After slipping to a goalless draw at Sevilla – surrending the La Liga title race lead to Real Madrid –
Barcelona have a chance to get back to winning ways against Athletic Club on Tuesday night.
Sure, it’s not time for the Catalan giants to panic yet, but there’s an underlying feeling that anything less than perfection between now and the end of the season may not be good enough. That’s a tricky ask of any team, and is made more complicated when you remembered that Barça actually lost to Athletic on the opening day of the season.
But with negative thoughts cast adrifts from their mind, here’s how La Blaugrana should line up at Camp Nou.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen (GK) – An automatic starter, Ter Stegen has played his part in keeping Barça up to speed with proceedings atop La Liga – keeping three successive clean sheets since returning to action.
Nélson Semedo (RB) – With Sergi Roberto unlikely to recover from his injury in time for this game, Semedo should retain his starting place at right back. A composed, confident performance will be required to persuade Quique Setién into starting him long term.
Gerard Piqué (CB) – Showed his frustration after the draw at Sevilla by claiming the title was headed to Madrid – because referees favour Los Blancos over the Catalans. Still, he’s experienced enough to forget all that and get his thoughts clear for the challenge ahead.
Clément Lenglet (CB) – Has been solid at the back since returning against Leganes, and his concentrations levels will be required once to keep Athletic’s lively attack at bay.
Jordi Alba (LB) – Alba has impressed on the left side, recently scoring against Mallorca. Has a tasty 90 minutes ahead of him, trying to combat the pace of the lightning-fast Iñaki s.
Arturo Vidal (CM) – The only non-forward to have scored more than five goals this season, Vidal is a key cog in this Barcelona side even though he’s not always a regular starter.
Arthur (CM) – Should return to the starting lineup after being benched against Sevilla. The Brazilian’s energy and dynamic running will be important in breaking down Athletic’s disciplined defensive structure.
Riqui Puig (CM) – Has appeared in both of La Blaugrana’s games since the restart and his endless amounts of running could see him handed another starting berth. Will be relied upon creatively, ensuring the burden of fashioning chances doesn’t fall solely on Lionel Messi.
Lionel Messi (RW) – Was frustrated against a disciplined Sevilla backline, something that you don’t often say about Messi. Always seems to play well at Camp Nou, regardless of whether it’s a packed house or not.
Luis Suárez (ST) – Initially ruled out for the season, the Uruguayan is one of the main beneficiaries of the season being extended. Hasn’t scored since January, which is worrying considering the apparent desire Barça have to sign Lautaro Martinez from Inter.
Antoine Griezmann (LW) – Intelligent movement and pace are two key ingredients to Griezmann’s game, traits that he needs to bring to the fore more often. Was only a substitute last night, so this is a chance to stake a claim for a more substantial role.