Ansu Fati has been in the headlines this week due to rumors that the player may be on his way out. It’s not Ansu’s family who are saying these things – it’s likely led by either his agent or the club themselves. We had that conversation about the transfer speculation on the latest edition of the podcast:
It would be frustrating if the club were drumming up some foul chatter about their number 10. Ansu Fati is still a 20-year-old working his way back to confidence after almost two seasons on and off the medical table. But in a quite cynical conspiracy, the club may be trying to drive up the market for him to get out of wage issues that await this summer.
The other option is that the player’s agent, Jorge Mendes, is pushing the rumors to get his player both more money from an EPL team and in theory more playing time.
Whether it’s the club or the agent, or even outside voices trying to unsettle the La Liga leaders, Xavi wasn’t having it prior to the match-up with Villarreal.
“I don’t understand why this is being talked about now. There is no market now, so Ansu is not for sale. We expect a lot from him,” Xavi said. “We have blind confidence in him, like all the players in the squad. He’s a very important piece of the present and the future. He needs to be calm and have patience and when he comes on he needs to give 100 per cent which is what he’s doing lately.”
Even without the buzz this week, one would be wise to expect Ansu to start. Just because Franck Kessie allows Xavi to continue playing his preferred midfield with two pivots and two interiors, there is no reason why the Barça manager can’t switch things up if something isn’t working. In addition, the starting XI against Villarreal could either be a rotated and distant example of what we’ll see against Manchester United OR it’ll be a trial run.
Villarreal is a different side than the one that Culers saw back in October, a 3-0 win for Barcelona. While Villarreal has swapped out Unai Emery for Quique Setien and is a slightly different team, many of the faces are the same. In Barcelona’s case, almost all the faces will be the same, or can be the same. Instead of starting an Alba-Alonso-Kounde-Roberto backline, Xavi has the option of swapping out either Araujo, Kounde, or Christensen and keeping things at a high level. The midfield trio of Gavi, Pedri, and Frenkie de Jong could also replicate their showing from the first go-around. Up top, Lewandowski paired with Ansu Fati and Ferran Torres, a line-up that Xavi could use again to give Raphinha some rest. Raphinha though could probably use the minutes to continue finding his form ahead of the Manchester United tie.
Here is the predicted XI: