Barcelona's midfield dilemma
Background photo: 1997 CC BY-SA 3.0
Most Barcelona supporters can't believe Ernesto Valverde is in his third year at the Camp Nou. Even though he's delivered two La Liga titles a Copa Del Rey trophy and a Spanish Supercup, his struggles in the Champions League cast a dark cloud over his domestic success. Two successive three-goal leads blown in Champions League second legs severely test fans' patience. That said, the board continues to back him. This summer, the focus was on the midfield. Now, the only excuse Valverde can offer for failure is he was spoiled for choice.
Antoine Griezmann, Frenkie de Jong, Neto, Hiroki Abe, and Junior Firpo were all snapped up this summer. Neymar could also return before the transfer window shuts. The club is pulling all strings in order to make the manager's task easier. Instead, they've given him a selection migraine.
Barca's midfield is more overcrowded than the Hong Kong streets. With nine midfielders battling for three spots, the manager must find time for all.
Sergio Busquets remains an unshakable force in the centre of the pitch. Despite turning 31 this year, the Spaniard is still going strong. He can hold down the deep-lying role for two or three more seasons. Where does that leave Frenkie de Jong, a world-class holding mid in his own right? The Dutchman did play on Matchday One, making his case.
In a more advanced role, Ivan Rakitic was expected to leave this summer. He had other ideas. The Croatian has been shutting up naysayers throughout pre-season and on into the meaningful matches as well. His stunner against Chelsea demonstrated his class. He proved himself once again in Barca's opener against Athletic Bilbao. Coming on for Carles Alena in the 46th minute, the Croatian dictated play with relative ease, quickly changing the tempo in Barca's favour. The Blaugrana still lost but he gave them every chance to level terms and more.
With him firing on all cylinders, how can Valverde play Arthur? The club holds high hopes for the Brazilian. His heroics drove the Selecao to an unexpected Copa America title with Neymar sidelined.
Meanwhile, Carles Alena and Ruqui Puig continue to make huge statements with their performances. The La Masia graduates yielded no ground to their more experienced teammates. They too deserve the chance to feature more regularly.
Nor can Arturo Vidal, Sergi Roberto and Rafinha Alcantara be forgotten. The trio aren't regulars but bring qualities the side needs to make it through the campaign.
It shouldn't be forgotten that Neymar's potential arrival would also affect the midfield. Deploying him and Antoine Griezmann alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez in the projected 4-2-3-1 formation eliminates a midfielder.
If Valverde tries to keep everyone happy with an extensive rotation, he risks form and chemistry. Without a decent run of games, it's difficult to produce your best football. With the squad in constant flux, there are likely to be more errors. Players hoping to impress may begin to play for themselves rather than the team.
If the manager plays his veterans, the board will wonder why they spent millions on new players who aren't being used. If the youngsters are preferred and more results like the defeat to Bilbao follow, Valverde will be second-guessed for not using the vast experience at his disposal.
Fans like to think of Barcelona as a fine-tuned Ferrari but too many moving parts complicate the process. The engine breaks down. Sometimes it's better to keep things simple.