Barcelona is set to host Granada on Saturday as La Liga returns following the international break. It will be an opportunity for the Catalans to possibly extend their lead over the rest of the table, but things are going to be very difficult.
Injuries have ravaged La Blaugrana over the last few weeks, and manager Tata Martino will have his hands full when trying to name a starting XI this weekend.
ESPN.com's Dermot Corrigan recently did a fine job recapping Barcelona's latest injuries, which will play a big role in the upcoming weeks.
Everyone is aware of the situation of Lionel Messi. The Barcelona star will miss out on the next two months of action, but he is not alone.
According to the report, Xavi is unlikely to feature this weekend after picking up a hamstring injury. Gerard Pique could also not see the pitch, as he has not been training normally, though nothing is confirmed at this point.
Jordi Alba is continuing to recover from his injury as well but isn't expected to return to action until sometime in December.
The worst news of this week involves Victor Valdes. The keeper has been ruled out of action for the next six weeks, as announced on the club's official website, meaning the Catalans will be without their incredible shot-stopper for quite a while.
With those injuries being the biggest news of the week for Barcelona, let’s now take a look at how Tata Martino will likely set up his starting lineup against Granada.
Victor Valdes will not start in goal for Barcelona for the first time this entire season. It will be a definite change for the Catalans but should not play too much of a factor.
Of course, backup keeper Jose Pinto will be between the sticks for La Blaugrana. He will be looking to seize this rare opportunity and show the club that he can stand in for Valdes over the coming weeks.
Martino would like to stick with something familiar in the back line. Dani Alves and Adriano would start on the sides of the defense, as the Brazilian pair has done a phenomenal job thus far this season.
However, it was just confirmed this morning by Goal.com that Alves is now ruled out of action for around 10 days, meaning Martin Montoya will be starting at right-back.
The real question about the defense revolves around which two players will form the center-back duo.
As mentioned earlier, Pique has not trained normally for a few days and will likely not play. Marc Bartra and Javier Mascherano have both been on international duty, meaning the only fresh defender at this point is Carles Puyol.
I do expect Puyol to start the match due to the fact that he has had some time off. Either Bartra or Mascherano could start beside the captain, but it will likely be Bartra who gets the nod, as he has become very comfortable alongside Puyol recently.
With Xavi not expected to be available for the match against Granada, the midfield alignment will be a bit hard to decide.
Cesc Fabregas is the clear choice to stand in for Xavi, but he is also Martino's first choice to start for the injured Messi.
It will be a hard choice to make, but Martino may finally give a chance to young Sergi Roberto. I expect the 21-year-old to start in place of Xavi, forming a dangerous pairing with Andres Iniesta.
However, the manager will also have no choice but to start Sergio Busquets as the holding midfielder in order to give the midfield coverage.
Without either Xavi or Fabregas pulling the strings in the middle of the pitch, Busquets will absolutely be needed to make sure things stay calm and under control for the Catalans.
If Fabregas isn't starting for Xavi, you can bet he will be taking Messi's place up front. Martino seems to love playing the Catalan as the "False 9," and this game should be no different.
Not only will he be expected to provide danger in front of goal, Fabregas will also play the role of creator for the wingers around him. In truth, he will be playing two positions at the same time and will need to put in a good performance.
There is no question about which wingers will start on either side of Fabregas.
Neymar is a lock on the left-wing and will be the most important player on the field with Messi out of the picture. The Brazilian will be the main scoring threat for Barcelona and has another opportunity to show his best in the Blaugrana shirt.
On the right-wing, I fully expect to see Alexis Sanchez starting. The Chilean has been in wonderful form lately and is clearly the first choice. Barcelona cannot afford to take chances against Granada, and Sanchez is the safest choice there is.
This is not going to be an easy game for Barcelona. Granada is one of the hardest sides to face in Spain and always make things extremely difficult for their opponents.
Playing at the Camp Nou will be a major factor in this match. After the international break, you can count on the fans to pack the stadium early and be fully behind Barcelona long before the first whistle.
I predict a 2-1 victory for Barcelona in a hard fought encounter. Neymar should find the back of the net at some point and will be the deciding factor on Saturday.
Barcelona has a long road ahead of them without important stars, but the Catalan club is very deep and has a deep well full of talent that will help them through this time.
Who do you think will start for Barcelona against Granada? Who will win the match at the Camp Nou? Leave your thoughts and comments below!
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