“Sometimes, you have to get knocked down lower than you have ever been to stand back up taller than you ever were”
Come Tuesday night, Barcelona step into a Champions League clash for the first time since the debacle that annihilated them. That performance, that humiliation, that shattered confidence undoubtedly still runs feebly across the back of every Blaugrana player’s conscience.
The mighty Barcelona that once dominated the world had yet again fallen, not just meekly, but shamefully in a knockout match. The chokers tag that intimidated them before the game came back for another bite of flesh. Without a speck of doubt, it was rock bottom.
Barcelona must forget the distant disastrous memories of Lisbon. (Photo by MANU FERNANDEZ/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
However, life is always full of second chances. Football is a game synonymous with redemption. Every new season harbours with it a chance to fix things right—the opportunity to stand up once again and climb higher than you ever were. And Barcelona hope that Tuesday will be the start of a special run, one that begins right at the Camp Nou.
The opening clash features the Catalan giants take on the Hungarian champions Ferencváros. The Hungarians are unbeaten in the league so far, with four wins and a draw to their name. Ferencvaros have netted 12 times in their opening five encounters, having conceded just the three. And on the blue corner, we have Barcelona, who are coming off the back of their first defeat of the season. The Catalans have dropped points in their last two clashes and will be raring to make amends.
What to expect from Ferencvarosi?
After failing to qualify for the Europa League in 2018, Ferencvarosi announced the sacking of their manager. The club named Serhiy Rebrov the new man at the helm soon after, and a new era began. This followed a failure to win the domestic league for two years, Rebrov led the side to the title in his first season.
Things just got better for the Budapest outfit as they went on to defend their title in 2019-20 too. However, the biggest achievement for Serhiy was undoubtedly the Champions League qualification. It was a gruelling run, with tough sides including Celtic and Dinamo Zagreb challenging them for a spot. In the end, a fascinating two-legged tie against Molde saw Ferencvaros secure a spot in the UCL after 25 years.
Rebrov has done a fantastic job with his team in the recent past. (Photo by NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV/AFP via Getty Images)
Rebrov has preferentially stuck to a 4-2-3-1 during league games. However, they have moulded at times to a 4-3-3 during UCL clashes. Surprisingly, the team does not have too much wing play, something well associated with a 4-2-3-1. That said, while they can be lethal on the counter, they prefer to hold possession.
The buildup is usually central, with long balls being an ace up their sleeve. Of the two wings, the left is usually the more exciting one. They are not a side that likes to terrorize the opposition, rather preferring a conservative approach repeatedly. This is evident in their statistics from the Europa League, with under a goal averaged per game. The conversion rate, too, has not been as fierce as they would have hoped, but what matters is that they always get something over the line.
Tokmac Chol Nguen has been a menacing weapon for Rebrov on the left-wing. Though he does prefer to drift inside and operate in the halfspaces, his connection with midfielder Somalia and the fullbacks opens up activity on the flank. The Norwegian has already racked up four goals in as many starts in the League. Franck Boli is the manager’s second trump card in the attack. The full-backs are not extensively involved in the drives and tend to stay rather deep.
How should Barcelona line-up?
If there is one thing the Champions League has taught us over the years, it is never to take the opposition lightly. Every season brings with it new upsets. Teams from lesser-known leagues may not have the popularity or fame, but what they do have in abundance are confidence and determination. Heading into the clash as the underdogs helps them unlock a new stratum of freedom. Though Ronald Koeman’s focus will primarily be on the El Clasico and the mega-challenge against Juventus, he cannot afford to take Ferencvaros for granted.
🗓️ — Barcelona’s next 5 fixtures:— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) October 19, 2020
• Barcelona vs Ferencvaros
• Barcelona vs Real Madrid
• Juventus vs Barcelona
• Alaves vs Barcelona
• Barcelona vs Dynamo Kyiv pic.twitter.com/s8v73siF0G
Undoubtedly Koeman will require the right balance of prophylaxis and caution. Rotations will be undoubtedly necessary, however, not blown out of proportion. With the Clasico lurking just around the corner, this could be the best chance to rest Lionel Messi. Given that Antoine Griezmann is visibly low on confidence, Martin Braithwaite may be the ideal option as the #9. His work rate will be crucial to implement Koeman’s high press.
Ousmane Dembele should be provided with another run in the park on the left-wing; not only will it help him gain match fitness, it will help keep Fati fresh for the weekend. Fransisco Trincāo could earn his first start of the season on the right-wing, adding dynamism to the wider areas.
Given that Ferencvaros are overloaded in the centre, going wide seems to be the right way forward. After an impressive showing against Getafe, Pedri could well earn his second start of the campaign. His role in the centre will be crucial if Messi is rested, as he will be in the limelight for providing the creative spark.
The dying moments of the last game witnessed Koeman field a team with a single pivot for the first time. However, the Dutchman will be looking to stick to his basics with a double pivot. After not featuring against Getafe, Miralem Pjanic could be his first start in the famous garnet-and-blue. Alongside him will undoubtedly be Frenkie de Jong who still quite hasn’t set the season on fire, but has shown promising signs. The duo will be crucial to cut off the likes of Boli and Nguen from the midfield.
Since playing wide is the way to go, the fullbacks will be crucial to extract maximum productivity of the wings. Given the dire shortage of options, one would expect Sergi Roberto and Sergino Dest to hold onto their starting roles. Dest put up a particularly impressive display on Saturday despite being played out of position. He will certainly get a deserved start at left-back once again, this time in the Champions League.
Tomorrow might be the best time to rest Messi and Pique. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
Much like Lionel Messi, this might be the best time for Koeman to give Gerard Pique some breathing space. With a congested schedule ahead, Araujo could replace him in the line-up alongside Clement Lenglet. The Uruguayan has proved to be reliable, and could well get Koeman’s nod to start. In between the sticks, Neto continues to impress with every passing game and will be looking forward to his first Champions League start of the season.
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.