After a narrow victory over Getafe in the weekend, Barcelona resume their pursuit for the Copa del Rey trophy. The next challenge in this indubitably difficult quest is Real Sociedad, which offers the promise of a really tough yet very exciting duel for the right to advance into the Semi-Finals of the King’s Cup.
Barca News Network brings you 4 talking points ahead of the quarter-finals fixture of the Copa del Rey.
1. Rivals watch
Looking at the league table, maybe this season’s biggest (positive) surprise is Real Sociedad’s more than eminent place. Though their last campaign was also great, but a painful spring collapse pushed them out of the Champions League spots. But this season, they made one more step ahead, which shows the success of Imanol Alguacil’s exciting La Real project.
Did they all this while out of their key players, Alexander Isak left to Newcastle and Mikel Oyarzabal suffered a long-term injury. In return, their new signings, namely Mohamed Ali-Cho, Brais Méndez, Umar Sadiq and Takefusa Kubo proved to be an excellent business. Furthermore, a change in the system also benefitted them greatly.
Alguacil’s team usually lines up in a 4-1-3-2 or 4-3-1-2, a rather unique but very effective system. The compactness of this shape is extremely useful when defending as it blocks progression through the central areas well. Moreover, the counter-pressing also benefits from this tweak as it minimizes the space between the defensive lines.
With that, the Basques are in excellent form as they’ve won all of their 6 games since returning from the World Cup break. With 38 points in the pocket, La Real are sitting on the last place of the podium and based on the advanced statistics, it’s not undeserved at all. Excellence in defence and attack as well, effectiveness combined with great talent – a complete team and a very difficult opposition to face.
2. Ace(s) of spades
Despite having two of their main stars injured in Mikel Merino and the veteran David Silva, their potential creative threat is not a matter of doubt. Since joining in the summer Brais Méndez has been a central figure of La Real’s impressive campaign. The Spanish orchestrator scored 7 goals and provided 3 assists, both are the 2nd highest numbers in the squad.
Besides him, another summer arrival, Takefusa Kubo can light up the forward line of La Real. The Japanese wizard, although his conversion rate leaves to be desired, is one of Los Txuri-Urdin’s main creative sources. Furthermore, the young Robert Navarro is another one to keep a close eye on, not to mention the top goalscorer Alexander Sørloth and the returning Oyarzabal.
And saying so, we haven’t mentioned yet the unfortunately injured duo of Mohamed Ali-Cho and Umar Sadiq, while the above-mentioned Mikel Merino and David Silva are also crucial cogs in the system if fit. And still, the so-coveted Zubimendi, Barrenetxea or Le Normand wasn’t even mentioned…
All in all, the squad La Real possesses inheres such an exceptional bunch of talent that’s rare to see. This squad, under the hands of Alguacil, has been polished into a well-oiled machine, one that can cause problems to anyone who stays in their way.
3. The number 9 issue of FC Barcelona
Thankfully, Barcelona will have Robert Lewandowski back today, who will be a huge boost for our frontline. In his absence, his essential role in the team took shape even better. A huge attacker who can act as the target of all the attacks while also comfortably participating in buildups.
Although many placed high expectations towards him, Ansu Fati failed to fill the void left by the Polish superstar. When placed in the striking position against Getafe, the young no.10 seemed lost in the circle of defenders. In contrast, he was more lively when given the freedom to drift towards the left flank. Clearly, the 9 role doesn’t suit him well.
Another option would be Ferrán Torres, but the Spaniard constantly performs below expectations, been out of form for most of the campaign. In addition, he just got himself suspended for two games for a reckless little ‘wrestling’ with Savić in the league. Thus, his inclusion may be a bad decision as he lacks the required match sharpness.
4. Tactical changes?
Against such a difficult opponent, we can expect Xavi to pull out some tweaks from his sleeve. For example, similar to what he did against Atlético and Real Madrid, a 4-man midfield can be the solution. With Baldé pushing high on the left and Koundé staying deeper, an old-school WM-formation takes shape.
This WM or 3-2-2-3 increases the midfield control with larger numbers in the middle of the park. Also, it increases the quickness and effectiveness of the counter-press, which will be a crucial element of the play. In addition, the wide 3-man frontline, which can effectively become 5, can overcome a 4-man backline better.
Anyhow, this game offers much to dissect, and Xavi has to think accordingly. Today, a crucial match against a tough opponent takes place, for the important stakes of pursuing the title further. A crazy night of the Copa Del Rey awaits FC Barcelona.