Barcelona captain Lionel Messi is likely to start his first game of the 2019-20 season when the Catalans face off against Villarreal on Tuesday night.
After a disappointing defeat to Granada last weekend, reigning La Liga champions Barcelona will be aiming to get back to winning ways when they host Villarreal at Camp Nou on Tuesday.
The last week has been quite forgettable for Ernesto Valverde and his side, as they failed to win their matches against both Borussia Dortmund and Granada, while failing to score in either game. And they will be hoping to set things straight against the Yellow Submarine.
Barcelona have been handed a major boost as World Cup winner Ousmane Dembele is fit again and is back in the 18-man matchday squad named by manager Valverde. Surprisingly though, midfielder Ivan Rakitic does not make the cut along with full-back Moussa Wague, while Samuel Umtiti and Jordi Alba are out injured.
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There is no looking past German international Marc-Andre ter Stegen in goal, with the German still in search of his first clean sheet in the league this season. Without Umtiti, Valverde is likely to stick with the central defensive partnership of Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet, with Jean-Clair Todibo on the bench again.
There could be a change in the full-back slots, though. Junior Firpo is in line to be dropped after a miserable performance in the last game. Nelson Semedo is expected to move across the backline to start at left-back on Tuesday night, with Sergi Roberto starting as the right-back for Barcelona.
There are likely to be a couple of tweaks in the middle of the park as well. Mainstay Sergio Busquets should walk into the side after sitting out the weekend encounter. He should take Rakitic’s place, while Arthur Melo is also likely to return to the starting XI against Villarreal. Frenkie de Jong, though, is expected to hold onto his spot in the side.
Coming to Barcelona’s attacking unit, as mentioned previously, they have been handed a boost with the return of Dembele. Speaking of the Frenchman in his pre-match presser, Valverde said (h/t Barca Blaugranes), “Dembele’s a player that can unbalance the opposition, he can give us a lot of things. He has quality and we hope that he shows us all that talent he has on the pitch.”
However, the manager is unlikely to hand him a starting berth right away. Instead, teenage sensation Ansu Fati, who is in line for a new contract, should start on the left flank after catching the eye again with his performance coming on from the bench against Granada.
Luis Suarez had two poor games against Dortmund and Granada and should be dropped from the starting XI. In his place, marquee signing Antoine Griezmann should be moved into his preferred central role against Villarreal.
Finally, Barcelona captain Lionel Messi should make his first start of the 2019-20 campaign, after making substitute appearances in the last two matches. The 32-year-old could become only the second non-Spanish player to start 400 La Liga games, should he get the nod on Tuesday night.
Predicted Barcelona XI (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Roberto, Pique, Lenglet, Semedo; de Jong, Busquets, Arthur; Messi, Griezmann, Fati