Barcelona won their second straight La Liga match on Saturday, defeating Alavés thanks to a brace from Lionel Messi. It wasn’t the best performance ever from the Blaugrana, but it was solid enough to give them an easy win.
Here are a few takeaways from what we saw from the Catalan giants against Alavés:
1 - Barça must play faster
The game against Alavés was really boring at times, and it was all Barça’s fault. The Blaugrana had the ball all game, but they failed to create really good scoring chances because their passing was too safe, too short, too easy. Very few players made runs in behind the defense, and the pace only picked up when Lionel Messi had the ball and ran the Alavés backline to try and create something.
There’s a good argument to be made that Ernesto Valverde is looking to change the style of play we saw the final moments of Luis Enrique’s reign when the team was chaotic and unbalanced, and such a big stylistic shift will take months of training. We’re still in the beginning stages of Valverde’s work, so it’s natural that the team looks slow and boring now. Things will improve with time, and we’ve seen some positive signings in every game so far except from the Spanish Super Cup.
The problem is that the second game after the international break is against Juventus, and their defense is nearly impossible to break down unless you have a quick, sharp attacking machine. Valverde cannot build a quick, sharp attacking machine in two weeks with all the players away with their national team, so we won’t see a faster pattern of play from Barça when the Champions League starts. And that’s a concern.
2 - Valverde is looking at his whole squad
99% of Barça fans went absolutely nuts when they saw the lineup, and they were still angry even when they were proved wrong and Aleix Vidal was actually playing on the right wing, which is the position every Barça fan wanted to see Vidal playing. Barça fans going overreacting to lineups is one of the best things on the internet, but it’s also one of the worst. Every Valverde choice so far has been wrong in the eyes of the supporters, but he’s been the coach for less than two months and has only seen his team play four competitive games.
Facing a weak team away from home was a good chance for Valverde to shake things up a bit and have a look at his squad. Nélson Semedo will probably start against Juventus, but Valverde thought it was best to see for himself how well Sergi Roberto would play at right-back just to have a complete picture before choosing his starter in the position. Denis Suarez is clearly the right partner for Messi up top until Luis Suárez and Ousmane Dembélé are available, but Valverde wanted to see how Vidal and Gerard Deulofeu would do as the supporting cast for his best player up front.
Rotations are part of the job of any coach, especially the new ones. Valverde can see his players in different positions during training, but only watching them on the pitch will help him make decisions. And at the end of the day, Barça beat Alavés pretty comfortably despite all the tests. When the really tough games come Valverde will probably choose the best players for each position, but he needs to find out who they are first.
3 - Barça really need Ousmane Dembélé
As hard as Deulofeu, Denis and Paco Alcácer try, they will not offer too much in terms of danger on the wing. They’ll be fine for Copa del Rey and smaller La Liga matches, but when push comes to shove, it’s Dembélé who will be the real threat. The massive price tag placed on him means he’ll need time to adapt and a major pressure to deal with, but his talent is undeniable and his potential is through the roof. It’s pretty clear that Dembélé is a lot better than every wing option currently in the squad even though he hasn’t played yet, and we hope he settles quickly.
If he doesn’t, we’ll suffer through a few more months of Deulofeu, Denis and Paco giving their best, but not being quite good enough to replace Neymar. Please be good, Ousmane. Please.