FC Barcelona once struggled. It’s become too common this season for Ernesto Valverde’s men to be pushing late on either with a slim lead or in need of a goal to salvage a result. Munir El Haddadi was a bit of an unorthodox substitution, but he did get Barcelona’s goal to at least rescue a point against Athletic Bilbao in a match that ended 1-1 today.
Still, questions will be asked about Valverde’s rotation policy, and more to the point, his system. The last few performances have been below par, and the blaugrana have gone three straight without winning. Valverde clearly had one eye on the upcoming run of difficult matches, but in the meantime, he’s put himself, potentially, in a hole in the league.
Ideally, he is getting his new players adjusted to the team, meanwhile he is trying to find the best system that accommodates his players. He might argue that these are just growing pains. But that time period to tinker is running on short supply.
Tottenham Hotspur, Valencia, Sevilla, Inter Milan, Real Madrid - those are the next 5 opponents. Then there’s some respite theoretically, with Rayo Vallecano next, but then comes another match against Inter. And once again, you get a theoretical break with Real Betis, but then comes Atlético Madrid, PSV Eindhoven, and Villarreal, before the Catalan derby against Espanyol, and then another match against Spurs.
The fans are not on Valverde’s side fully yet. The exit in the UEFA Champions League last season against AS Roma is a huge blow to an otherwise sterling first season, to the point that it’s fair to say the coach is not fully trusted. Perhaps his reaction this season is to focus fully on the Champions League, and thus, he is willing to have his team conserve energy on days like these. But such a strategy is risky too, because if he does not deliver on that front, what’s left?