Xavi’s team aims to start a long, difficult run of October, where we will face the likes of Real Madrid, Inter and Villareal too, with a morale-boosting victory, while the more rested hosts will surely look to frustrate the Catalans and keep point(s) at home.
If we look at the table, we might be surprised that a Mallorca team that barely avoided relegation last season, now occupies the distinguished 10th place on the league table. With a perfectly balanced result line (2 wins, 2 draws, 2 losses), they have claimed 8 points so far which is not something you would have expected based on their performances from last season.
However, it would be unwary to put the Balearians on a pedestal based on the current standings as it may show you a false image of the team. What one could expect from a better team is a proactive, dominant approach, focused on attacking play – which has, statistically, the highest probability to achieve victory – but that isn’t the case with Aguirre’s crew.
Of course, the stats are not all, but it gives a good indicator of what a team can achieve. Their expected goal difference (-4.2 in 6 games) is just around the relegation zone margin. In contrast, the actual -1 difference is decent mid-table, which assumes a heavy overperformance, especially in the attack, which is hardly sustainable in the long term (plus, we have a rather small sample of whom isn’t ideal to draw broad conclusions).
Behind this overperformance lies the individual quality which, though randomly varies in different situations, essentially, is the driving force of a team, especially such one with less detailed, complex play. Despite some slight improvements, their biggest strengths are still the quick counters and set-pieces, and in those limited number of chances they get, it’s important to have players who step up and deliver when really needed, for example, the veteran striker, Vedat Muriqi, who has already scored 3 goals.
Another factor that could misinterpret the numbers are the identity of those few opponents faced. In fact, they had met some strong teams in Real Betis and Real Madrid, both ended with expectable defeats, but besides these, they drew against Athletic Bilbao and Girona while beating Rayo Vallecano and Almería too.
On the other hand, Barcelona had a relatively easy draw so far, and they made (nearly) most of it, winning 5/6 games and claiming 16/18 points possible. Still, this does not mean that beating Mallorca should be a problem for the Catalans, but indeed, they shouldn’t be underestimated because they will be ready to surprise us.
Talking about the Blaugranas, the international break has severely affected the squad as we have lost numerous players due to injury, the most important of them being the duo of Ronald Araújo and Jules Koundé. While the Frenchman’s recovery is reportedly going well and he can be fit for the Clásico, Araújo was operated with his right thigh and is going to miss a few months and his World Cup participation with Uruguay is also doubtful.
But, if one door closes, another opens instead. While all these injuries do affect the dynamics of the team, it opens up the opportunity for others to step up and show themselves. It gives an opportunity for the rotational, fringe players as well as for talented youngsters from the academy, which is always warmly welcomed.
Thus, the defensive lineup is a matter of question, namely the right-back and the center-back positions. Thankfully, we have Eric García and Christensen ready to jump in and replace the absentees in the heart of the defense, not to mention the much-neglected Piqué, who is eager to get some minutes and prove his worth to Xavi.
On the right flank, Sergi Roberto would be the obvious choice as both Koundé and Bellerín are out, but his 100% fitness is doubtful. Thus, as Xavi mentioned in the pre-match interview, we might experiment with a different kind of solution, with the potential inclusion of the young Marc Casadó as the right-back.
The young Spaniard, who is naturally a midfielder, had featured in the first team in our preseason game against Olot, where he, also as a fullback, produced a promising performance that seemingly caught Xavi’s attention. Now, it’s time to continue this great story, and hopefully, he can grab the opportunity and show us what he can do.
Besides, further rotations can be expected, taking into account that we are ahead of a crucial midweek clash against Inter in the Champions League. So, the rested Alonso could get a chance ahead of Alba and Baldé – who have also played on the international stage – similarly to Ansu Fati who hasn’t received a call-up yet to the national team but, finally, seems to be fit to start the game from the get-go.
In the midfield, Franck Kessié could get a chance among the starters, giving crucial minutes of rest for the starter midfield pairing of Pedri and Gavi. Ahead of such a strained calendar, filled with such important games, rotations are essential to keep the players fresh and sharp for the most important moments, and which game if not this one would be ideal to do so?
Hopefully, it will help the Blaugranas break the curse of the international break and start the month of October with an encouraging victory and prepare us for the crucial encounters ahead. Visca Barça.