It’s no secret that Griezmann hasn’t had the best of starts to his Barcelona career. Despite scoring the opening goal for the Catalans on multiple occasions and having a reasonable G+A tally, he hasn’t been able to live up to the expectations that came as a suitcase with his 120M transfer fee. Under these circumstances, looking at the positive impact Braithwaite has produced in his few starts, there is a question popping up in the mind of many Culès: ‘Should Braithwaite be given a spot in the starting XI ahead of Antoine Griezmann?’
Over the last few years, the name of FC Barcelona has become increasingly associated with poor transfer decisions. It is not just about the enormous transfer fees involved, but also about how badly things ended between the negotiating parties in these transfer sagas. The fact that none of the last three 100M+ signings really kicked off does not make things any better.
But something above all these controversial transfers was the dubious case of Braithwaite, who was brought in as a replacement for the injured Ousmane Dembele. He was brought in from Leganes, a relegation plagued club that wasn’t even offered a chance to replace him in turn after he sealed his move to the Camp Nou.
He was initially expected to be an option on the bench for Setién, someone to rely upon when situations demand the main players being rested.
Now there is no doubt that Antoine Griezmann is a magnificent player. He has proved himself time and time again for both Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid and the world cup winning French national team. But it is conspicuous that he has not found his niche on the pitch for the Blaugrana. Both Valverde and Setién have tried him out in a plethora of roles, but he has not been able to perfectly click in any of them.
It would be harsh to say that he has been a failure. There is no doubt that he has been the difference in many games, including scoring the all-important away goal against Napoli in the knockout phase of the UCL. However, he has been seen wandering aimlessly on the pitch an innumerable number of times, actually looking quite clueless as to what his role is.
He has undoubtedly been a standout performer on the defensive side of the game, his rigorous years of playing under Cholo paying dividends now. But that is not the role he was brought in for.
Next to Griezmann, we have the Danishman, Martin Braithwaite who is still relatively new to the squad. His work rate is commendable and dedication unquestionable. He made his debut against Eibar, where he created the chance for Messi’s goal, and almost scored a couple of his own, all in just 18 minutes.
Since then he has had a positive impact on a couple of games, linking up well with most of the players and overall, looking quite comfortable in the system.
The flaw with Barcelona’s gameplay in the last few seasons has been the lack of width in the attacking third. With Messi tending to drift centrally, there is already a lack of a true winger on the right. This absolutely necessitates the need for a true winger on the left-wing. Griezmann, because he is not naturally a winger, tends to drift centrally, essentially causing a central overload with no attacking movement out wide. This makes it easier for the opposing defenses to effectively lock the forward progression of the ball.
Braithwaite provides more width than most other players in the squad, giving him a slight edge over his compatriots. His off the ball movement is remarkable, and the timing of his runs is at times impeccable. And when it comes to finishing, he has shown to be more fearless in challenging the goalkeeper with his rock-solid shots.
It might be too early to decide if he is worthy of a starting role in the front 3, but he surely seems to have caught the coach’s eye, with Setién opting to start him ahead of others in the all-important match against Sevilla. Given that Messi and Suarez will probably be given the automatic nod to start any important clash, it certainly does appear prima facie that Braithwaite might get preference over Griezmann if the latter does not find his spark soon.
It will take a few more games to gauge the success of Braithwaite in this team. The sample size available for analysis is very slender now. But the value of a player’s transfer fee should not be the only reason he is given preference in the starting XI. The performance takes the upper edge over price, always.
Should Barcelona trust Oscar Mingueza more often?
Barcelona are going through their worst period ever. The Catalan giants have suffered from an institutional crisis, an injury crisis, an economic crisis and a lack of tactical awareness. For a club that was on top of Europe a decade ago, the shift in mood is gloomy, to say the least.
However, even during times of grief, there is always some light. There are no never-ending tunnels, and often, crisis leads to solutions. Some solutions are more radical, while others show their faces step by step.
To answer Barcelona’s injury problems, one that surrounded Gerard Piqué, Samuel Umtiti and Ronald Araujo, one man came to Barcelona’s rescue. The absentees forced Ronald Koeman’s hand in giving Oscar Mingueza his well-deserved Barcelona debut against Dynamo Kyiv.
The defender is a tall 21-year-old who has been through every La Masia team. Ever since he turned 7, the Spaniard has been waiting for his chance, and Piqué’s horrible injury propelled him into getting his long-awaited opportunity. Away in Ukraine, the youngster showed a lot of promise. Vocal, superb with his feet and calm with his head, Mingueza was one of the best Blaugrana players on the pitch.
As captain of Barcelona B, Oscar Mingueza is one of the most experienced CBs in the youth sides. (Photo via Imago)
The situation was precarious for Barça at first. They went in with a makeshift defence and dominated the encounter. The same defence proceeded to frustrate the Ukrainians.
In truth, the La Masia graduate showed much more than just a promise, he showed a lot of character. Mingueza looked like a natural, as Jordi Alba said; like a player in his prime rather than a rookie.
Now, after catching everyone’s eyes, the debutant has to continue to mirror that display in order to become a mainstay. His display on Tuesday has given a lot of hope to Culés and could be the answer to many questions. He could become a reliable backup or, if he still shows this level of performance, become a regular. It is up to him to show if he is up for the fight.
Usually for Barcelona, when things go South, they are uncontrollable. The recent displays, along with the accumulations of injuries, have shown that when it rains, it pours at Camp Nou.
When Leo Messi goes down injured, for example, the Catalans look worried and anxious because they have no replacement. Having a big squad sometimes does not mean having a complete squad. Every team needs to know where they are headed and who will play in case of a watershed during the season. However, the giants finally have a complete squad.
Ronald Koeman left out Frenkie de Jong and Messi against Kyiv, and the Blaugranas were able to take control of the situation in their absence. The Dutch midfielder is also the usual suspect when a defender goes down injured. On Tuesday, Koeman might have discovered an alternative to de Jong at centre-back.
Indeed, Mingueza is not the finished product. He needs time to grow and cannot play every game like a veteran. He has to be embedded intelligently in the squad.
Nonetheless, in desperate times, the ball-playing centre-back looks like a great alternative. His attitude showed many signs of ripeness, and he can at least help when his club needs him. As a La Masia graduate, Mingueza will fit right in.
Also, as a youth player, the defender costs next to nothing compared to Umtiti’s salary, for example. Having a cheap alternative which has been waiting for this chance since he was a kid is the way to go. If Barcelona want to go back to their roots, they have to trust Mingueza.
📰 — Mingueza played a very good game vs Kyiv, and his great performance could earn him a starting spot alongside Lenglet against Osasuna on Sunday. [md] pic.twitter.com/bZHhWeLFiw— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) November 25, 2020
Finally, it is worth noting that this was one game, and so the sample size is incredibly tiny. That said, no one starts with a dominating display against Atletico Madrid right off the bat.
Would the 21-year-old have had a Man of the Match performance on Saturday if Piqué was not a starter? Is it plausible to have blind faith in a youngster after one impressive display? Surely not.
After making his debut a memorable one, Oscar Mingueza needs to come in strong against the bigger guns and help Barcelona fill in for Pique, whose void is a behemoth. He can achieve it and have a bright future at Camp Nou if he keeps his feet on the ground. It all starts with another superb performance against Osasuna this weekend.