La Liga leaders Barcelona return to action on Saturday, fresh from their exploits against Real Sociedad. Having secured a semi-final spot in the Copa del Rey, the Blaugrana will be eager to continue their good run in the league.
The road is still not free of hurdles for Xavi Hernandez, who must continue to employ tactical traps to compensate for the unavailability of key players. Yet, he does have a large set of positives to help push his team’s campaign.
Against Girona, Barcelona will look to kill the game off at an early stage after failing to do so in their last two encounters. Narrow 1-0 wins do not do justice to the quality of the squad, and the manager will look to correct that aspect.
Barça Universal brings you three talking points ahead of Barcelona’s clash against Getafe on Matchday 19 of La Liga.
1. The ideal chance to rotate
The hectic schedule shows no signs of slowing down for Barcelona. With a World Cup nestled in between the season, the time constraint forces the team to play two games almost every week.
It thus becomes more vital than ever for Xavi to strategically plan his rotations. With all respect to Girona, tomorrow’s clash may be the best time for the manager to rest his stars before playing a host of superior teams.
After their game on Saturday, the Catalans play Real Betis, Sevilla, and Villarreal in consecutive games. Two of those encounters are away from Spotify Camp Nou, at Benito Villamarin and Estadio de la Ceramica respectively.
After that, they go head to head against Erik Ten Hag’s Manchester United twice in a span of two weeks. Clearly, there is little chance for any form of rotation.
One can hence expect changes in the starting lineup at Estadi Montilivi tomorrow. While the defensive line is unlikely to be altered, Pedri and Gavi could both start on the bench. Frenkie de Jong and Franck Kessie would likely take over duties in midfield.
In the final third too, Raphinha may start on the left wing, but not many changes are expected owing to the lack of players.
2. One last game with a crippled attack
Two silly red cards have cost Barcelona and Xavi Hernandez a mountain load of pressure in the past few weeks.
Robert Lewandowski had himself sent off in the Catalans’ last league game before the international break and is still serving his league ban. Tomorrow will be the last game on his suspension, and he will be available against Real Betis.
A similar situation stands with Ferran Torres. The Spanish winger was sent off for an immature fight in the middle of the field against Atletico Madrid’s Stefan Savic and was sanctioned for two games. Similar to the Pole, tomorrow will be the last game on his suspension.
Xavi must thus make accommodations in the final third for one more match and steer his team through the situation. There is seemingly only one solution – a forward line of Ousmane Dembele, Raphinha, and Ansu Fati as the striker.
The game against Girona will be a massive chance for both the Brazilian and the Spaniard who are yet to impress regularly under Xavi. Fati, in particular, has wasted his last two starts in La Liga and must come up trumps on Saturday.
3. An opportunity to break away
For all the criticism Xavi has endured this season after his team’s elimination in the UEFA Champions League, his side are performing phenomenally on other fronts.
They currently sit atop the La Liga standings and have a three-point gap over arch-rivals Real Madrid. That lead could well increase on Matchday 19.
Barcelona face a relatively easy opposition on Saturday. Girona sit 11th on the league standings around halfway through the campaign and have 21 points in 18 games. They have won just one of their last seven games and are coming off a fresh loss to Villarreal.
Real Madrid, on the other hand, play third-placed Real Sociedad who gave Barcelona a hard time earlier this week. Needless to say, they will be looking for blood when they meet the men in white and stand a good chance of taking points off the Merengues.
Should Barcelona beat Girona tomorrow and Sociedad come away with a positive result against Real Madrid on Sunday, Xavi’s side could further stretch their lead at the top.