FC Barcelona head coach Xavi will make a number of changes from the weekend’s 1-1 draw against Rayo Vallecano when his team host Porto in the Champions League on Tuesday.
Mundo Deportivo called the fixture Barca’s “first final” of the season, with more on the line that just the right to win Group H.
Granted whoever comes out on top will face what should be easier opposition than a fellow group leader in the knockout phases, and Barca need just a point to qualify for the last 16 for the first time since 2021.
But while Xavi said at his pre-match press conference on Monday that he feels 100% supported by president Joan Laporta and sporting director Deco, the newspaper reports that a loss against the Portuguese that matches recent defeats to Real Madrid and Shakhtar Donetsk could “muddy the atmosphere”.
“It’s a fundamental game, we have a lot at stake,” Xavi admitted.
“The fans must know this and cheer them [the players] on as they have always done. It’s very important that they’re with the team.”
Complimenting Sergio Conceicao’s side, Xavi said that Porto are “hard-working” and a “high-level” team.
“We already suffered in Porto,” the manager noted, of a 1-0 win last month.
“We were fine for an hour, [but] a lot of things happened to us. Lamine had to go to the dressing room, Gavi was sent off… They’re a very strong opponent, a very important test for us.”
Xavi confirmed that his goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen will return to action for the vital clash, after a back injury picked up on international duty with Germany saw him replaced by Inaki Pena at Rayo.
In the starting line up that will face Porto, there is no space for Alejandro Balde who will see right back Joao Cancelo take his place at left back.
In central defense, Inigo Martinez and Jules Kounde will partner up while Ronald Araujo takes Cancelo’s berth.
A reigning champion in this competition, Ilkay Gundogan was rested against Rayo but comes back into the fold to form an attacking midfield duo with Pedri.
There is no space for the struggling Oriol Romeu in the center of the park despite a Frenkie de Jong who brings out the best in him now being match fit.
It is the Dutchman who assumes the ex-Girona man’s place at pivot, while there is still no switch to the four man midfield that sees someone operating as a false left winger.
The hero at the Estadio do Dragao by scoring the only goal of the game there, Ferran Torres is cut in favor of Joao Felix while Raphinha is preferred over Lamine Yamal on the other side of striker Robert Lewandowski.
FC Barcelona First XI versus Porto: Ter Stegen; Cancelo, Martinez, Kounde, Araujo; De Jong, Gundogan, Pedri; Felix, Lewandowski, Raphinha