Barcelona face Ansu Fati decision as Lionel Messi eyes Borussia Dortmund return

Andy West 18:28 16/09/2019
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Barcelona will seek to bury some demons as they travel to Borussia Dortmund for their first Champions League outing since the trauma of last season’s semi-final exit at Liverpool.

The game at Anfield was just one of several disappointing recent away performances from Ernesto Valverde’s men, who have won just one of the last seven games on their travels.

But they are set to receive the boost of a rather important player returning from injury, which has to be the first of our talking points ahead of the game…

Messi back, Fati out?

The sight Barcelona fans have been waiting for could finally become reality as Lionel Messi inches closer to his first appearance of the season. The Argentine skipper has not played since suffering a calf injury during pre-season, but he has been given the medical all-clear and made the trip to Germany after completing two full training sessions.

Being fit to play is one thing, but being fit to start is quite another – especially considering the intense nature of the occasion and the fact that Messi has not played any football since appearing for Argentina in Copa America more than two months ago. So it’s probably wise to expect Messi to feature only from the bench, with Antoine Griezmann partnered in attack by Luis Suarez after the Uruguayan star netted twice from the bench against Valencia on Saturday to prove his fitness.

That does, however, leave the question of teen sensation Ansu Fati, who became the youngest player to score and assist in the same game in La Liga history on Saturday. Dare Valverde give the 16 year-old another start in such a tough game, or will he strengthen his midfield with a more experienced player like Arturo Vidal or Ivan Rakitic?

Settling for a draw?

The tactical battle will be a fascinating one as respective coaches Lucien Favre and Ernesto Valverde confront a testing question: how much do they want to win?

Realistically, a draw would be a perfectly acceptable result for both teams as the group stage kicks off with one of their most difficult encounters: Barca would be more than happy to come away with a point considering their terrible form away from home over the last few months, while Dortmund will see Inter as their main rivals for a qualification spot and regard any points gained against Barca as a bonus.

However, Dortmund’s famous ‘yellow wall’ of fans inside the always highly atmospheric 81,000 capacity Westfalenstadion are unlikely to take such a sensible approach, and will instead urge on their players to push forward and add to the long list of famous European victories they have enjoyed in the last few years – especially after seeing Dortmund score 11 goals in their three out of three home victories this season.

Barca, similarly, are always at their best when they dominate possession and push back the opposition rather than sitting deep and defending their penalty area, so we are unlikely to witness a tactical cat and mouse stalemate…however much the two coaches might like it to happen.

Ter Stegen’s point to prove?

TerStegenBarcelonaArsenal (1)

Marc-Andre ter Stegen will be heading back to his native country with a point to prove, with the Barca keeper embroiled in a nation-wide debate over whether he should be installed as the first choice goalkeeper for Germany.

Until now, long-serving manager Joachim Low has kept faith with iconic skipper Manuel Neuer, despite several high-profile errors by the 33 year-old Bayern Munich keeper while ter Stegen has been a model of consistency for Barca throughout the last few seasons.

Ter Stegen inflamed the situation by admitting that his trip away with Low and his squad for the recent international break was hard to take, even appearing to question his future availability after he sat on the bench to watch Neuer ship four goals in a heavy defeat to the Netherlands but still retain his place for a comfortable subsequent victory over Northern Ireland.

A strong performance in this showpiece occasion – against Lucien Favre, his former manager at Moenchengladbach – would further strengthen ter Stegen’s case to be given a chance for Germany, and Low will no doubt be watching closely.

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