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Selection dilemma: Who should start on Barcelona’s left wing ahead of the Champions League clash against PSG?

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Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images

Barcelona’s hopes of making something of this season were restored after the Catalans secured a win over Napoli in the UEFA Champions League second leg.

For a team that thrives on confidence and relishes rhythm, the timing of that win could not be better, as Barcelona can face the remaining trials of the season with renewed ambitions.

However, Barça’s mettle will be tested against PSG, whom they will face in the Champions League quarterfinals as early as next week.

With so much at stake, Xavi will be compelled to formulate his most trusted starting XI, and apart from a few doubts because certain players might return from injury, the biggest dilemma for the coach will be identifying who to start on the left wing.

In this piece, we dissect the strengths and flaws of the three left-wing options Xavi will likely consider for the clash.

Ferran Torres

ferran torres
(Photo by Fran Santiago/Getty Images)

The 24-year-old forward made his long-awaited return against Las Palmas recently, having spent a couple of months recovering from an injury.

Ferran’s return signals great relief, considering how useful he has been throughout the ongoing campaign.

He has chimed in with important contributions in all areas of the front line, making himself useful as a right-winger, striker, and left-winger.

Despite not being a regular starter for Xavi, Ferran has notched 14 goals and assists in total, even scoring a hat-trick for the Catalan giants this campaign.

If Xavi forces him to play on the left wing against PSG, Barcelona will take solace in knowing they have a proven and reliable goalscorer who can do tremendous damage with his off-ball movements.

Ferran’s ability to operate as a secondary striker besides Robert Lewandowski can provide Barcelona with directness and a goal threat against a leaky PSG defense.

In fact, in the game he scored his hat-trick against Betis, he was fielded on the left flank, showcasing his goal instincts in that position.

However, doubts emerge regarding his fitness as well as his lack of defensive cover.

The former Manchester City man has not started a game since returning from injury, indicating he needs more time to shake off the rust.

Moreover, although Ferran is regarded as an excellent presser, Barcelona will need extra support defending against Ousmane Dembele, especially with Joao Cancelo not always best equipped to deal with pacy wingers.

As such, in a game of monumental stature, Barça would be taking a huge gamble by starting the Spaniard this soon after his return.

Instead, his involvement off the bench would be more suitable since Ferran is known to make a significant impact in late cameos.

Joao Felix

joao felix
(Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images)

As much as his inconsistency continues to infuriate onlookers, few can match Joao Felix’s poise on song.

The Portuguese winger started the season in flying colors but was gradually demoted in the pecking order due to difficulties maintaining his focus.

However, recently, he appears to be picking up some steam. In his last two games for the Catalan giants, he has scored a goal and assisted.

Against Las Palmas, he came off the bench and produced a gorgeous lobbed pass for Raphinha’s goal.

Felix’s creativity could thus prove to be majorly beneficial against PSG, which tends to press high and leave vulnerabilities in its backline.

Additionally, the Portuguese has proven to be no slouch with his performances in big games.

Indeed, the winger has recorded goal contributions against Atletico Madrid twice, Valencia, FC Porto, Athletic Club, and Real Betis.

Even so, trusting a player who tends to perform in patches is certainly committing to a bold leap.

Felix’s finishing can also often leave much to be desired. Lapses of concentration in the final third have been a recurring theme over the course of the season.

In fact, this was strongly exemplified against Las Palmas, as he arguably missed the best chance of the game by rattling the woodwork from point-blank distance.

Lastly, his laziness off the ball and lack of awareness when pressing are huge detriments for Xavi, given that Barcelona would aim to win the ball back high up the pitch.

His attitude without the ball was one of the prime reasons Xavi began favoring Ferran Torres over him before the Spaniard got injured.

Therefore, Barça would be better off bringing on the 23-year-old as a substitute when the game is more open.

Raphinha

raphinha
(Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

The Brazilian forward has the least experience on the left wing out of the players mentioned.

However, considering his notable performance since taking up this position and his versatile skill set, Barcelona can reap the greatest rewards by maintaining their trust in Raphinha.

His recent performances confirm that the 27-year-old has hit a rich vein of form since being entrusted with the left-wing position.

Raphinha has two assists and a goal in his last three games, with the potential for far greater rewards had his teammates been more clinical or he himself had not squandered clear scoring opportunities.

Apart from the statistics, though, Raphinha is worth his weight in goal primarily because of his relentless nature to track back, make recoveries, and constantly execute runs in behind the opposition defense.

In the second leg against Napoli, the South American forward frequently aided Cancelo in defense, which would be equally vital defending against Ousmane Dembele, one of Europe’s most prolific wingers.

Furthermore, his proclivity for making piercing runs by curving behind the opposing full-back and attacking vacant spaces would allow Barcelona’s creators to make him a runner.

These runs were a staple of his game last season, and against Las Palmas, he made a terrific run, eliminating the opposition’s last line of defense to score the winner.

Achraf Hakimi may often get the better of the former Leeds man in ground duels, but containing his tricky off-ball movements will be challenging and something no other Barcelona winger will provide.

Another important aspect is Raphinha’s stellar creativity. He is not just one of Barcelona’s most creative players but also stands out in Europe.

Indeed, Raphinha is only surpassed by Jack Grealish and Ousmane Dembele when the metrics of key passes and shot-creating actions per ninety are taken into account.

Consequently, employing Raphinha as the left-winger against PSG would ideally be the smartest move for Xavi, with the winger building regularity and best suited to combat the opposition at hand.

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