The shackles will be off on Wednesday night as Barcelona travel to Antwerp to round off a successful Champions League group stage campaign.
Barca, for the first time under Xavi’s tutelage, have progressed into the knockout stages after beating Porto on Matchday 5. The Catalans, however, need a point in Antwerp to guarantee top spot in Group H.
Xavi’s side also head into Wednesday’s game having lost to an excellent Girona outfit on home soil at the weekend, bumping the Spanish champions down to fourth in La Liga.
Antwerp, meanwhile, have endured a fairly wretched campaign thus far and are the only team in the competition yet to notch a single point. However, they have enjoyed a domestic resurgence of late and are five games unbeaten in the Belgian Pro League.
Here’s 90min’s preview of Barcelona’s trip to Belgium.
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The hosts are without suspended Arbnor Muja and Jurgen Ekkelenkamp.
There are doubts over the fitness of both Jacob Ondrejka and Bjorn Engels with neither likely to start on Wednesday night. Anthony Valencia is out until the end of January with a broken foot.
Former Tottenham Hotspur stars Toby Alderweireld and Vincent Janssen should both start.
Antwerp predicted lineup vs Barca (4-2-3-1): Butez; De Laet, Alderweireld, Coulibaly, Wijndal; Vermeeren, Keita; Kerk, Balikwisha, Ejuke; Janssen.
Frenkie de Jong has not travelled with the Barcelona squad to Belgium due to a reported illness.
Xavi will likely shuffle his pack in midweek, and plenty of youngsters have made the trip to Antwerp. Fermin Lopez and Lamine Yamal should both start, while Inaki Pena will continue between the sticks in Marc-Ander ter Stegen’s absence.
Gavi is a long-term absentee while the defensive pairing of Marcos Alonso and Inigo Martinez are both unavailable.
Barca predicted lineup vs Antwerp (4-3-3): Pena; Roberto, Kounde, Christensen, Balde; Romeu, Lopez, Pedri; Yamal, Lewandowksi, Ferran.
With Barcelona having all but secured top spot and Antwerp merely playing for pride, don’t expect a classic on Wednesday night.
Xavi will rotate his starting XI heavily, and he’ll be seeking a controlled performance after his side were cut apart by Girona on Sunday. The visitors should edge what may be a subdued contest, perhaps thanks to inspiration off the bench, and seal their status as Group H winners.
Prediction: Antwerp 0-1 Barcelona
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