FC Barcelona won impressively against Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley Stadium yesterday, 4-2, after a run of relatively poor form. The blaugrana were not perfect, but they were much improved from their three-game winless run. And one reason may have been a slight adjustment in the way the team plays.
It was not a change in formation or a reversion to the 4-4-2, but things did change. With Ousmane Dembélé on the bench, Philippe Coutinho played as a left winger and Arthur played in central midfield. Arthur represented a more balanced option in midfield, freeing Coutinho from defensive responsibilities. It also gave space for Jordi Alba to roam with Coutinho offering a different sort of player to link up with compared to Dembélé.
These two things are quite positive, but they are also quite harsh on Dembélé. The Frenchman has enjoyed a very positive start to his second season at Barcelona, and the youngster seems to flourish as he grows in confidence. He is clearly an important piece for Barça’s long-term future.
It’s clear that Ernesto Valverde will use a robust rotation policy which means he will surely get plenty of starts. The big question is whether in the big matches - your Champions League knockouts, your clásicos - Dembélé will get the nod.
If you want to move Coutinho to the wing, that means one of Dembélé, Lionel Messi, or Luis Suárez has to come off. Messi is obviously undroppable, though another possibility emerges: dropping Suárez. That in itself presents another complication though, particularly with moving Messi to the middle and not having him play off Suárez - a guy who understands him very well on and off the pitch.
There will be plenty of tinkering to be done between now and the business end of the season. Who knows how injuries and changes in form will affect the starting XI. It will be interesting how the team shakes up.