Apoel vs. Barcelona: How the Catalans Should Line Up in Champions League Play

Tre' AtkinsonFeatured ColumnistNovember 24, 2014

Apoel vs. Barcelona: How the Catalans Should Line Up in Champions League Play

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    The Champions League group stage is nearing its end, and that means two very big tests for FC Barcelona who trails PSG, who currently top the table, by one point. The Catalans will now travel to Cyprus to take on APOEL, and fans are expecting a big showing.

    In the first meeting with APOEL, Barcelona put in a strong performance but only managed a narrow 1-0 victory. Youngsters Sergi Samper and Munir El Haddadi were the highlights in the previous contest, but signs now point to a very strong lineup in being fielded this time around.

    A quick look at Barcelona’s 22-man squad list for the match against APOEL shows that Luis Enrique is preparing for a huge win. That being said, let’s now take a look at how the Blaugrana should line up on Tuesday.

    As always, feel free to get involved in the discussion in the comment section below and tell us who you think should start for Barcelona!

Defense

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    Marc-Andre ter Stegen has been Barcelona’s Champions League keeper to this point and that shouldn’t change against APOEL. The young German is still learning the ropes for the Blaugrana, but showing enough faith to start him in European matches is a big motivation for the 22-year-old.

    Looking at the back line, Luis Enrique has a bigger selection dilemma. With four center-backs to choose from, Barcelona could set up many different ways at the back and must be wise about which pairing they put together.

    Seeing as how Javier Mascherano sat out the club’s last match he will likely be in the starting lineup on Tuesday. The Argentine continues to be played out of position at Barcelona, but he has done a decent job in defense this season and is even becoming a leader in the defensive unit.

    Gerard Pique and Jeremy Mathieu both started in Barcelona’s 5-1 victory over Sevilla, but they could be back in the lineup to face APOEL. Then again, Marc Bartra is fresh and could use a big Champions League match to boost his confidence in the squad.

    Though starting Bartra would certainly be a strong move from Enrique, the Barcelona manager has yet to show enough faith in the young defender this season. Either Mathieu or Pique will partner Mascherano in the back line, but the Frenchman edges out his La Masia graduate counterpart based on form this season.

    The sides of the defense are already a done deal. Dani Alves has been the unrivaled right-back in the squad, while Jordi Alba is healthy and ready to contribute for the Blaugrana.

    A back line of Alves, Mascherano, Mathieu and Alba should be enough to give Barcelona a clean sheet, which will be one big step to helping the Catalans seal their place in the next round.

Midfield

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    With Mascherano playing in defense, Sergio Busquets will definitely feature as the holding midfielder for Barcelona, as if that is surprising to anyone. This season he has not been quite as solid as in previous years, but Busquets is still one of the best defensive midfielders in the game and will be a key to victory.

    Andres Iniesta has yet to be cleared to return to action, but there is enough quality in the squad for the Barcelona midfield to command play against APOEL.

    After a few huge showings as of late, Ivan Rakitic deserves to start for Barcelona and will look to continue growing in the system.

    The Croatian is quickly becoming a vital cog in the Barcelona midfield and will be needed to help the Catalans get through the group stages. But who will feature as the third midfielder?

    Xavi, who started against Sevilla, could once again feature for the Blaugrana. However, expecting the 34-year-old to play again this quickly is a bit of a stretch.

    That being said, this match is the perfect chance for Rafinha to show what he can do in a big match. His familiarity with Enrique gives him a big edge to be in the starting lineup, and it is time the 21-year-old start assuming more responsibility.

    Busquets, Rakitic and Rafinha will provide creativity in the middle of the pitch, but will also give the back line plenty of defensive coverage.

Forwards

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    Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

    There may be plenty of questions about Barcelona’s possible starting lineup against APOEL, but the attacking trio is not one of them.

    Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez will once again start for the Catalans and should be more than enough to take down APOEL in Cyprus. Messi and Neymar have been in fine scoring form over the last few months, but Suarez’s first Barcelona goal could happen at any time.

    While Enrique could choose to give one of the big three a rest on Tuesday, they need to keep building their familiarity with one another. That will only happen by playing as many minutes together as possible, and Champions League play will bring the best out of the three stars.

    APOEL will certainly be looking to give Barcelona a big test in front of their own fans, but their defense should be no match for the Blaugrana onslaught. Messi and company are just too strong going forward and fans should expect a handful of goals in this second meeting.

     

    Who should start for Barcelona? Will Luis Suarez finally score his first goal in the Blaugrana shirt? Leave your thoughts and comments below!