With less than a week to go until Barça return to action, it is only fair to visit the challenges that lie ahead. A brief overview of the remaining eleven fixtures for Barcelona.
Among the top five leagues, La Liga has seen one of the tightest title race this season. With Barcelona and Real Madrid interchanging positions at the top, every game from the restart will be crucial. Barça currently have a two-point lead at the summit as Los Blancos slipped on the last matchday against Real Betis. So every game of the remaining eleven is like a final.
The two-point advantage is pretty measly at this point, so it essential for Barça to keep winning. Even a draw somewhere might lead to their eternal rivals leapfrogging them. So, what are the remaining fixtures for Barcelona and how difficult are they?
Mallorca vs Barcelona
Date: 13th June 2020
Reverse fixture result: Barcelona 5–2 Mallorca
The first game after restart will always be quite tricky. With both teams a bit rusty after the break, it is more of a quality battle than a form battle. The reverse fixture between the two at the Camp Nou ended 5–2, with Messi bagging a hat-trick. With Mallorca struggling in the relegation zone, it would’ve been a regular win for Barcelona in normal circumstances. But under these strange circumstances with very less match practice, it is an open game.
Barcelona vs Leganés
Date: 16th June 2020
Reverse fixture result: Leganés 1–2 Barcelona
Barcelona will host Leganés in their first home game after the break, but not much of home advantage with empty stands. In the Bundesliga, home advantage has been very minimal after the restart. Only on a few occasions, the home team has won convincingly in the last few matchdays. However, the large pitch and the low-cut grass at the Camp Nou will be a valuable asset for Barcelona with their style of play. Leganes is yet another team struggling in the bottom of the pile, so the first two games for Barça are relatively more lenient.
Sevilla vs Barcelona
Date: 21st June 2020
Reverse fixture result: Barcelona 4–0 Sevilla
The Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán is one of the challenging stadiums to travel to in La Liga ordinarily. But, with the fan support out of the picture, it will be like every other game. Sevilla have been in excellent form this season, showing off their aesthetic football under Julen Lopetegui. They are third in the table, 11 points off the top at the moment. After two relatively easy fixtures, this match will be the wake-up call for the Barcelona squad. With very few points separating the Champions League spot contenders, Sevilla would not want to draw or lose at their home.
Barcelona vs Athletic Club
Date: 24th June 2020
Reverse fixture result: Athletic Club 1–0 Barcelona
The one-nil loss in the opening fixture is still fresh in culés‘ memories as Aritz Aduriz came off the bench to score a stunner. The Basque club’s no-nonsense approach to the game has always hindered Barça’s style of play. The intense physical battle will test the fitness and competitive spirit of the whole squad.
Celta de Vigo vs Barcelona
Date: 28th June 2020
Reverse fixture result: Barcelona 4–1 Celta de Vigo
Celta de Vigo have been struggling in the league for a year and a half. They barely stayed up last season, and now are 17th in the league. They changed their gaffer mid-season, with Óscar García, taking over the team. The former Barça player’s first game in charge was with the Catalans as they lost 4–1 despite playing surprisingly well. Despite their position in the table, they are a team with quality and ability to surprise the opposition.
Barcelona vs Atlético de Madrid
Date: 1st July 2020
Reverse fixture result: Atlético de Madrid 0–1 Barcelona
Arguably, the most challenging of the remaining fixtures for Barcelona. Atlético de Madrid haven’t been at their best this season, amidst a lot of transfer activity and change in the dressing room. Nevertheless, they have been working towards turning the plot as they beat European champions Liverpool both home and away. When set, the Rojiblancos are a tough team to break down. Barcelona must come into this game with their best-attacking set-up, to get the much-needed three points.
In the last meeting with Atlético de Madrid, in the Spanish Super Cup, Barcelona’s loss preceded the sacking of Ernesto Valverde and appointment of Quique Setién | Photo by Francois Nel via Getty Images
Villarreal vs Barcelona
Date: 5th July 2020
Reverse fixture result: Barcelona 2–1 Villarreal
The Yellow Submarine is an intriguing side who can spring a surprise anytime. With Santi Cazorla working his magic in the middle, they have been in the hunt for the European spots this season. Players like Paco Alcácer, Samuel Chukwueze, and Gerard Moreno can cause problems to the azulgrana defence. Will be a close encounter considering the quality of youth and experience the team possess.
Barcelona vs Espanyol
Date: 8th July 2020
Reverse fixture result: Espanyol 2–2 Barcelona
The season’s second derby comes in the closing stages of the campaign. With the two teams having drastically contrasting seasons, the reasonable judgement would be a Barcelona win. Notwithstanding, predicting derbies based on results and form would not be appropriate in football. In the reverse fixture, the neighbours held Barcelona for a draw in a frustrating match for the away side, despite Barça coming into the game as clear favourites. Yet, at the Camp Nou, Barcelona have been comfortable dealing with their sour neighbours.
Valladolid vs Barcelona
Date: 12th July 2020
Reverse fixture result: Barcelona 5–1 Valladolid
Barcelona will have familiar faces when they meet Valladolid in the form of Jordi Masip and Sandro Ramírez. Despite letting five goals past him in the reverse fixture, Masip impressed and has been doing so in the campaign. With key figures like Mohammed Salisu, Enes Ünal and Sergi Guardiola, plus future Barça player Matheus Fernandes, Valladolid could put on a valid fight.
Luis Suárez will be like a new signing for Quique Setién | Photo by Imago
Barcelona vs Osasuna
Date: 15th July 2020
Reverse fixture result: Osasuna 2–2 Barcelona
In the penultimate fixture of the season, Barcelona face mid-table side Osasuna at home. In the reverse fixture, Barça drew the game after a comeback with an inspiring performance from Arthur Melo. If the title race is not already over by then, it would be an enthralling contest at the Camp Nou.
Alavés vs Barcelona
Date: 19th July 2020
Reverse fixture result: Barcelona 4–1 Alavés
Barcelona play away from home in the final fixture of the season. If the title race is still prevailing by this time, then the contest would be notably exciting. It has been long since the title race dragged to the last matchday. Barcelona have been prone to difficulties while facing Alavés in the previous seasons. That said, the current season has not been the best for the home side.
Barcelona can use their first few fixtures to get back their match rhythm. They should dust off their rustiness, and get back to full intensity for the demanding games and forthcoming Champions League matches.
Trincão, Griezmann or Dembélé: Who should start for Barcelona?
From having to field center-mids such as Arturo Vidal on the flanks to now owning the likes of Dembélé, Trincão and Griezmann, it’s probably safe to assume that Barcelona’s wing play finally seems to have adequate profiles, individuals worthy of starting out wide. But, while healthy competition is always welcomed at the club, it’s apparent that Koeman must quickly find his “go-to player” and analyse whom he must bet on to consistently start games. With Barça successfully concluding their pre-season and looking ever so dominant in the opening game of La Liga, let’s take a look at what each player brings to the table.
Currently, it looks as if Antoine Griezmann has been reserved as a starter, which doesn’t come as a surprise given his immense status and the weightage his name carries in the squad list. However, Ronald Koeman’s intricate 4-2-3-1 system hasn’t truly allowed the Frenchman to fully express himself yet. Against Villarreal and even in the matches Antoine previously featured in, Griezmann was deprived of a fixated role and alternating occasionally with Messi as a direct number 9 or as a somewhat number 10 often left the right-hand side vulnerable, where Sergi Roberto would be tasked to produce most of the output upfield. Although Griezmann was seen making some well-timed runs, his link-up play was far from satisfactory, and as Messi would occupy the number 9 role, the former Atletico man would fail to operate effectively behind Leo or out wide.
In Barcelona’s La Liga opener, the left flank ticked every box the club seemed to have left unanswered and neglected last season. Jordi Alba’s runs from deep, Coutinho’s additional support as a mediapunta, and Ansu Fati’s exhilarating flare on the touchline proved too much to handle for Emery’s side since diverging attention from even a single player would lead to the visitors getting battered in the final third. Even so, while the Catalans eliminated their narrow and horizontal football to a somewhat acceptable extent, Ronald has only managed to refurbish one side of the pitch, with Griezmann and Messi’s natural tendency to operate centrally leaving the right flank vacant.
Therefore, to truly make the most of Barça’s offensive yield, it is vital to rely on natural wingers such as Trincão or Dembélé, players that can be considered ruthless on the counter and unforgiving in transitions. Whilst both players may eventually qualify as classic wingers, these two individuals propound different options, proving to be ideal in their respective departments. For example, in contrast to Dembouz, Trincão is likely to excel far more against a team with a low-block, given he is an exceedingly refined dribbler and considerably polished in his movement on/off the ball. Dembélé, on the other hand, could bring maximum results against a team with a higher line or a side that prefers to apply a suffocating press, mainly due to the fact that the winger is a space dominant player, and his unparalleled pace and chaotic style of play tends to add a sense of unpredictability on the flanks. Nonetheless, despite the slight differences in gameplay, they are ideal contenders to start for Barça, and must be prioritized in line-ups.
Spectators saw Lionel Messi function as a pure false 9 in the closing minutes of the game against Elche a few days ago as the Argentine partnered up with the likes of Dembélé and Trincão on each side of the pitch. Although Ansu Fati is probable to own the left flank for the upcoming games, it was refreshing to witness the Blaugranas look so imposing with two explosive wingers by Lionel’s side. As it turns out, Koeman’s experiment worked out even against the Yellow Submarine with him applying the same method in the second half. Barça saw their most promising football after proceedings just as Griezmann came off the bench for Trincão, who went on to form a trio with Lionel and Ousmane. Such flare and aggression was not seen previously considering most of Barça’s harvest came solely from the left-hand side of the field.
At this very moment, Barcelona has ample options to choose from, but for the newly adopted 4-2-3-1 formation to continue working at the highest level, it’s important to make the most of such diverse profiles in the squad. Ronald Koeman still has a backlog of work to do and must completely eliminate Barcelona’s horizontal structure if the club truly intends to compete in Europe. With Ousmane and Fransico looking immensely promising in their recent outings, the Dutch coach should take the bold decision of starting either one of them and pursue enhancing the front four’s capabilities.