Players like Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic, Luis Suarez, and Philippe Coutinho are starters for Barcelona and their respective international teams, but are rarely ever given the opportunity to rest. Of the mentioned names, only Philippe Coutinho has been rotated regularly, and that has less to do with the coach and more to do with the fact that the Brazilian has failed to complete 90 minutes of high-octane football without showing signs of fatigue.
Even Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet have been forced to play week-in-week-out due to43 injuries which have primarily been an issue with squad planning.
One major reason why Valverde cannot rotate the defense adequately, is a lack of options. Thomas Vermaelen and Samuel Umtiti have been injured and the latter has only recently become available for selection again. Barcelona made the mistake of not signing a backup right-back or left-back which means that Sergi Roberto continues to play on the wide flank despite the availability of Nelson Semedo, while Jordi Alba remains the only option on the left.
While the defense is short on options, the front-line and midfield are a completely different story.
Barcelona currently has the likes of Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi, Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele, Munir and Malcom who are highly talented players, and with Dembele capable of playing with both feet, Barcelona’s front-line has the perfect balance of pace, technical ability, and killer-instinct. However, Valverde continues to deploy Suarez up-top alongside Messi, despite the two of them occupying similar areas on the pitch.
Even in the midfield, Barcelona has ample cover with the likes of Denis Suarez, Rafinha Alcantara, Carles Alena, Arthur, Arturo Vidal, Rakitic and even Philippe Coutinho (should the coach want to swing that way). However, someone like Rakitic, who had a gruelling 2017/18, continues to find himself on the pitch for 90 minutes, which is simply unacceptable.
Multiple players have responded in recent times to the lack of playing time with the likes of Arturo Vidal, Malcom, and more recently, Rafinha’s father, publicly stating the players’ dissatisfaction at their mistreatment.
It isn’t a surprise then, that the players look exhausted, when so many squad players are waiting to get their chance.
Valverde’s problem with rotation has less to do with his inability to manage the players, but more to do with his short-term approach. Blooding-in young and fringe players is what keeps a squad competitive for the entirety of the season and Valverde is failing horribly at the moment.
Will he fix this situation now that Rakitic has gotten injured? Will he be willing to rotate and find a new combination that satisfies him? The game against Atletico Madrid should hold some answers.