As we are edging closer to the second leg of a crucial Europa League duel against Manchester United, there are still some questions left to be answered. The absence of Pedri and Gavi will be by all means a sensible loss for Barcelona as their replacement poses a delicate problem for Xavi, with the solution still hanging in the air. What to do now?
In the past weeks, the Catalans – according to the latest footballing trends – have been using a quite retro WM system, with 4 midfielders controlling the middle of the park. In this midfield box, Pedri and Gavi were the engines of this Blaugrana setup, leading the attacks with their technicality and creativity, but also scoring goals with their intelligent movement and finishing.
In their absence as the main starting attacking midfielder duo, the main question remains whether Xavi opts to stay with the 3-2-2-3 or revert to a more traditional 4-3-3. In the first scenario, the composition of the midfield is also a big question mark, with Busquets’s return being more and more likely. Else, the likes of Kessié and Roberto will be ready to pounce on the opportunity.
Of course, their contribution is not quite up to what Pedri and Gavi offers to Barcelona, moreover, their stylistic differences, especially in the Ivorian’s case, raise doubts whether staying with the same system is worth it. However, I feel that currently, Roberto has the edge over Kessié as the Spaniard is better technically, which would be for better use that the Ivorian’s physical presence and direct movement.
The only strong point in the Barcelona midfield is Frenkie de Jong, but his role and effectiveness are also massively affected by Busquets’s potential return. The Dutchman is an incredibly versatile player, close to what can be named a ‘total footballer’. As we could see it earlier this season, de Jong can mainly do what Busquets does on the ball with his exquisite technique, great vision, and passing prowess, but his positional indiscipline in defensive phases can be a major liability, in which area Busquets still has the edge over the Dutchman.
The same dilemmas are also present in the case of fielding a 4-3-3, concretely how to put the available players in such positions, and roles so that they can maximize their potential and perform up to their best. A midfield trio would also require different skills and traits to prevail, and Busquets’s experience and stability would be crucial to have in both setups.
On the wings, Raphinha’s place seemed certain until the weekend, when Ferrán Torres put on a masterful performance against Cádiz to put his name back in the debate. Pity, both feel home on the right, and placing them on the opposite wing would require different – and maybe their weaker – skills.
Thus, placing either Raphinha or Torres to the left would be a waste, but maybe the Spaniard would be the more reasonable option to choose to occupy the left flank, based on what we could see from him earlier this season and last season as well. On the right, his dribbling and chance creation prevail, while on the left, his intelligent movement and spatial awareness can be of good use.
The only player who is natural on the left flank is Ansu Fati. While he is believed to still have a massive potential to unlock and that he can return to the heights he was prior to the injuries, the young number ’10’ is yet to recover his sharpness and form, although reportedly being back to full fitness, which brings up question marks about his mental condition.
All in all, there is a lot to be debated, discussed and thought out internally, and Xavi and his staff have a great challenge to adjust the system and the tactics to overcome Erik ten Hag’s terrific Manchester United. All to play for at the Old Trafford, another fierce European night awaits FC Barcelona in the red fortress of Manchester. Hopefully, the future holds us the better outcome.