Having suffered two defeats on the trot, Barcelona desperately needs positive results. The clash against Osasuna is critical given the league standings, for the Catalans already languish in the eighth position.
Another slip-up at this stage in the season would push them further down into the bottom half of the table. Moreover, it would be a big blow to the mental state of the players.
A win in Pamplona is critical on Sunday. However, the challenges heading into the clash cannot be overlooked. The Blaugranas will have to overcome several hurdles to take away all three points on the night in what is expected to be an end-to-end game.
Ahead of the game, there are a few things to keep in mind for fans and neutrals alike. Barça Universal brings forth three talking points for Osasuna vs Barcelona.
1. A low scoring encounter
Barcelona’s problems in the forward department this season are well documented. In Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann’s absence, Ansu Fati and Memphis Depay were expected to step up and deliver for the Catalans this season. However, the former has struggled with injuries since his return two months ago.
Memphis, who has been the club’s primary source of goals, picked up an injury after the game vs Bayern Munich. His non-availability means that Luuk de Jong will likely spearhead the Barcelona attack alongside Ousmane Dembele and Ez Abde.
The relatively blunt trio in attack could prove to be a liability for the team, especially given the opposition they face.
Osasuna have been known to defend in a notoriously tight five-man defensive line. The compact back-line will pose problems for Barcelona and put pressure on the midfield to deliver.
Moreover, the Pamplona based side have not been in the best goal-scoring form themselves. Osasuna have only scored 15 goals in 16 games so far, with only one goal in their last six league outings. It will be a game between two sides that struggle to finish, where the one to miss fewer chances will turn victorious.
2. Make or break game for many players
The fallout against Bayern Munich did not make Xavi happy, as it shouldn’t. The manager is said to have expressed his anger in the dressing room, more at some players who lacked the character and spirit on the field.
At this point, only the likes of Nico, Pedri, Gavi and Ansu Fati are considered untransferable. The rapidly approaching winter market could be the end of the Barcelona chapter for many of the players in the team. Sunday’s game comes as one of the last chances for these players to prove their worth.
Oscar Mingueza, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Sergino Dest are just some of the players under heavy pressure to deliver. The three players made several individual errors on the night that cumulatively led to the humiliating result. Moreover, players like Clement Lenglet and Yusuf Demir too will be under the radar, for they still have to prove their mettle to Xavi.
3. Onus to innovate on Xavi
The one constant between Xavi Hernandez’s first few games at the club has been change. Every game has seen a different tactical approach based on the opposition. Be it Eric Garcia’s man-marking duty against Villarreal or Ousmane Dembele’s starting position against Bayern Munich, the manager has tried to craft his formula based on the opposition.
That will not come easy against Osasuna. Jagoba Arrasate’s side are known to defend deep, especially against top-tier opposition. The strategy to choke the rivals attack in the final third and try their luck on the counter has worked well for Osasuna.
The 11th placed side held league leaders Real Madrid to a draw just over a month ago. Despite Karim Benzema and Vinicius Jr’s most desperate attempts, the Osasuna wall was impenetrable.
Last month, they faced Atletico Madrid, where the only goal they conceded was off a set-piece. Felipe got the goal on the night, but Osasuna recorded more shots on target than Los Rojiblancos.
Xavi will have to devise a plan to play through the reliable and solid back-line of the Pamplona based side. However, that will not be easy for the manager.
He will not have the services of his versatile forwards like Memphis Depay or Ansu Fati. The profiles of players available do not suit the idea of using one-touch football to get around the defence. Will Xavi stick to his guns or try out a new formula? It remains to be seen.