After a convincing victory over Real Sociedad in the middle of the week, Barcelona returns to La Liga action against Girona on Saturday afternoon. Having booked their spot among the best 4 in the cup, the Catalans resume their league title chase, keeping their sights on a potential domestic treble.
Barca News Network brings you four talking points ahead of the Girona clash on the 19th matchday of La Liga.
1. Surprising opposition
Prior to the season start, one would have never thought that Girona would be up to properly compete in La Liga. However, the freshly promoted Catalan side, to many’s surprise, is currently sitting on the 12th position on the league table, and their statistics show that their performance is not unmerited at all.
Especially in the attacking section, Míchel’s team is working beautifully, having the 6th highest expected and the 5th most actual goals scored. On the defensive end, they are slightly underperforming, having conceded 28 goals from an xGA of just 23.
The Blanquivermells are a sight for sore eyes, and unless something crazy happens, they won’t have any troubles with fighting against relegation but probably they’ll end up in a comfortable mid-table position.
2. A decent squad
The great results are, however, not independent of the fact that this tiny Catalan club has a really good squad. From experienced veterans to talented youngsters, Girona’s roster is a great mixture of established quality and youthful potential, a pleasure for Míchel to work with.
Starting from the back, the duo of the ex-Madrid Miguel Gutiérrez and the Barcelona target Arnau Martínez are bossing the flanks, a young attacking fullback pairing with a high ceiling to them – don’t sleep on these two.
One line ahead, the Man City loanee Yan Couto and Atlético Madrid’s Rodrigo Riquelme are also exciting talents, while the winter signing Viktor Tsygankov is also one to keep a close eye on, not to mention the unfortunately injured Reinier Jesus, Real Madrid’s forgotten Brazilian wonderkid.
On the other hand, the experienced Christian Stuani leads the line for the Catalans, competing with the summer signing Valentín Castellanos for the starting spot. In the midfield, the Premier League-proven Oriol Romeu and Man City loanee Yangel Herrera are also great players for their level.
3. Difficult calendar
However, keeping in mind that Girona is an opponent to be aware of, the difference in quality is indisputable. Moreover, knowing how difficult the month awaits us in February, it’s probably the best opportunity to rotate the squad and rest some of the key players, giving an opportunity to the fringe players to show themselves.
At first, on the 1st of February, a Real Betis away clash awaits Barcelona, 4 days later we host the other team from Seville. Then, a Cerámica visit to Villarreal prepares us for the crucial Europa League duel versus Machester United. A Cádiz home game is inserted ahead of the second leg at Old Trafford, and an Almería away trip concludes a tough, eventful month of February.
Keeping that in mind, this is the perfect time to rest our key players who will have a crucial role in these challenging encounters. Aside from some forced changes, we might see the likes of Kessié, Torre, and Roberto start, while the identity of today’s starters might indicate who won’t start in the midweek clash against Betis.
4. Suspensions in the attack
As mentioned before, some suspensions will force changes in the lineup anyway. Namely, these are Robert Lewandowski and Ferrán Torres, whose absence leaves few options available in the frontline. Unless the unlikely case that Xavi opts to start the young Ángel Alarcón or deploy a midfielder upfront, the Raphinha-Ansu-Dembélé trio will start.
However, the operability of this trio raises doubts for me. Ansu Fati hasn’t been good when playing in the striking position, and playing Raphinha and Dembélé simultaneously is also a matter of concern. Against a tired Intercity side, for the final part of the game (plus the extra time) it proved to be a good choice, but last time, against a more competent Getafe defense, this trio struggled to prevail.
Thus, we might see a new setup, maybe a striking partnership with Fati and Dembélé and wingbacks providing the width in a 3-at-the-back system, or we might get to see the in-form Dembélé start in the number 9 position. Ultimately, we may see this same trio operating up front and hope that against a higher defending Girona, they can well and truly prevail.