Ten points separate Barcelona and Real Madrid heading into the 23rd match day of La Liga. The Catalans are fourth on the table, but with fifth-placed Athletic Club just five points away, their place in next season’s UEFA Champions League is now coming under threat.
Amidst news of manager Xavi Hernandez’s exit and the team’s poor run of form, three points are now worth their weight in gold. As Barça gear up to take on Deportivo Alaves tomorrow , the focus will thus be on securing a win and possibly maintaining a second consecutive clean sheet.
The Catalans are neck-deep in injury crisis in the forward department, continue to have an imbalanced midfield and are only dragged further down by an under-pressure Inaki Pena. Can the men in garnet-and-blue strike back and provide their manager with breathing space?
Barça Universal brings you three talking points ahead of Deportivo Alaves vs Barcelona.
A question of systems
When Ferran Torres walked off the field injured in Barcelona’s recent clash against Osasuna, the depth of the team’s crisis in attack hit the manager and fans alike.
The Catalans boasted of a rich arsenal of resources in attack heading into the new season. Form aside, the pure weight of names on the list boasted serious quality.
Now, suddenly, Xavi finds himself without Raphinha, Joao Felix and Ferran Torres in attack. The acute shortage of wingers heading into tomorrow’s clash could prompt a change in system, just as the manager shuffled his cards in the last game.
Pressed to find a substitute for Torres, Xavi called on young Fermin Lopez to come off the bench and take over the role on the wing. The change, however, was not only in personnel but also in formation as Barcelona reverted to a four-man midfield setup.
The youngster, just as Gavi has on numerous occasions, played as a false winger, dropping back in defence and pushing in between the lines when in possession. His ability to create spaces and make runs behind the defence boosted Barcelona’s attacking output and visibly improved the team’s performance.
Xavi could thus opt to start Fermin against Alaves come Saturday, once again opting for a four-man midfield setup. Else, will he continue with his existing traditional 4-3-3 setup? Only time will tell.
Yamal needs rest
The long injury list in the forward department leaves Xavi with very few options down the flanks heading into tomorrow’s clash. After all, Barcelona only have three fit attackers ahead of Alaves’ visit.
With both Robert Lewandowski and Vitor Roque being bonafide strikers, it is almost a no-brainer that Lamine Yamal will start against Luis Garcia’s side. That, however, is a problem for the club in many ways.
Xavi has been praised all season for his judicious use of Yamal across all competitions. Pedri and Gavi’s chronic injuries after a burst into the top level taught the club to utilise young talents judiciously, and they did not wish to repeat the same with Yamal.
The team’s poor results, however, prompted Xavi to award Yamal back-to-back starts in January. He started the game against Real Betis where he dished out an absolute clinic and dominated across the 90 minutes.
His stellar performance translated into starts against Athletic Club, Villarreal and Osasuna, accumulating 375 minutes in just four appearances.
After four hectic games in just over ten days, resting Yamal would be the ideal option. However, the manager does have his hands tied in a way and is under pressure. It thus remains to be seen if Xavi opts to play his cards against Alaves, especially his trump card named Yamal.
Roque from the start?
The one solution to the problem discussed above is to award Vitor Roque his first start and line up without a winger come Saturday. The credibility of the system, however, remains to be seen.
One of, and perhaps Xavi’s best option, is to field a lineup with two strikers. They would be backed up by four midfielders including Fermin Lopez and full-backs who can push forward in attack.
Considering that Lewy’s spot in the lineup is a guarantee, the limiting factor in the aforementioned setup is the manager’s faith in Roque. If reports from earlier today are to be believed, the Brazilian could well have the required support.
The 18-year-old scored the winner for the club coming off the bench against Osasuna and wreaked havoc in the Pamplona-based side’s box with his incisive runs. He is said to be adapting well to the city, the dressing room and the manager’s ideas.
High on confidence, tomorrow could be the ideal time to award his first start in the Blaugrana colours. One can only hope that he rides the momentum train and performs to his ability at Estadio Mendizorroza.