When the starting lineup against Valencia was announced, there was a bit of confusion.
Is Ronald Koeman going for a 4-4-2 with Ansu Fati and Memphis Depay leading the frontline?
Surely if Sergi Roberto and Segino Dest are both playing, it means the Spaniard will feature as an additional center midfielder?
Koeman wouldn’t start Dest as a forward would he?
Indeed he did, and it was a creative decision that paid off.
With the long list of injuries, the big puzzle this season has been figuring out how to get the most out of the forwards.
After losing Antoine Griezmann, Koeman made the mistake of bringing in Luuk de Jong as a stopgap. As a result, his side lost pace and attacking bite, putting increased pressure on the midfield and defensive line, and forcing Depay to go it alone as the only threat up front.
No doubt, the return of Ansu Fati has been everything Barca fans were hoping for.
He hasn’t lost a step, and it’s a pleasant surprise to see how well he combines with Memphis.
But the team needs balance, and there was the glaring question of who to play on the right wing.
Philippe Coutinho has looked rusty, Yussuf Demir too raw, and Luuk de Jong hasn’t been up to snuff.
Dest was the one player on the roster who could do the job. Koeman recognized his attacking ability and assigned the American to play in an advanced role.
The typically conservative Dutchman was rewarded for taking this chance.
Immediately after conceding an unlucky first goal that you have to applaud and move on from, the new Barcelona attacking trident went to work and Valencia was caught off guard.
You could just imagine what was going through the head of the pragmatic Jose Bordalas. We didn’t plan for this!
On the right side, Fati pressed forward, almost scoring on the counter attack in the first minute. Valencia was on notice.
Just five minutes after giving up the early goal, Barcelona responded with the equalizer off a magical combination between Ansu and Memphis.
The rest of the first half was all Barcelona.
Dest provided danger on the right. Alba and company put Valencia to the sword on the left. And together passes were weaving all over the field.
In the build-up, and uncharacteristically on the counter attack as well.
At the end of the first half, Barcelona only had 58% possession, but they were creating chances in front of goal that fans have been begging for all season.
Don’t ask whether it was a penalty or not on Ansu.
Go back and watch how beautiful the play was that created the chance. There’s a reason why Jose Gaya went flying into the tackle from behind. It was a last-ditch desperate effort to stop another incredible team passing combination by Barcelona.
It was a well deserved 2-1 comeback at the break, and Koeman should get credit for the team he chose that made it possible.
The second half made you wonder, however, if it was all going to blow up. Valencia came out of the dressing room with more energy and urgency, and Barcelona reverted back to the comfort of possession with little threat going forward.
With Gavi playing on a yellow card, his tenacity neutralized, a half-time like-for-like swap with Riqui Puig was calling out. It didn’t happen.
Instead we eventually saw Nico Gonzalez and Coutinho come on to replace Gavi and Ansu.
All’s well that ends well, but it should be acknowledged that if it weren’t for Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s heroics, Barcelona were in danger of giving up the lead.
The cherry on top of this one was seeing the team play hard until the end, with Dest in particular never running out of energy.
His dazzling effort to extend the play near the goal line, and find an open Coutinho for the goal, was a proper payoff for the bet that his manager placed on him.
When Ousmane Dembele returns, you can see him slotting into that position as the right forward. It will be interesting to see if he develops chemistry with Dest, the same way that Ansu, Memphis, and Jordi Alba are establishing on the left.
Barcelona will certainly be a stronger and more dangerous team, and Koeman’s assessment may end up being accurate.
But those are the best-laid plans.
Over a long season, he will need to depend on everyone, and he needs to get over some of his prejudices to make that happen.
But for now, he’s hopefully learned that it’s better to be brave and attack than to sit back and passively possess the ball.
I certainly enjoyed seeing the 12 shots, 5 of which were on target, which is really just the tip of the iceberg for the talent on this team.
The test continues against Dynamo Kyiv and Real Madrid.
Barca fans will be cautiously optimistic, and at this point that doesn’t sound so bad.