The coach has his hands tied in some areas so we can work out what he is looking at
In recent weeks, the Barcelona starting eleven has been shaken by injuries. Xavi Hernandez has lost Sergio Busquets, Ousmane Dembélé and Pedri to injury, three key players, and has needed several players from the second string to maintain (and improve) the unbeaten run. Against Cádiz, the coach made rotations and brought in players such as Ferran Torres, Eric Garcia and Sergi Roberto, who had not featured much at the start of 2023, and all of them lived up to expectations.
Both in the starting line-up and in the substitutions and in the press conference after the game, Xavi gave several clues about the eleven players who could be in the starting line-up next Thursday at Old Trafford, in the decisive second leg of the Europa League play-off against Manchester United. Firstly, Ronald Araujo, Franck Kessie and Raphinha did not start yesterday. The first, suspended, watched the game from the stands; the Ivorian and the Brazilian came on in the second half to rest Frenkie de Jong and Robert Lewandowski. All of them, evidently, are set to be in the starting line-up.
Although Sergio Busquets did not play a single minute, Xavi Hernandez could not have made it clearer that he is counting on his captain ahead of the clash against the Red Devils. "He'll be fine," he replied when asked about the possibility of the player from Badia being fit enough to be part of the starting line-up at Old Trafford. Jules Kounde, meanwhile, played all 90 minutes against Cadiz, but the absence of a natural right-back in the squad also makes him untouchable for the 'final' at the Theatre of Dreams. Andreas Christensen and Marc-André ter Stegen, indomitable, will also be back.
Given that Gavi will miss the game due to yellow cards, there are already far more certainties than doubts in a Manchester plan that, internally, is practically defined. There are just a few details to be ironed out. The only unknowns are at left-back - we will see if Xavi opts for Alejandro Balde, Jordi Alba or even Marcos Alonso - and in the system. If Barça want to start with four midfielders, Sergi Roberto will be chosen alongside Busquets, De Jong and Kessie; Ferran Torres will accompany Lewandowski and Raphinha if they start with two wingers.