bow, in order to rest one of the three as and when Barcelona are in control of the game, with an eye on the next couple of games scheduled within six days.
Overall, Luis Enrique is lucky that none of his key players are out injured for the game, but tiredness may become an issue and the Spanish manager must decide how he is going to use his thin squad having shipped out Pedro and unable to register Aleix Vidal or Arda Turan.