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Navigating the Christensen shaped hole for Barcelona vs PSG second leg

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Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP via Getty Images

Barcelona’s performance in the first leg against Paris Saint-Germain earlier this week was close to perfect.

The team were well-organised in defence and kept Kylian Mbappe largely quiet on the night, while the forwards did their job at the other end of the field to earn a one-goal lead.

Everything will be decided in the game at Estadi Olimpic de Lluis Companys next week, and it is clear that the slight advantage lies with Xavi’s men. After all, they will have both the aggregate lead and the home advantage on the night.

The one slight problem from the game at Parc des Princes, however, was the suspension of two key stars for the second leg – Sergi Roberto and Andreas Christensen.

Both players have been vital in the team’s turnaround in recent weeks, with the former playing in a double pivot – and successfully so, while the latter has done exceedingly well as a holding midfielder.

Xavi has numerous options to cover in the attacking midfield against PSG, but the pivot role generates doubts within the club. After all, it has been Barcelona’s Achilles Heel ever since Sergio Busquets bid adieu.

A viable solution

The offices in Catalonia are understandably vexed over the defensive midfield position heading into the decisive second leg against PSG.

After all, Roberto, who could have served as an able stand-in for Christensen, is also unavailable on the night through suspension.

Xavi’s most viable solution to his dilemma lies in his own management of resources in the first leg.

The Catalans started the game with Sergi Roberto and Frenkie de Jong deployed as a makeshift double pivot. When the captain was hooked off at the hour mark, Pedri took his place in midfield and served the same role.

If the manager hopes to start a de Jong, Pedri, Gundogan trio in midfield tomorrow, deploying the former duo as a double pivot could well be his best bet to bring stability to the game.

De Jong and Pedri got a job on their hands. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

The Dutchman is no stranger to playing as a double pivot, for that has largely been his role this season in midfield. His stability on the break and distribution between the lines will help Barcelona orchestrate their play from deep.

Pedri, meanwhile, showed how he does not need to be in the final third to influence the game during the first leg. While primarily playing as part of the pivot on the defensive, he will undoubtedly be the one to push forward in attack.

Plan B: Gundogan

If Xavi chooses not to go down the Pedri-FdJ route, presumably owing to the lack of experience in that role, his crisis will grow substantially. Even in such a scenario, it appears that the Spanish tactician will have the situation under control.

Oriol Romeu is clearly not an option to start a game of such intensity, leaving Xavi with the German ‘swiss-knife’ as his saviour. Not enough is spoken about Gundogan’s versatility, and the pivot position is just one amongst the innumerable niches he can operate in.

If Gundogan and de Jong start as a double-pivot, Pedri can take up the responsibility as the attacking midfielder.

Fermin Lopez is also an option in case Pedri is not fit enough to start. Needless to say, his inclusion will also bring a lot to the team’s pressure on the ball.

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