Barcelona will be aiming to take a step towards the quarter-finals of the UEFA Europa League when they take on Galatasaray in the Round of 16 first leg.

The first-leg fixtures of the 2021/22 UEFA Europa League will kick off this Thursday night, and tournament favourites Barcelona will be in action at Camp Nou as they play hosts to Turkish giants Galatasaray.

Barcelona are playing in the second-tier continental competition for the first time in close to 18 years, having had to drop down after a third-place finish in their Champions League group. Drawn against Napoli in the knockout playoffs, the Blaugrana were in a precarious position after a 1-1 draw in the first leg. But, a stunning 4-2 victory in the second leg meant that they made it through to the Last 16.

Xavi Hernandez’s side head into Thursday’s game in fine form, picking up four wins in a row in all competitions during which they have scored 14 goals and conceded just four. Their latest game ended in a comeback 2-1 win over Elche.

Galatasaray, meanwhile, finished atop Group E in the Europa League that involved tricky opponents like Lazio, Marseille and Lokomotiv Moscow. The Turkish heavyweights did not lose a single game (W3 D3) in the group stage and qualified directly to the Round of 16.

Managed by the assistant coach of former Barcelona manager Domenec Torrent, Galatasaray have hit a rocky patch of form of late, winning only two of their last six games (D2 L2), with their most recent encounter ending in a 2-0 defeat to Konyaspor. On Thursday, they will have their task cut out against an in-form Barcelona side in front of a packed Camp Nou.

Team News & Tactics

Barcelona

Barcelona have no new injury issues heading into Thursday’s game, but manager Xavi has hinted that he could rest some of his regulars against Galatasaray. However, they will still be without Samuel Umtiti, Sergi Roberto, Ansu Fati and Alejandro Balde. Dani Alves is ineligible to play after being left out of the Europa League squad, while Gavi is suspended for the accumulation of yellow cards.

No alterations are expected between the sticks, with Marc-Andre ter Stegen the undisputed starter. Gerard Pique has been impressive in recent games but could be given a breather here, with Eric Garcia expected to replace him as Ronald Araujo’s partner in defence. Sergino Dest and Jordi Alba ought to continue as the full-backs on the right and left sides, respectively.

Sergio Busquets is another player who is likely to be rested by Xavi. It should open up a spot for Nico Gonzalez to start in the middle of the park, although we expect Frenkie de Jong to slot in at the base of the three-man unit flanked by Nico and Pedri. The latter’s vision and quality on the ball will again hold the key for the Catalan giants.

A couple of changes could be on the cards in attack for Thursday’s clash. Firstly, Ousmane Dembele is expected to make way for Adama Traore, who continues to impress heavily since his loan switch in January. Ferran Torres, who scored in the weekend game after coming on at half-time, should also start. The duo will flank fellow January signing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Dest, Araujo, Garcia, Alba; Nico, de Jong, Pedri; Adama, Aubameyang, Torres

Galatasaray

Galatasaray have a full-strength squad for their trip to Camp Nou, with Domenec Torrent not having to deal with any injury or suspension-related absentees. It could be a special occasion for Inaki Pena, who joined the Turkish giants on loan from Barcelona in January and could get a chance to play at Camp Nou on Thursday.

Torrent is expected to set his team up in a 4-2-3-1 formation in front of the goalkeeper. Victor Nelsson and Marcao should form the centre-back partnership, flanked by Omar Elabdellaoui and former Crystal Palace left-back Patrick van Aanholt. Both full-backs are expected to be pinned back for most parts as they will look to deprive spaces for Adama Traore and Ferran Torres to exploit.

Erick Pulgar and Berkan Kutlu will form the double pivot in the centre of the park and focus on limiting the influence of their Barcelona counterparts, in particular, the in-form Pedri. The creative onus will fall on the shoulders of Alexandru Cicaldau, although he will have to put in the hard yards off the ball to help his team out defensively.

Emre Kilinc and Kerem Akturkoglu will carry the threat from the wide areas, although Ryan Babel could also be an option for the manager. Bafetimbi Gomis is likely to spearhead the attack for Gala against Barcelona.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Pena; Elabdellaoui, Nelsson, Marcao, van Aanholt; Pulgar, Kutlu; Kilinc, Cicaldau, Akturkoglu; Gomis

Key Stats

  • Barcelona have faced Galatasaray eight times previously in Europe (W5 D2 L1, winning each of their last three meetings.
  • Galatasaray have never won at Camp Nou against Barcelona and have avoided defeat just once.
  • Barcelona have lost only two of their last 35 home matches in the knockout rounds of major European competitions (W25 D8).
  • Including qualifying rounds, Galatasaray are unbeaten across their previous ten matches in European competitions (W5 D5).
  • Barcelona are undefeated in their last eight games across all competitions and have won four in a row.

Player to Watch

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

It has been just over a month since Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang arrived at Barcelona, but the Gabonese striker is enjoying life at the club and has already made his presence felt with some impressive displays. In seven matches in all competitions, the 32-year-old has already netted five goals and was on target in the playoff second-leg tie against Napoli.

The ex-Arsenal captain has scored 23 goals in 45 appearances in the Europa League. Only three players have scored more in the competition – Radamel Falcao (30), Aritz Aduriz (26) and Munas Dabbur (34). Barcelona had struggled in the first half of the campaign without a clinical finisher in their ranks. Aubameyang’s arrival has seemingly addressed that to a large extent, and Xavi will hope that the striker continues in the same vein of form.

Prediction

Barcelona 3-1 Galatasaray

Barcelona are starting to hit their stride under Xavi Hernandez and have strung together an impressive run of results, winning their last four and not losing any of their previous eight in all competitions. The January signings have added more firepower to their attack, while Pedri’s return from injury has also made a huge difference.

On the other hand, Galatasaray are going through a patchy run and head into Thursday’s game on the back of a disappointing defeat. Their record away from home has been poor as well. Given their hosts’ vulnerabilities at the back, the Turkish side may score the odd goal at Camp Nou, but a win for the Blaugrana seems like the most likely outcome.

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