Tactical Insights

What’s the solution for a Barcelona midfield rocked by injuries?

The Athletic Club match was a big opportunity for Barcelona to cut into the lead of Real Madrid at the top of the table.

With Napoli gaining in form, having demolished Sassuolo 6-1, followed by a confidence-boosting 2-1 defeat of Juventus, the Catalan giants needed a big win themselves to keep the hope for silverware alive.

Instead, they dropped two points, and lost two of their most important players to injury.

Frenkie de Jong and Pedri will both be out for at least six weeks.

Athletic Club v FC Barcelona - LaLiga EA Sports

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During that time, Barcelona will face challenges against Mallorca, who have made it to the Copa del Rey final, Napoli in the Champions League Round of 16, Atletico Madrid, and finally a Las Palmas side who has been one of the surprises of this La Liga season.

For good measure, you should expect Pedri and Frenkie to be out all the way through the next Clasico on April 21. As always, the media will tell you to conveniently circle the date as the moment when the key players make their return. But in reality, Barcelona will be cautious, which means they will be without perhaps their best midfield trio.

Gavi, after all, is also sidelined while recovering from an ACL tear.

So no Gavi, Pedri, or De Jong. If you had said that at the beginning of the year, panic would sink in.

Just throw in the towel, and hope for better luck next season.

In La Liga, if the low-spirited performance at Sam Mames is any indication, that’s what they’ve already done.

Athletic Club v FC Barcelona - LaLiga EA Sports

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That makes the game against Napoli, as sad as it sounds, the most important game remaining. If they don’t perform well and come out on top, it’s likely to be their last meaningful game of the campaign.

A quick look at the roster, and you’ll find that Barcelona is left with the following options.

Andreas Christensen, the new Blaugrana defensive midfielder.

Oriol Romeu, the old Blaugrana defensive midfielder when the season began.

Sergi Roberto, the fearless captain who rides the bench.

Fermin Lopez, who just had a rough cameo appearance that has garnered criticism. Given the circumstances, however, having to replace two players in two positions, perhaps we should be more forgiving.

The only guarantee is Ilkay Gundogan, who at the tender age of 33 has been the most used Barca player of the season.

Athletic Club v FC Barcelona - LaLiga EA Sports

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What would you do if you were Xavi?

The most simple, and I think likely move, would be to keep Christensen where he’s been playing, and then have Gundogan and Sergi Roberto play in attacking roles.

Roberto is coming off an injury himself, however, and won’t be fully in form. Even if he were fully fresh, the decision wouldn’t inspire confidence on the field, or amongst the Barca faithful, in spite of the fact that he has scored a few key goals this season.

Given the situation, I wouldn’t be surprised if Xavi goes this route, especially because of Roberto’s experience in big games, including one of the most epic moments in Barcelona history against PSG.

But what about giving Fermin Lopez a vote of confidence? Especially at a time when he’s going to be eager to fight back and prove the doubters wrong after his last outing.

Athletic Club v FC Barcelona - LaLiga EA Sports

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In my opinion, this would be a risky move, but one that has a chance of paying off.

What does Barcelona really have to lose?

Sergi Roberto knows the Barcelona way of playing, and can help keep possession. You know what you’re going to get. But for me, it’s dangerously predictable.

With Fermin, that’s the tradeoff. Although he was raised in La Masia, he’s still a bit raw in those classic Barcelona midfield qualities on the ball.

But he’s also proven to be a scrappy, hard working player. A physical presence, who can be a threat in the final third.

Barcelona can go down either way.

With Fermin, you’re giving an audition to a young player, to see if he has a future with the team.

Roberto will surely be gone at the end of this season.

FC Barcelona v CA Osasuna - Super Copa de España Semi-Final

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I haven’t given much mention to Romeu. But could a double pivot alongside Christensen or Gundogan be on offer?

At the end of the day, none of these options are exciting.

Could the manager surprise everyone with a wildcard selection of Joao Cancelo? It’s been talked about all season as a possibility, given the fullback’s technical qualities, but we’ve yet to see it materialize. But is now the right time or experimentation?

Xavi will need to think long and hard about how he lines up against Mallorca, because right around the corner is a game against Napoli he has to get right.

Player selection will be key.

And so will in game management. But with so little depth at the midfield position, changes will likely come in other areas.

What would you do with the Barca midfield if you were in charge?

There are no easy answers.

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