The 2022/23 season was always going to be one for the history books; likely for all wrong reasons, though. With the World Cup schedule in between the club calendar, fans were expecting injuries, fatigue, and inconsistency throughout the campaign.
Barcelona fans got their first taste of the same on the inaugural day of the international break as two of their central defenders went down injured. Coincidentally enough, they are arguably the club’s most important pegs in defence – Jules Kounde and Ronald Araujo.
The former has been ruled out for nearly three weeks, but the news is worse for the latter, who could miss up to two months of action owing to his thigh injury. In fact, there is a chance that the Uruguayan will have to undergo an operation to fix his problem.
In light of the same, Xavi could opt to use two makeshift central defenders to fill the duo’s place – Frenkie de Jong and Marcos Alonso, as reported by Javi Miguel (h/t BarçaTimes).
De Jong has experience playing as a centre-back, playing there under Erik ten Hag at Ajax, Ronald Koeman for the Netherlands and Barcelona, and most recently, under Xavi during Barça’s pre-season.
And while there are some question marks over his defensive astuteness, the Dutchman is an excellent outlet to carry the ball to midfield. And obviously an excellent passer, as well.
Alonso, meanwhile, was lauded by Joan Laporta and Xavi for being a versatile defender who could play in the centre. However, in truth, he has no real experience in that position, barring the few occasions for Chelsea very temporarily. Mostly in between games.
More so, the Spaniard often came into scrutiny by Chelsea fans over his defending – or the lack thereof, while playing as a left-back. His height, though, serves as a solid advantage.
Thankfully, this feels like a last-resort choice, for Xavi does have Eric Garcia, Andreas Christensen, and Gerard Pique in his arsenal of centre-backs.
Kounde and Araujo’s absence for most of October is definitely worrying, either way. Barcelona have trips scheduled to Inter Milan and Real Madrid, and also have to host Bayern Munich, Villarreal, Athletic Club, and Inter.
Javi Miguel has also reported that Kounde will likely return to full fitness ahead of El Clasico, but Araujo will almost definitely not.
The fans and the coaching staff will be hoping for a medical miracle, but rushing either of them could turn out to be a long-term problem.