With the next Champions League match knocking on the door, Barcelona prepares for a vital clash in the fierce battle for the one remaining spot to advance through the group stages from the group of death.
Following a frustrating 1-0 loss in Milano last week, Xavi’s team is ready to face Internazionale on home soil, which can hopefully give an extra boost in our tough task to come out victorious and not let our fate slip out of our hands.
Barca News Network presents you 4 key points to talk about ahead of the all-deciding encounter against Inter Milan for survival in the Champions League for the spring season.
1. A more than difficult situation
Before taking any steps further, let’s analyze our situation from a fully objective point of view, and let’s see the facts. Currently, Barcelona find themselves in the 3rd position in the group, with just 3 points claimed so far, from the obviously easiest game against Viktoria Plzeň. In addition, we sadly lost to Bayern München in the Allianz Arena, despite producing a decent performance.
After losing to Inter by 1-0 a week ago, the speculations and calculations started so that in which scenario can we still get through the group stage. With a 100% success rate, Bayern comfortably leads the group, and with a very likely second victory over Plzeň, they will already extend their lead to 12 points, which means they have practically secured first place in Group C.
Inter, though, are sitting 2nd in the group with 6 points, that one victory away from us. Just like the Blaugrana, they also suffered a defeat from Bayern while beating Plzeň comfortably, so an eventual beating from the hosts tomorrow could tie the results again. But what is worth mentioning is that if the two actually conclude the group with an equal amount of points, it will be the head-to-head performance to decide the winner.
Thus, not only that the win is the only acceptable outcome of tomorrow’s game, but it also provides the chance to overtake Inter with a head-to-head goal difference. If we fail to win the game, it could practically end our hopes of continuing in the Champions League, and although we will still have a mathematical chance to survive, the control over our fate could be slipped out of our hands.
2. Take the risk
Consequently to the complicated situation – explicated above – and the urge to win, teams are usually more concessive and open to make – sometimes risky – changes while chasing the result in a very limited time. The state of being inferior and unfavorite to win increases the number of risks a certain team make, which increases the possibility of them prevailing in some situations, while it also increases the possibility of them failing in certain aspects.
In the previous game, Xavi opted to use a different setup, which proved to be ineffective. At the back, we had too many players with Sergi Roberto staying deep as the 3rd center-back, and it provided too much cover at the back while his presence was needed higher up the pitch. This over-insurance at the back caused fewer numbers upfront, which made our attacking play sterile and predictable.
The solution could be changing to a more attacking formation with the right personnel, which offers more productive options in the attacking phase, but might be more vulnerable in the counter. This is a choice Xavi should make, but knowing that we are the ones to push in this situation, I wouldn’t be surprised if we will see such a thing materialize.
3. Uncertainties in the defense
Unfortunately, our woes at the back did not get any better as Christensen, Araújo, and Koundé are still out. Replacing them with adequate players will be a difficult task for the coach to do, but this choice is something that could essentially affect the team’s approach and effectiveness going into the game.
One option could be the established pair of Eric García and Gerard Piqué in the heart of the defense, which is most likely to happen. Another idea could be the inclusion of Marcos Alonso who played such a role against Celta on the weekend, with no significant impact. Frenkie de Jong is a third option to fill this role, and I honestly would like to see that, even if just for a shorter sequence in the second half, but his ability to carry the ball into more dangerous areas can break defensive lines of Inter, and thus, create chances.
4. The importance of correct profiles
As we already discussed before, last week Xavi’s team had some visible misfits between the individual strengths and the assigned roles inside the Blaugrana machine. And, unfortunately, when one cog does not function as it should be, it inevitably affects the ones around him, due to the complexity and interdependence of the system. In simpler words, if one piece fails to execute its task, it could spoil the entire system around.
It was visible in the inadequate usage of profiles and the structure itself in the game versus Inter. For example, it is a consensus that Dembélé had a horrible game, though, it shouldn’t be forgotten that he had to constantly face double marking due to the lack of support to divide the attention of the defenders and create a passing outlet. It is just one example that how mistakes – even individuals, even the ones originating from the deficiencies of the used structure – can spoil another’s functioning and thus, initiate a chain reaction that makes the whole system fail.
Thus, it will be important for Xavi to choose the correct profiles in the correct system. It’s expected that we will play with attacking fullbacks, interiors back in their preferred position, and wingers in the wide creator role. So, it will be important to choose the right players fitting into the coach’s ideas, which could see us using some surprising solutions anyway.
That said, we could see some unusual players fill certain roles, like the fullback duo of either Jordi Alba or Marcos Alonso alongside Alex Baldé, as we could see against Celta over the weekend. Frenkie de Jong could get his first start since his injury during the international break, either in the midfield or even in the defense. In the front line, Ansu Fati can also earn a start against Inter, while Dembélé and Raphinha will fight for the preferred right winger role, and start according to Xavi’s plan.
It’s a final. A game that will decide – most probably – the one who will advance through the knockouts. Inter or Barça. Do or die. Hopefully, taking into account the aforementioned points, Xavi will be able to make the right choices as well as the players will be able to live up to the expectations and match the importance of the challenge. Hopefully, tomorrow will see us as the leaders in this two-horse race, and after the final whistle, we will have the purpose to celebrate. Visca Barça