Xavi Hernandez is set to ring in the changes when Barcelona kick-start their Copa Del Rey campaign against Deportivo Linares on Wednesday.
Barcelona will aim to continue their positive start to the year when they lock horns with Deportivo Linares. It will be the first game of their Copa Del Rey campaign this term, with the visitors heading into this game as the defending champions.
Xavi stressed the importance of this game in his pre-match press conference, stating, “It’s a difficult, complicated match. It’s just the one game. Linares plays at home and will be extra motivated. We have analysed them, they are a good team, they have a manager who has been there a long time. Barca B won there, we’re going to compete and try to advance. These are always tricky games and sometimes go to extra-time and penalties. Our objective is to win.”
Unfortunately, the Barcelona manager’s challenges won’t be made any easier by the ongoing COVID-19 and injury crises his team is facing at the moment. The likes of Philippe Coutinho, Pedri, Ferran Torres and Martin Braithwaite, among many others, are all ruled out against Linares.
On the flip side, though, Ousmane Dembele, Frenkie de Jong and Jordi Alba appeared to have trained with the team before the game and are all likely to be available. However, Xavi is unlikely to risk either de Jong or Alba, although he could recall Dembele due to Luuk de Jong’s suspension.
With the Dutchman unavailable, Dembele is set to be partnered by Ferran Jutgla and Ilias Akhomach. In midfield, Sergio Busquets is back in contention after serving a suspension against RCD Mallorca. But he is likely to be rested by Xavi, who may also prefer Frenkie de Jong on the bench, potentially paving the way for new signing Dani Alves to feature in central midfield.
“I see him very well, very fit. He trains very well with a lot of intensity. He is a competitior and an excellent professional. I think he’s ready to play every three days and we’ll need him. We’ll need his crosses, his final passes, his depth, his talent. For me he’s a versatile player and despite being 38 he’s going to help us a lot,” Xavi said when asked about the veteran just before the game.
Alves, therefore, remains a potential candidate to start in midfield, with additional support from Alvaro Sanz and Riqui Puig. As for the defensive unit, Barcelona have several least six centre-backs available.
With Sergino Dest out, Oscar Mingueza remains a guaranteed starter at right-back. But it will be interesting to see who gets the nod on the opposite flank. Clement Lenglet featured in the position against Mallorca after coming in as a sub. However, with Lenglet not a part of the travelling squad, Xavi could call upon the talented Mika Marmol.
Elsewhere, Gerard Pique and Ronald Araujo are both expected to sit this one out, paving the way for Eric Garcia and prodigious defender Arnau Comas to form the central defensive partnership. There should be a rare starting opportunity for Neto in goal as well, ahead of Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Predicted Barcelona XI: Neto; Mingueza, Garcia, Comas, Marmol; Alves, Sanz, Puig; Akhomach, Jutgla, Dembele