Three talking points ahead of Barcelona vs Valencia
Barcelona play their 24th La Liga game of the season in an early kickoff on Sunday night at Spotify Camp Nou. Still hungover of their valiant win at Santiago Bernabeu, the Catalans will look to regain their dominance on the domestic front and take all three points.
Their opponents on the night, Valencia, are in a sorry state of affairs. A couple of seasons ago, a clash between Barcelona and the Mestalla-based side would attract headlines across Spain. However, Ruben Baraja’s side have fallen prey to mismanagement and now find themselves in the relegation battle.
23 games into the season, Valencia are placed 19th in La Liga with just six wins and 12 losses. The Catalans ironically lost to the ninteenth-placed team in their last league clash and will look to overcome the curse on Sunday.
Barça Universal brings you three talking points ahead of Barcelona vs Valencia.
1. Damage control
Barcelona’s defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford seemed to suck the team’s momentum right out of them. The Catalans were visibly devastated after their second European elimination of the season and its effect was visible in the succeeding game.
Playing against nineteenth-placed Almeria, Barcelona dropped three points at Estadio del Mediterraneo offering little fight. There was a visible drop in quality across the field, and Xavi’s rotations backfired in the worst possible way.
On the night, Barcelona had the chance to extend their lead over Real Madrid to ten points.
A gap of that size would appear unscaleable and might have been the final cog in the race for La Liga purely from a psychological standpoint. Yet, at the end of Matchday 23, the Catalans ended up forfeiting one point from their lead at the top.
The ball is still completely in Barcelona’s court, and the title is theirs unless they continue their slip-ups in La Liga. Heading into their first league game since the defeat last weekend, the leaders must aim to recoup their winning run.
The win at Santiago Bernabeu provides the right impetus and mental fortitude ahead of the clash against relegation-threatened Valencia. A win at the Camp Nou on Sunday could be crucial, especially given that Real Madrid travel away to face Real Betis at the Benito Villamarin.
2. More forced changes
The absentee list from Barcelona’s end only extends for their weekend clash against Valencia. The Catalans will not only be without the injured Pedri, Ousmane Dembele and Robert Lewandowski but also Gavi and Xavi Hernandez.
Gavi’s booking last weekend forces him to miss the game through suspension. With the manager missing the proceedings for the same reason, the pressure of managing the situation will likely fall on Xavi’s brother, Oscar Hernandez.
Barcelona’s suspended 18-year-old Spaniard may have established his name as a midfielder over the past year. However, he has come to use as Xavi’s most potent force on the left wing in recent games as part of the four-midfielder strategy.
Thus, the mannerism adopted to cope with his absence on the night will be crucial.
Both Raphinha and Ferran Torres are guaranteed starting spots against Valencia, and the third place in attack could be assumed by either Ansu Fati or Sergi Roberto.
The latter replaced Gavi against Manchester United in the second leg of the UEFA Europa League tie last month. Given the result that followed at Old Trafford, one could expect Ansu Fati to get the start in attack with Barcelona shifting back to a traditional 4-3-3 with three midfielders.
3. Ansu Fati’s chance
Times have been rough for Ansu Fati. The La Masia protege was Barcelona’s most loved players at one point in time, but the same can no longer be said about his situation.
The youngster has struggled for form since his complete recovery from injury, and just cannot catch a break with bad luck.
Vs Real Madrid, he blocked Franck Kessie’s goal-bound shot after coming on as a substitute, rubbing salt on the wounds already tormenting him.
Barcelona and Xavi have complete faith in the player. Perhaps, it is just one special night that the young forward needs to overcome his mental block, and Sunday’s clash presents him with a chance to live his dream.
With Robert Lewandowski, Gavi, Dembele and Pedri out, a start for Fati seems written in the stars. He would likely play as the centre-forward with Raphinha and Ferran Torres to his left and right respectively with the spotlight shining brightly on him.
Barcelona’s injured Polish striker and midfield maestro are both expected to return for next weekend’s clash. It is thus safe to say that tomorrow could well be Fati’s last chance to prove himself as a striker. The only question is- can he capitalise?