After an emphatic victory in Turin, Barcelona return to Spain to take on Deportivo Alavés with their heads held high. A complete performance could bring nothing but optimism to each of the players.
The Catalans have enjoyed an impressive start to their Champions League campaign, having dominated both their oppositions so far. The story in the League, however, has not been as sweet. Heading into their sixth clash, Barcelona languishes at 12th on the table. With only two victories to show for, it is a cause of mild fear.
The Blaugranas now head into their final three clashes before the international break, all of which fall within just 8 days. The tight schedule leading up to this will be a factor that may force rotations. Concurrently, however, Barcelona cannot afford to drop more points in the League. Undoubtedly, man-management is crucial at such a stage when the only accepted results are victories.
The first of the three upcoming clashes comes tomorrow at the Estadio de Mendizorroza. Alavés are always a tricky side to play, however, there is also a Champions League clash just around the corner. Which means it will be crucial for Koeman to find the perfect XI that can capture the best of both worlds.
What to expect from Alaves?
The Vitoria-Gasteiz based side currently find themselves at the wrong half of the table. They had a dismal start to the new season just salvaging the one point from their opening four clashes. Overall, they have emerged on top in just two of their seven games, losing four games in the process. It has been a rough start for the Basque side under new coach Pablo Machin.
Alaves have predominantly played with a back three over the season, though on some occasions they have gone back to a defensive four. The trusted backline for Machin has been the pairing of Victor Laguardia and Florian Lejuene. Machin has complemented them with Ximo Navarro or Rodrigo Ely when in a back three.
The potent attacking side has been the left-wing with Ruben Duarte being a merciless force on the flank. He has started on occasions as the third central defender but has predominantly acted as a fullback for the side.
Ruben Duarte will be Alaves’ biggest threat. (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)
Rodrigo Battaglia has been crucial to the side with his defensive midfield duties, especially when the fullbacks push in the attack. Irrespective of the system, the side have pushed men into the midfield to gain a numerical superiority. Additionally, overlapping runs have often combined with wider players like Duarte to create openings.
The left-wing has been the more active wing by far, with Pere Pons and Joselu upping the intensity. In attack, Alaves finds itself with an abundance of resources with the likes of Joselu, Lucas Perez and Devyson on its ranks.
Very much like Machin’s Sevilla, this Alaves side has morphed into a 3-5-2 in many games. In defence, the wingbacks drop deep to form a compact five-person back-line. The centre-backs are crucial in the buildup and often invite the high press from oppositions, trying to create holes in the enemy’s formation.
How should Barcelona Line-up?
Barcelona this season have been rejuvenated, especially in pressurising the opposition. This has been primarily because of the addition of young legs in the form of Ansu Fati and Pedri. This was seen once again against Juventus, where the Italian Champions were barely given and space to breathe. With Alaves trying to open up spaces by inviting press, Koeman must choose his front four wisely.
After starting back-to-back high profile clashes, one would expect young Pedri to start this game on the bench. This again opens up space for Antoine Greizmann to start alongside Lionel Messi. While the Frenchman will start as the striker on paper, he will have a fluid role constantly dropping deeper to join the press. Lionel Messi will be starting as the attacking midfielder and will be the focal point of every attack.
After a well-deserved rest in the last game, Ansu Fati will jump back into the starting lineup as the left-winger. On the right side, Ousmane Dembele could get a second successive start. With the Alavés left side being heavily involved in the attack, it is an ideal scenario for Dembele to strike on the counter.
Ansu Fati and Jordi Alba will be a duel threat for Barça on the left. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
The midfield is where there have been a lot of doubts as to working combinations. Starting Sergio Busquets alongside Frenkie de Jong has clearly not worked out for the Catalans. Hence, Miralem Pjanic could find himself a starting position alongside the Dutch midfielder at the Mendizorozza. The Bosnian had a rocky start against his former side on Wednesday; however, he finished the game with a sound performance. Furthermore, his ability to break the lines could prove invaluable against a compact five-man defence.
At left-back, there are hardly any doubts as to who will start. Jordi Alba as always will provide a constant source of worry to the likes of Edgar Mendez whose advanced position could be exploited. It is the right-back position though that is crucial.
Indeed, the Blaugranas will need someone who can quickly recover to his position and mask the potent left-side attack of Alaves. Looking at Sergino Dest’s masterclass against Real Madrid, he would be the ideal man to start at the crucial position.
Ronald Araujo has been ruled out through injury for close to a month. Samuel Umtiti too, has just returned to training. With that in mind, Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet are the only two options to start at central defence. It will be a risky move, but there are no other options for Koeman. One injury or suspension and Barcelona will find themselves at a lack of personnel.
Marc Andre ter Stegen has just returned to training, yet will not be completely fit to start. Undoubtedly, Neto will continue to don the gloves in the German shot-stoppers absence.
How should Barcelona lineup against Dynamo Kyiv?
If the horrid performance against Atletico Madrid was not enough, injuries continue to plague Barcelona’s season further. The Catalans were outplayed at the Wanda Metropolitano. However, the question is: How does the team recover from a defeat like that?
After initial injuries to Ansu Fati and Sergio Busquets threatened to derail the Catalans season, the club has now confirmed both Gerard Pique and Seri Roberto to be out through injury for a long spell.
Yet, for all the mayhem in the league, Barcelona’s position in the champions league is safe. With three wins from their opening three encounters, they sit untouched at the top of the group. Ronald Koeman pointed to the same when asked about his decision of resting Lionel Messi and Frenkie de Jong. With so many key players out injured and others rested, how should Barcelona line-up against Dynamo Kyiv?
What to expect from Dynamo Kyiv?
The first game between the two sides provided more than it had promised. Kyiv were missing 13 players through COVID-19, yet that did not reflect on the pitch. Barcelona dominated the opening spell of the game. However, beyond the 25-minute mark, there was a sudden drop in energy levels. The Catalans seemed to ease off, opening the gates to a close-fought level headed battle which could have gone either way.
Mircea Lucescu has stuck to his successful 4-1-4-1 in the Champions League too. The overload in midfield is a potent obstacle to most oppositions, though one would expect Barcelona to break it down. The Ukrainians have often resorted to, and will most probably look to once again implement a low block. The press is high, however, isn’t very prominent in the opposition half.
Lucescu will bring up a harbour of troubles for Barcelona. (Photo by ATTILA KISBENEDEK / AFP)
Instead, Lucescu’s men look to hit on the counter. Victor Tsygankov, Vitaliy Buyalski and Vladydlav Supryaga have time and time again proved to invaluable for the same.
Learning from their mistakes, Barcelona will have to plug the spaces in between lines to come back home with all three points. It is a much younger side travelling to Ukraine. Moreover, with this being a chance for many of them to impress, one can expect the youth to step up.
How should the Barcelona line-up?
The only department that seems sorted for the time being is the Goalkeeper. Yet, ter Stegen too is coming off a horrid mistake at the Wanda Metropolitano. One that cost Barcelona the match. Undoubtedly, the German will be keen to make a statement on Tuesday.
The defence is in jeopardy. Gerard Pique could likely miss anywhere between three months to the end of the season after suffering a muscle sprain and partial cruciate ligament tear. Ronald Araujo is not fit to compete either, and with Samuel Umtiti’s state not helping the cause, Koeman stares into blackness.
Yet, one man’s loss is another’s gain. Given the situation, young Barcelona B centre-back Oscar Mingueza could get his chance to impress. In fact, it was a point Koeman specifically hinted to at the pre-match interview. Alongside him will undoubtedly be Clement Lenglet, whose importance is now more than ever. In Pique’s absence, the Frenchman will have to take up the onus of leadership and marshalling the troops.
Sergi Roberto’s injury opens the door for Sergino Dest to start the game at right-back. Unquestionably, his pace will be crucial to neutralise Kyiv’s threat on the counter.
At left-back, one expects Jordi Alba to start once again. In the absence of Lionel Messi, the Spaniard’s importance will be more than ever to create chances going forward.
Ronald Koeman could opt for a change in formation going into this clash, given his limited resources. Indeed, a 4-3-3 would be an ideal setup to try with the new crop of players. Miralem Pjanic could start as the defensive midfielder operating deeper in the position. Nevertheless, It is not a new role for the Bosnian, as he has played as a single pivot on many occasions in his career.
The midfield could be completed by the duo of Pedri and Carles Alena. Pedri had a comparatively quiet night against Atletico Madrid and will look to make amends. Carles Alena could finally get a well-deserved start after being neglected from the start of the season.
Antoine Griezmann could well start as the centre-forward on the night. The Frenchman has come under intense scrutiny by the media, both for his performances and statement made by people in his environment. Indeed, it will be an essential night for the World Cup winner, as he will lead the Catalan attack.
🗣 — Griezmann: "I am very well here at Barça, they have welcomed me very well. I want to help the team. They trusted me and now I want to reciprocate that trust by helping the team win. There is no problem with anyone, I'm really fine and I just ask you to leave me a bit calm." pic.twitter.com/XuOLl92GQH— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) November 23, 2020
Flanking him on the left side would be Ousmane Dembele, who is undoubtedly a major asset for Koeman. In these trying times with limited options, his all-round play comes as a whiff of fresh air.
On the right-flank, Fransisco Trincao would be the ideal option. Koeman has under-utilised the Portuguese winger so far. However, Tuesday night could be his chance to impress as the Dutch manager looks to rest key players. Moreover, his combination with Dest will be crucial for Barcelona to break down Lucescu’s side.