After a poor showing against Osasuna at their own den, Barcelona now has one last hurdle in the Spanish League. The team has come immense criticism in the past few days. Under such tremendous pressure, what should the Barcelona line-up be against Alavés?
The very final game of the league season for the former champions. After a painful night at the Camp Nou and considerable chiding by a frustrated Lionel Messi, the squad now travel to the Mendizorroza stadium to face Alavés. With nothing to play for but pride, it is the perfect time for Quique Setién to rotate the squad and experiment things before the Champions League. Bookings for Gerard Piqué, Iván Rakitić and Junior Firpo against Osasuna mean that they are unavailable for selection. Antoine Griezmann, Arthur Melo, Samuel Umtiti and Ousmane Dembélé continue to be ruled out via injury. Riqui Pig, Ansu Fati and Ronald Araújo were denied permission to travel with the B team for the all-important play-offs in Malaga in order to strengthen the first team.
“I would have liked the circumstances to be different, I’m sorry but it will not be possible for them to play with the B team”
ahead of the Alavés clash
Quique Setién travels to Vitoria with an extremely thin squad of 16 players, of which four are B team youngsters. With only 13 outfield players available for selection, Setién finds himself in a crisis even before the opening whistle of the game. Given the constraints, here is how Barcelona should line-up against Alavés:
Marc-André ter Stegen
Despite the best of his efforts, Ter Stegen was helpless against the ruthless counter of Osasuna. Despite there being nothing to gain from the game, the German will be looking to start in between the sticks for the Catalans. Every game is a new game, and every clean sheet equally important. Given the tough schedule, changing things now wouldn’t be a great idea for Setién.
The chain of injuries to Umtiti has seen the rise of Araújo in the pecking order. Having Piqué out by suspension, his role in the starting XI becomes a no brainer. Given the Champions League coming up, it is critical for Quique to weigh all his options. Giving Araújo options will not only help the Uruguayan get match fit but also provide the coach with fresh insights.
Under an acute shortage of options, Lenglet will be undoubtedly expected to start the clash on Sunday night. Under the absence of B team players too on the bench, the Frenchman must be sturdy yet cautious on the night. His importance in the team needn’t even be explained. Setién will be counting on him one last time in the league as the curtains draw to a close.
After a mixed set of performances, Semedo is lucky that the coach counts on Sergi Roberto more in the midfield. Despite an explosive start after the break, he has slowed down in recent games. Though defensively reliable, he has time and again shown lack of ideas going front. Once again, he couldn’t provide any creative sparks against the low block of Osasuna. With this being the last chance to prove himself before the Champions League, the Portuguese international will be looking to make the most of it.
Despite Nélson Semedo’s inconsistent displays, Sergi Roberto has been mostly used as a midfielder lately | Photo by Josep Lago / AFP via Imago
Once again, in spite of this being a clash of no importance, Jordi Alba finds himself forced to start due to an acute shortage of options. However, maybe it is for the good. After getting much-deserved rest in the last clash, he will be looking for redemption. The team have one last chance to boost morale before an important month, and Alba will be crucial for this introspection.
After getting a day off against Osasuna, Busquets will be an integral part of the team’s plans again. As Quique Setién continues to brainstorm over the perfect midfield combination, Busquets is one guaranteed piece in the puzzle. His importance once again reflected in the loss at the Camp Nou as the team failed to break down the visitors’ defence. An unquestionable starter.
The rise of Riqui Puig was long pending, but it couldn’t have come at a better time. The team finds itself in a dark hole, but the La Masía starlet has been one of the few bright rays through the disappointing season. There is no question that he will have a large part to play in Barcelona’s near and long-term future. He should be handed one last chance in La Liga to justify why he was kept with the first team instead of travelling to Malaga for the Segunda B play-offs.
Frenkie de Jong
After a month out through injury, Frenkie de Jong was finally back in action against Osasuna. He was introduced late in the game, as most players are post injuries. With this being one last chance ahead of the Champions League, the Dutchman has everything to prove. After all, the team need him to be match-ready for the massive challenge up ahead
Arturo Vidal has never lost the domestic league in the last eight seasons, but not anymore. Having lost La Liga, the Chilean posted a rather passionate and self-evaluating message on social media. Now with one last game domestically, he will be gunning for all three points to finish on a high.
Big rotations are expected, even including Lionel Messi | Photo by Aitor Alcalde via Getty Images
Suárez did not start the game on Thursday night. Nevertheless, after a rather disappointing first-half performance by Martin Braithwaite, he was brought on rather soon. He scored a peach of a goal but was undeniably offside. He has been under intense criticism in the last few weeks, and he will want to prove a point at the Mendizorroza.
Despite the team not enjoying a great day offensively, Fati made a reasonable impact against Osasuna. He Ansu was statistically the player with the most progressive movement, three key passes and two shots on the night. With this being the perfect time to rest Lionel Messi, Fati’s role in the team becomes altho more important.
3 takeaways from Dynamo Kyiv 0-4 Barcelona
Completely contradictory to Barcelona’s first 45 minutes, Ronald Koeman’s side were utterly unplayable after proceedings, producing a performance even the veterans would have failed to replicate. A blistering brace from Martin Braithwaite and a goal, each, from Sergino Dest and Antoine Griezmann secured a thumping 4-0 victory for the visitors.
Effective occupation of spaces, fluid sequences in the final third and marauding full-backs providing width with supreme assertion allowed the club to run riot at the NSC Olimpiyskiy: a spectacle one is not blessed with every day.
With the Catalan giants cementing a spot in the Champions League round of 16, the battle with Juventus for the top spot in Group G has been lit up. If the club continue to salvage convincing victories in their next two fixtures, managing to show similar displays against Ferncvaros and Juventus, then Barca’s status as group leaders will undoubtedly continue to prevail.
1. A dream debut for Oscar Mingueza
Throwing shades of a veteran who had played the game for decades, Mingueza embarked on his debut with nerves of steel. The blonde beaming prodigy from La Masia was handed the burdensome responsibility of replacing Gerard Pique. Still, instead of succumbing under the immense pressure, he was foretold, Mingueza rose to the occasion with conviction in his strengths, belief in his abilities and assurance that he was worthy of representing the pristine Blaugrana emblem.
While the Spaniard’s aggressive nature and robust personality were surprising facets on the field, given this was his very first game with the senior squad, he seemed to walk the talk with his composure in possession and positional maturity. Every time Oscar would progress the ball forward, he would be back just in time to aid Lenglet at the back.
🗣 — Koeman: “Mingueza must continue working hard. He has shown that he can be relied upon.”— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) November 24, 2020
Committing into tackles with extreme tidiness, the 21-year-old also won a majority of his duels and predicted the opposition’s next move with flawless anticipation, a trait that has invariably helped La Masia center-backs stand a cut above the rest.
Despite Mingueza’s passing looking slightly shaky at the beginning, he gradually grew into the game, showcasing his innate distribution from the back. Eventually, the icing on the cake proved to be the moment Oscar bagged himself a terrific assist from a corner kick as his subtle touch from the near post allowed Braithwaite to extend Barca’s lead.
As options at centre-back continue to deplete, Mingueza could prove to be a vital piece in Koeman’s squad. It could certainly be argued that he is yet to refine his abilities in one-versus-one duels, but for a player that has a whole career ahead of him, improvement in various other sectors of his gameplay are bound to enhance his stature.
2. Sergino Dest keeps proving himself
After an esteemed performance against Real Madrid in El Clasico, Dest had been an irregular member of Barca’s line-ups. Despite his awe-inspiring exhibition, Ronald Koeman stubbornly refrained from naming him as the club’s primary right-back. However, with Sergi Roberto out due to injury and Koeman gravely lacking options, the former Ajax prodigy was provided with the opportunity to feature in the XI, as he savoured the occasion till the very last minute.
One can comfortably deem the American sensation to be Dynamo Kyiv’s biggest nightmare. Springing up-field with flair and taking on defenders as if they were mere training dummies, Dest was simply brimming in confidence. While his output in the final third was outright unparalleled, particularly for a full-back, never did he seem to leave his defensive duties rejected as his positioning remained unblemished for a majority of the match.
A finish so good, even the opposition look in awe of it. (Photo by Sergei SUPINSKY / AFP)
Along with executing some superbly timed runs, Dest also created a multitude of chances for his partners in crime. Frequently barraging in crosses as he raided down the right flank, the 20-year-old managed to locate players in exceedingly fruitful areas. Besides, he maintained fluid passing sequences amongst the front-line, which in due course paid him dividends as he etched his name on the score-line.
After giving the visitors a much-awaited lead through a beautifully placed finish, his influence continued to enlarge. From savvy dummies to cheeky elasticos, Dest was the embodiment of dripping in sauce. The Catalans have been in dire need of a full-back with such a dynamic profile, a player that can not only flaunt his pace; but also utilize it to the fullest, and it appears that they may have finally struck gold with this distinctive talent.
3. Carles Alena is a gem waiting to be unearthed
Sitting comfy at first place in Barcelona’s respective Champions League group, the Catalans were in pole position to rest key starters and award the reserves with an opportunity to highlight their excellence on the grand stage, where a fair assessment could be made on their talents and capacities.
Unsurprisingly, Carles Alena seized this chance firmly, making the most of his inclusion the line-up as well as prompting Ronald Koeman to appreciate the depth in his squad by a considerable margin.
Starting in a double pivot alongside Miralem Pjanic, the Spaniard had to be more involved defensively at the base of midfield, but despite him excelling most as a number 10, Alena ensured he would make his presence count in midfield.
Alongside displaying some terrific ball retention skills, the Spaniard showed that he has the capability to advance the ball even when found in tight areas or under immense pressure from the opposition. Squirming his way out of compact zones with immense delicacy, he managed to effectively resist all sorts of oppression from the Ukrainian side.
Alena’s body orientation before receiving the ball always enabled him to progress the ball forward and find spaces to exploit in Dynamo’s rigid back-line, hastening the club’s movement in possession in a free-flowing manner. It was due to his unmatched affinity towards playing progressive passes that helped the Azulgranas catch Kyiv off guard on numerous occasions. What was so staggering about his performance was the fact that he completed 106 out of 107 passes, with an accuracy of 99.1%.
📊 — Aleñá completed 106 out of 107 passes against Kyiv with a pass success percentage of 99.1%. Outrageous! pic.twitter.com/e3h0O88YsP— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) November 24, 2020
As an interior, as a pivot or as a number 10, Carles Alena is a special talent, seeing the game with eagle-eyed awareness and doing his immaculate technical ability justice unfailingly on occasions like these. After being shunned out of the starting XI ever since the pre-season concluded, the 22-year-old made the ideal declaration to not only fans who were beginning to write him off; but also Ronald Koeman, who habitually abstained from looking in his direction.
Could this finally be a turning point in Alena’s underappreciated career?