FC Barcelona will be aiming for a positive start to 2022 when they lock horns with RCD Mallorca at the Iberostar Stadium on Sunday.
After a disappointing 2021, Barcelona fans will be hoping that the small holiday break in La Liga has given Xavi enough time to get his ideas across to the players before they lock horns with Mallorca on Sunday.
It is a must-win encounter for the Blaugrana, who are currently seventh in the league table with 28 points on the board. The team has been far from impressive even under the new coach, but with both Real Sociedad and Atletico Madrid struggling with form, it could be an opportunity for the Catalans to potentially break into the top four.
Barcelona are trailing fourth-placed Rayo Vallecano by two points. But they could enter the top four should Rayo play out a draw with Atletico Madrid and Real Sociedad drops points against Deportivo Alaves on the same day.
As for Mallorca, they are heading into this contest on the back of a 4-1 defeat to Granada. Currently standing in the 15th spot with 20 points, the hosts are running the risk of being potentially sucked into the relegation battle if they lose further points against Barcelona this weekend.
With just 17 goals in 18 matches, Mallorca have one of the least potent attacks in the league. But they do have a feisty unit who are capable of taking on the big guns, as indicated in the win over Atletico Madrid in early December. And they will be confident of their chances up against a Barcelona side still trying to find their identity under the new leadership.
Team News & Tactics
Mañana → 𝐏𝐀𝐑𝐓𝐈𝐃𝐀𝐙𝐎 👹 pic.twitter.com/AVrMmOWUwN
— Real Mallorca (@RCD_Mallorca) January 1, 2022
Mallorca are missing some key players due to COVID-19, a list that includes the likes of Jordi Mboula, Salva Sevilla, Aleksandar Sedlar, Jaume Costa, Takefusa Kubo, Ruiz de Galarreta, Angel Rodriguez and summer signing Matthew Hoppe. There are injury-related absentees, too, including Antonio Raillo, thus leaving coach Luis Garcia devoid of options in the first-team.
Such a long list of absentees should not lead to any change in tactics, though, as Garcia looks to persist with his 4-2-3-1 setup. Given Barcelona’s form this season, the 49-year-old may even opt for an attacking approach, with Abdon Prats likely to spearhead the frontline in the absence of Angel Rodriguez.
Prats is set to be aided by the creative trifecta of Dani Rodriguez, Kang-in Lee and Javier Llabres, who will deputise for Kubo. The onus will be on these three to offer the creative essence in the final third. It also won’t be surprising to see Mallorca attack from the left, as Barcelona are without a proper left-back.
In midfield, the absence of Ruiz de Galarreta should pave the way for Antonio Sanchez to form the double-pivot alongside Iddrisu Baba. Their contributions in midfield could be key as they look to offer protection for the defensive backline, involving Josep Gaya and Martin Valjent.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Reina; Maffeo, Valjent, Gaya, Olivan; Sanchez, Baba; Llabres, Rodriguez, Lee; Prats
Barcelona are in deep trouble heading into this contest, as Xavi could be without up to 14 senior players against Mallorca. A majority of them have tested positive for COVID-19 recently, including Ousmane Dembele, Gavi, Abde Ezzalzouli, Philippe Coutinho and Samuel Umtiti.
They are all set to join Barcelona’s COVID-related absentees – a list that includes Jordi Alba, Alejandro Balde, Clement Lenglet, and Dani Alves. Meanwhile, Sergi Roberto, Memphis Depay and Sergino Dest are suffering from injuries, whereas Sergio Busquets is facing a suspension due to the accumulation of yellow cards, leading to a situation that can only be described as catastrophic.
Sergiño Dest, Coutinho and Ez Abde positive for COVID-19.
The players are in good health and self-isolating at home.
The Club has reported the cases to the relevant authorities. pic.twitter.com/pQVqwkykjT
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) December 30, 2021
Xavi, nonetheless, has no other options but to make do with the players he currently has at his disposal. Unfortunately, there are only four of them in defence, in the form of Ronald Araujo, Gerard Pique, Eric Garcia and Oscar Mingueza. One would imagine all of them may have to start against Mallorca, with Araujo and Mingueza occupying the full-back slots.
In midfield, Pedri might be an option after returning from an injury layoff. But Xavi will be wary of putting him straight back into action, which means we can expect a rather unconventional midfield setup involving Nico Gonzalez, Frenkie de Jong and Riqui Puig.
As for the attack, Martin Braithwaite is facing a similar situation as Pedri and could just be rested. In addition, new signing Ferran Torres is not yet fit to play as he had been struggling with an injury even during his time at Manchester City.
It means Xavi may once again have to make do with some of the academy players, with Ferran Jutgla set for his third consecutive start. The youngster is expected to form the Barcelona front three alongside Ilias Akhomach and Luuk de Jong, whose experience could be vital in spearheading the Barcelona frontline.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Araujo, Pique, Garcia, Mingueza; Nico, Frenkie De Jong, Puig; Akhomach, Luuk De Jong, Jutglà
- Mallorca have lost their last seven La Liga games against Barcelona, failing to score in five of them while conceding four goals per game on average.
- Barcelona have won 11 of their last 12 away league games against Mallorca, including each of their last five, with the only exception in this run being their 1-2 defeat in May 2009.
- Mallorca have lost their first game of the calendar year once across the last five such instances – 1-0 defeat to Granada in 2020. Barcelona have not lost their first game of the calendar year since 2015 (vs Real Sociedad).
- This season, Mallorca has drawn eight of their first 18 league games, including six of their last nine. It’s their highest tally for draws at this stage of the season in the top-flight.
- Barcelona have won only seven of their first 18 league games this term, their lowest win tally at this stage of the season since 2003/04.
Player to Watch
Luuk de Jong
It is no secret that Xavi is not a fan of Luuk de Jong. The Spaniard does not rate the forward highly and will be keen on offloading him in the January transfer window. But with Memphis Depay out injured and Martin Braithwaite and new signing Ferran Torres not fully fit, Xavi will rely on the services of de Jong to deliver the goods in the final third.
After joining on loan from Sevilla in the summer, the Dutchman has only scored one goal in nine league matches. But he has started only thrice, and quite unsurprisingly, his only goal came in one of those three starts. And with that in mind, it will be interesting to see how the veteran forward fares against Mallorca in what could possibly be his final game for FC Barcelona.
RCD Mallorca 0-1 Barcelona
Barcelona have less than ten first-team options at their disposal at the moment. But their weekend opponent Mallorca are not in great shape either and will certainly miss the presence of top players like Angel Rodriguez and Jaume Costa.
Unlike Barcelona, though, the hosts do not have an excellent academy to back them up with an exciting set of young players, and that is where the Blaugrana have the upper hand. In fact, this might turn out to be quite an interesting game for Barcelona as Xavi looks to experiment with some of his lesser-used players, including Riqui Puig and Ferran Jutgla.
As far as the result is concerned, we are predicting a narrow win 1-0 Barcelona, with Mallorca likely to have difficulties breaching the opposition defence without the services of their key frontmen, including Angel Rodriguez and Takefusa Kubo.