It turned out to be quite a prosperous weekend for Barcelona, with a 0-1 away win in Bilbao and their main rivals Real Madrid dropping what could turn out to be crucial points in the latter stages of the season, in Gijon.
After being beaten 4-0 at San Mames in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup, and with Gerard Pique, Neymar and the now departed Pedro Rodriguez missing, changes had to be made to Luis Enrique’s starting XI. Thomas Vermaelen came in at centre-back and Rafinha, who is predominantly an attacking midfielder, was shifted out to the left wing.
The fact that Dani Alves and Sergio Busquets also went off injured, resulting in central midfielder Sergi Roberto filling in at right-back, makes the win even more impressive, and the score line could have been greater if Lionel Messi had converted his penalty.
Irrefutably, La Blaugrana ground out this result in the end, something that is a hallmark of great sides. This is a great side, one that won the treble last year and could, potentially, do the same this year. This team has definitely not reached its apogee.
Nonetheless, the transfer embargo that prohibits Barcelona from fielding newly signed players and the sales of Pedro, Xavi Hernandez and Martin Montoya means that they are three players short of what was already a relatively small squad last campaign. Enrique was quite fortuitous with injuries and suspensions last term, but if they start to set in this time around then there could be some serious problems for the Coach.
Certain Coaches prefer having smaller groups of players, Enrique among them – they allow the vast majority of the team to maintain match fitness and it is rare for players to become disheartened due to a fair amount of game time. Currently, though, Barcelona’s squad is verging on threadbare. For example, if Alves’ injury leaves him out for a short while, then it looks like Roberto will be playing in his place in a position that he has only started to perform in during pre-season.
Furthermore, in terms of rotation, there are six senior players who could play in central midfield, including Roberto and Javier Mascherano, who frequently plays at centre-back. Evidently, the squad could be stretched considerably as the season progresses.
The advantage that Barca usually have over other sides is La Masia, their fabled youth academy that always seems to provide the first-team with talent whenever they are in need of it. That could very well be the case this season with the likes of Sandro Ramirez, Munir El-Haddadi and Sergi Samper trying to consistently make the senior squad, as opposed to intermittent appearances on the bench, when they often do not even get on the pitch. It is more than likely that they will be given many more opportunities this season, and they could play a key part if there are numerous injuries.
Undoubtedly, there will be huge sighs of relief around Camp Nou when new additions Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal are able to play. They will come into the squad at a perfect time, ready for the definitive second half of the campaign having trained with and grown accustomed to the rest of the squad in the six months when they have not been permitted to play. In spite of that, if there are too many setbacks for Enrique to cope with in terms of maintaining the optimum performance levels of this stellar group of players, then the damage might already have been done.