Without Pedri, Gavi, and Ousmane Dembele, Xavi will be without three guaranteed starters against Manchester United at Old Trafford. Sergio Busquets is not only returning, but should be put right back into the starting XI. Even with Busquets, Xavi has choices not only with his tactics, but his player selection. As Culers saw in the first leg, Europe can be a setting where control and systems break down and games are decided by individuals. Pick the right ones and move on. Pick the wrong ones and go home in defeat.
Jordi Alba or Alejandro Balde seems like it should be a choice after Alba started in the first leg, but unless Xavi sees something different, the backline of Balde, Andreas Christensen, Ronald Araujo, and Jules Kounde (from left to right) must start.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Robert Lewandowski, Raphinha, Sergio Busquets, and Frenkie de Jong are the other five guaranteed starters. Lewandowski and Raphinha should certainly be the names the world is talking about if Barcelona get the win, while the other two starting spots could be the difference between a win and a loss.
Here are Xavi’s three options:
This first option would see Barcelona play the 4-3-3 they did against Cádiz on the weekend. While he starred on the right wing, Ferran Torres would be rewarded for his performance on Sunday with a start, moving over to the left for Raphinha. With Torres starting, Sergi Roberto in theory would start and play a bit deeper in that midfield three to support the front three.
Option two sees Ansu Fati get a surprising start over Torres. This move would be more about tactics than form. Whoever starts on the left will be expected to come inside for the build-up, as well as that second line of Barcelona’s press. Ansu’s ability to shoot from distance would be key to this set-up, along with Franck Kessié’s presence near the box. This line-up would be a tad shocking, but it would also be a sign that Xavi is looking to go for it with the opening whistle and trusting his backline to solve any problems in an up and down game.
Xavi’s third option would see Barcelona try to play with four midfielders but without Gavi and Pedri. While the two youngsters are vital to the formation, the combination of Frenkie de Jong, Sergio Busquets, Roberto, and Kessié should be more defensively sound than the 4-3-3. This formation may be able to pin Manchester United a bit deeper into their own half, using that 3-2-5 in possession. Like option two, this would be a brave set-up from Xavi, but one with clear ideas. However, asking Kessié to do a Gavi impression and Roberto to do a Pedri impression is a gargantuan ask.