Barcelona travel to an empty Allianz Arena on Wednesday evening with their Champions League campaign in the balance ahead of a crucial encounter against Bayern Munich.
Xavi Hernandez, in charge of just his second-ever European fixture as a manager, needs to record Barcelona’s first victory against Bayern on German soil to guarantee his club’s Champions League involvement after Christmas.
Here’s the XI the 41-year-old may select to avoid a group stage exit for the first time since 2000/01, when Xavi himself was a junior member of the squad.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen (GK) – Barcelona‘s German number one has conceded more goals against Bayern than any other team in his career (25) – though almost a third of this torrent came across 90 scarring minutes in 2020…
Sergino Dest (RB) – The Dutch-born US international made his first start under Xavi on the weekend after returning from injury and – as the only fit and available natural right-back – is set for his second in quick succession.
Ronald Araujo (CB) – Increasingly used as an auxiliary target man towards the tumultuous end of Ronald Koeman’s reign, only three Barça players have taken more shots on target than the Uruguayan centre back this season.
Gerard Pique (CB) – Barcelona’s future president was rested for the club’s 1-0 defeat to Real Betis on Saturday, with his midweek involvement perhaps in mind.
Jordi Alba (LB) – One of the eight 30-plus-year-olds in Barcelona’s disjointed squad leads the way with four La Liga assists, a tally only two players in the division can better.
Nico Gonzalez (CM) – Among the five outfield players Xavi has started in every match so far, Nico’s legendary father Fran captained Deportivo La Coruna to a historic La Liga title in 2000, finishing four points ahead of a Barcelona side that included his son’s current manager.
Sergio Busquets (CM) – In a partnership that earned four Champions League titles alone, Busquets shared 61 appearances in the competition with his former teammate and current coach, losing just nine times.
Frenkie de Jong (CM) – A former European semi-finalist with Ajax, De Jong has made more appearances across all competitions for Barcelona than he ever did in Amsterdam, yet still feels like he’s never arrived since switching the canals for Catalonia.
Abdessamad Ezzalzouli (RW) – Xavi’s statement introduction to the first team – having struggled for game time with Barcelona B – may be on course for his first ever Champions League minutes as he offers the natural width his manager craves.
Memphis Depay (ST) – Comfortably Barcelona’s top-scoring player in La Liga, Depay is yet to break his duck on the continent – though that does leave him in the vast majority given only two players in the Catalans’ squad have contributed to their pitiful tally of two competition goals.
Ousmane Dembele (LW) – With potential to become ‘the best player in the world’ according to his new manager, Wednesday may be the first opportunity Xavi gets to start the highly thought of winger.