Barcelona has arrived at a critical juncture.
With the Champions League starting back up, and hopes of a trophy dashed, Ronald Koeman has difficult decisions to make, and limited options.
Alaves visits Barcelona on Saturday as a bottom of the table team fighting for survival. Back in October, they were one of the first teams to give Barcelona a reality check in a frustrating 1-1 draw.
How will Koeman approach the rest of the season? Against Alaves we may see the beginning of a strategic re-calibration.
An opportunity for Riqui and Trincão to shine
Barcelona has had bad luck with injuries, but it’s not an excuse.
Players like Ronald Araujo and Oscar Mingueza were granted opportunities to play a prominent role. They have made the most of it.
Ronald Koeman’s prejudice towards Riqui Puig, however, has hurt the team. You could make the same argument for Francisco Trincão, who has struggled, but also was never shown faith. A good manager plays the long game and keeps all his players sharp and ready for their moment.
Their time is now. Not because Koeman wants to, but because he has to.
Against Alaves, both will play, but the question is how much impact they can make.
Is it too little too late? Both Riqui and Trincão have shown glimpses of being able to perform at a high level, but without the support of their manager, will we see their best version?
That’s exactly what Barcelona needs.
If Dembele, Messi, or Pedri rest, Riqui and Trincão will be given opportunities that may not come around again.
Every game going forward will be a grind. All hands on deck. Maybe some academy players will get in on the action.
Koeman’s ability to manage the rotation and motivate green players will be critical.
Leave nothing to chance, get a goal early
The comebacks have been a lot of fun to watch recently.
But as my colleague Luis Mazariegos mentioned recently there have been undercurrents of concern in those victories.
Barcelona needs to show killer instinct against inferior opponents.
Alaves is not in good form, having won only once in their last five games.
But if you give them a chance to hang around they will.
Last time it cost Barca precious points in the 1-1 draw.
This mission falls on the players. Not just for the good of the team, but for their own careers. Whoever plays against Alaves will have a chance to show they are hungry and willing to fight.
It would be exciting to see it from the younger players.
If Antoine Griezmann plays, my eyes are on him to see if he can show goal-scoring consistency.
Regardless, scoring is the only way to break down a physical opponent content with parking the bus if Barcelona lets them.
With PSG on the horizon this isn’t a throw away game. It’s a chance to generate confidence. Nothing does it better than seeing the ball in the back of the net.
Don’t shoot yourself in the foot defensively
Say it louder for the people in the back.
Being a defender at Barcelona is hard. Really hard. We all get it.
You have to be good in possession, play a dangerously high line, and take chances in the build-up.
Maybe it’s time, given the injuries, that Barcelona defenders take less risks.
Against Alaves in October, the problems began with a Gerard Pique and Neto miscommunication that resulted in a gift of goal given away.
Most teams don’t take the chances that Barca defenders do.
When you’re in top form it can be a potent weapon. This season the reward just isn’t there.
On the flip side, my philosophy is that the best defense is a great offense.
It’s not fair to blame defenders week after week when the attacking players aren’t scoring goals.
If Barcelona is going to take anything of value from this season it will be a team effort.
From offense to defense. From the top to the bottom of the roster.
Clutch time is here. Everyone is needed.
Let’s see if this Barcelona team is up to the challenge.