The coach has his squad back bar Jules Kounde and is working on the plan
For some, time has moved too slowly, an eternal wait. For others, who love the magic of the World Cup, it's flown by. Barcelona are returning this week though, facing Espanyol on Saturday in a Catalan derby. The group is at 100 per cent, with the exception of Jules Kounde who returns on Dec 28.
Xavi has some puzzles to solve in his starting line up, the first of which is replacing the suspended Robert Lewandowski.
He will miss three games, and it seems like Ansu Fati may be the main man, between Ousmane Dembele and Raphinha or Ferran Torres. Ferran is another option for the central spot, as is Memphis Depay, albeit the least likely.
Ousmane Dembele is back two days earlier than expected, as he was due on the 28th like Kounde. Will the French defender be ready to play after just two training sessions? He's been on holiday in Los Angeles after the World Cup. It seems unlikely he will start at right back, with Xavi having both Bellerin and Sergi Roberto ready. They have been training with the coach for weeks given they did not go to the World Cup.
Ronald Araujo was injured in September. Three months later he is fit, although still without medical clearance to play. Nobody doubts he is key when ready, but with so long out he might not be ready to start. Eric Garcia did not play a minute at the World Cup, but might line up with Andreas Christensen against Espanyol. Although with Araujo, you never know. He's an animal.
LEFT BACKS APLENTY
Xavi has Balde, Alonso and Jordi Alba fit. The former two have featured more but the latter had a good World Cup and is in form. It's the position with the most cover and Xavi will have to make a call. Alonso has also featured a lot at centre-back, let's recall, albeit more to do with circumstance.
The team could be: Ter Stegen; Sergi Roberto, Christensen, Garcia, Balde; Busquets, Gavi, Pedri; Dembele, Ansu, Ferran.