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Three talking points ahead of Valencia vs Barcelona



Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images

Respite is a word inexistent in Barcelona’s dictionary. A hard-fought game against Napoli on Thursday saw them share the spoils ahead of next week’s second-leg scheduled in Naples.

Sandwiched in between the two games is an equally daunting challenge against Valencia. The last time the Blaugranas visited Mestalla, an enthralling game followed. Despite being comfortably in the lead, Barcelona conceded in the 83rd minute to set up a nerve-wracking finish.

Valencia have historically been one of Spain’s elite teams. A few years ago, the thought of them not being in the running for a Champions League spot was unfathomable. Since then, the club have been in freefall.

This season, Jose Bordalas’ team have been far from their best. Out of 24 La Liga games, they have won just seven.

The clash at Mestalla is crucial to Barcelona’s pursuit of a UCL spot. With Atletico Madrid dropping points to Levante, the Catalans have a chance to maintain pressure on them, with a game in hand.

1. To rotate, or not to rotate? That is the question

Two schools of thought clash when it comes to the game against Valencia. While some feel that giving the same lineup continuity will help improve the team chemistry for the second leg, others feel that resting the star players is the way to go forward. Both ideologies have their merits and drawbacks.

Xavi tried out the midfield trio of Pedri, Frenkie de Jong, and Nico Gonzalez for the first time on Thursday. The trio did a commendable job to control the game but were often left clueless when defending.

Will FdJ start again? (Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images)

Giving the three youngsters another chance to combine before the all-important second leg would undoubtedly improve their coordination for the game at Naples if Xavi is to duplicate the same XI.

At the same time, keeping Busquets on the bench for three straight games would be inexplicable. The most natural approach for Xavi would be to replace Nico with the veteran midfielder against Valencia.

Similar questions extend to other departments. Should Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang get another start? Adama Traore or Ousmane Dembele? Should Mingueza be given continuity or a chance offered to Sergino Dest?

2. The defensive conundrum

Yet again this season, Barcelona face an acute shortage of options in defence. For varied reasons, Xavi has very few players at his disposal for the game on Sunday.

Clement Lenglet and Samuel Umtiti’s injuries have sidelined them for a few months each, trimming the central defenders at hand to just the four.

Ronald Araujo suffered an injury at the weekend clash against Espanyol and even missed the first leg against Napoli. Though the player is said to be close to a return, according to Xavi, he might not want to directly slot him in the starting lineup. To add salt to the wound, Gerard Pique’s red card against Espanyol has him ruled out of the game at Mestalla.

No Araujo spells trouble. (Photo by JOSEP LAGO/AFP via Getty Images)

Right now, Eric Garcia and Oscar Mingueza are the only available centre-backs for the game against Valencia. The former just returned from injury last week in a shaky display at the derby. Mingueza, on the other hand, started his first game in months on Thursday.

Deploying the duo together on Sunday is far from ideal for Xavi, but the lack of an option could force him to do so.

A similar situation unfolds at right-back. Dani Alves’ sending off against Atletico Madrid translated into a two-game suspension. As a result, the Brazilian will not be available for the Catalans’ fixture against Valencia. With Mingueza likely to play as a centre-back, Sergino Dest will be Xavi’s only option at right-back.

Alternatively, the manager could have some B team players such as Mika Marmol. It would not be surprising to see Xavi with a few tricks up his sleeve when it comes to the personnel.

3. A strong response from Ferran Torres?

Ferran Torres immediately broke into tears at full-time vs Napoli. It had not been an easy game for him despite scoring Barcelona’s only goal of the night.

The Spanish winger had a whopping eight shots, of which he managed to get only one on the target. Close to three clear scoring chances were skied by Torres, ultimately leading to a draw at Camp Nou.

Will Torres come out of this stronger? (Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images)

After the game, Xavi encouraged his player by saying that even legends like Luis Suarez struggled in their initial months at the club. He said that the Barcelona shirt came with an added weight that was difficult to carry.

From Torres’ first few games under Xavi, there is very little doubt over his abilities. Well-timed runs, coupled with his confidence on the ball, make him the perfect profile for Barcelona. Needless to say, there will be a flame burning in him to prove his worth. What better game for that than when facing his previous club.

As he returns to familiar turf in Mestalla, Torres will be motivated beyond words to shine bright. Not only would it be a statement to the Barcelona faithful over what is to come but also a reminder to Los murcielagos of what a spectacular player their graduate has become.

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