Make or break for Xavi's new-look Barça against Atlético
Xavi will be able to line up his four new signings for the first time on Sunday. Barcelona cannot afford to lose against Atleti at Camp Nou.
In Barcelona, hardly anything has been mentioned about tomorrow's crucial match against Atlético Madrid during the past couple of weeks. There have been other distractions - player presentations, a forensic report, the sponsorship deal with Spotify, the Dembélé case and Ansu's injury have been the main talking points at the club. The importance of Sunday's game at Camp Nou cannot be underestimated. Barça have the extremely difficult task of clawing back their goal difference against Atleti after having lost the reverse fixture at the Wanda 2-0 in October. If they lose tomorrow, they will finish the weekend four points off fourth place with a tough run of fixtures coming up (Espanyol, Valencia and Athletic as well as the Europa League tie against Napoli).
This time Xavi can't complain that he lacks firepower up front. The club brought him three forwards in the winter transfer window, who join up with those already at his disposal plus a promising midfield with Pedri right at the fore. The 19-year-old excelled in the meetings with Real Madrid, Athletic and Alavés and is now looking like the leader of a zone which Barça now have well covered with Frenkie de Jong, Busquets, Gavi and Nico.
On Friday, Dani Alves and Araújo rejoined the group. The Brazilian, who is a little disappointed to have been left out of Barcelona's Europa League squad list, and the Uruguayan are set to start against Atleti along with Gerard Piqué, who turned 35 earlier this week and Jordi Alba. Busquets, De Jong and Pedri will form the midfield while Ferran will make his home debut. He will be accompanied either by Aubameyang or Luuk de Jong in the No.9 role. Out wide on the left, Abde has suffered a drop on form in recent games. Xavi has two options after convincing Laporta not to ostracise Dembélé during his final months at the club - one is to line up Aubameyang (Ousmane's close friend), Ferran and Dembélé, or play Gavi on the left, combing with Pedri. Xavi's new Barça have no margin for error and have to show that they are stronger with the new recruits. The objective is to ensure qualification for next year's Champions League - even if Laporta insists that the objective is winning LaLiga...