Two of Spain’s best teams face off in a thrilling Copa del Rey quarterfinal tie at Camp Nou on Wednesday night.
While FC Barcelona are currently top of the La Liga table by three points, third-placed Real Sociedad are riding a nine-game winning streak and pushing for Champions League qualification.
The fixture that pits the 2020 (Real Sociedad) and 2021 Copa winners (Barca) against one another comes on the 43rd birthday of the Catalans’ head coach Xavi Hernandez, who expects a “great battle between two similar sides”.
“The way of doing things, pressure after a loss… I like many things about La Real. That’s why I say it’s a great team,” Xavi explained at his pre-match press conference on Tuesday.
“I think we will have to take the ball away from La Real. Players like Zubimendi, Brais, or Silva feel very comfortable when they have possession of the ball. If we don’t control the ball, we will suffer,” he predicted.
“They have a well-worked defensive line. They are aggressive and dominate with the ball. It’s a very difficult game, also for La Real.”
While the visitors’ current streak is their best in 113 years, they haven’t won in Barcelona since 1991.
Hoping to keep that latter fact in tack, Xavi will go for Marc Andre ter Stegen in goal as opposed to his understudy Inaki Pena, who had previously played in the last two rounds of the competition.
On the backline, in a formation that should switch between 4-4-2 and 4-3-3, Xavi will opt for the same back four that beat Getafe 1-0 at home on Sunday.
This involves Alejandro Balde at left back, a central defensive pairing of Andreas Christensen and Ronald Araujo, plus World Cup finalist Jules Kounde at right back.
In midfield, captain Sergio Busquets will act as pivot providing support to Pedri and Frenkie de Jong.
But though he is placed on the left wing in many layouts of the first XI, Gavi will help out in the center of the park when not alongside striker Robert Lewandowski and right winger Ousmane Dembele.
FC Barcelona First XI: Ter Stegen, Balde, Christensen, Araujo, Kounde; Busquets, De Jong, Pedri; Gavi, Lewandowski, Dembele.