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Barcelona show fighting spirit ahead of Porto challenge

New-found toughness could pay off big in the Champions League

FC Barcelona v Sevilla FC - LaLiga EA Sports Photo by Joan Valls/Urbanandsport /NurPhoto via Getty Images

It’s hard to know what to think about this Barcelona team in the early goings of the season.

Xavi’s men continue to search for a tactical identity from game to game. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

It hasn’t been smooth sailing for the manager, who’s been dealt a tough hand with last minute surprises in the transfer window, and injuries to key players.

With three games in the past week, it’s been a mixed bag, but we’ve learned a lot about the team.

The three goals in ten minutes, come-from-behind victory against Celta Vigo, wasn’t just exciting, but an encouraging sign that Barca was developing a never-say-die toughness that hasn’t been seen in years.

FC Barcelona v Celta Vigo - LaLiga EA Sports Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images

Days later, they took on Mallorca, and once again found themselves trailing for large portions of the game. To their credit, they were able to salvage a tie. But they also allowed themselves to fall behind their opponent twice.

To be fair, Barcelona didn’t perform well in either one of these games, although there were promising signs from a few players.

Against Sevilla, they came out of the gates swinging, and were aggressive throughout, with Xavi using Raphinha as a second striker to play behind Robert Lewandowski.

At their best this season, Barcelona are trying to shake off the lethargic side to side, hyper-rigid possession-based football, that fans and pundits alike have criticized for years. Whether this is out of necessity, due to the Pedri and Frenkie de Jong injuries, or whether it’s an intentional tactical shift, is hard to say.

We’ve gone from playing with four midfielders, to playing with four forwards. That’s quite the change. It was nice to see the initiative to get more numbers attacking the final third, as opposed to dominating parts of the field that don’t threaten the score line.

FC Barcelona v Sevilla FC - LaLiga EA Sports Photo by Joan Valls/Urbanandsport /NurPhoto via Getty Images

I appreciate Xavi’s attempt to rotate players early on, and his guts in trying certain players in positions that may be unfamiliar to them. Raphinha going off injured was a buzzkill, because he looked more lively and unpredictable in this role, compared to what we’ve seen from him on the wing.

I hope we continue to see experimentation going forward, and regular rotation, especially with the forwards.

The back four look sharp, and I’m even willing to give Inigo Martinez a mulligan given the fact that he was thrown into the Mallorca game with little time to build report with his team-mates. Hopefully there’s a lesson learned that defensive continuity matters, and when making changes, it’s probably better to make one at a time.

Credit must be given to Gavi and Ilkay Gundogan as well, who have done well in the absence of their midfield comrades.

FC Barcelona v Sevilla FC - LaLiga EA Sports Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images

With Pedri sidelined, Gavi is looking like the player who made his breakthrough in his debut season, when he stole the show while the Canarian was out for an extended time. Gavi does well when the spotlight is on him, and he doesn’t have to worry about combining perfectly with the talent around him.

But there are many important games ahead. And at this point, there are more questions than answers.

Porto will provide a big test on Wednesday. If Barcelona get the three points, they are well on their way in the group, and will have some pressure lifted going forward, that could help across all competitions.

Based on what I’ve seen so far, I’m encouraged by what this Barcelona team is showing. The football hasn’t been fantastic, but they have a lot of fight in them. More than I’ve seen in the last five years at least.

FC Barcelona v Sevilla FC - LaLiga EA Sports Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images

The team doesn’t seem bothered by the fact that they aren’t always playing the game beautifully. The focus seems to be on working hard, and fighting until the end for the result, and for their place in the lineup.

And that’s a very healthy foundation to build upon, especially as players come back from injury, and the team continues to search for its best form.

Gavi has always been the spiritual leader of the team, but now he’s become a role model for his team-mates as well. You don’t have to be perfect, but you always have to give it your all. Enough of the overthinking, and worries about making mistakes. Just show that you want it more than anyone else.

Fermin Lopez is cut from the same cloth. There’s no hesitation from that guy, just a desire to make his mark in whatever way he can. Maybe he’s earned his way into the starting eleven, if not for the Champions League, given the pressure of the occasion, then maybe the following game against Granada.

FC Barcelona v Sevilla FC - LaLiga EA Sports Photo by Manuel Queimadelos/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Lamine Yamal, like it or not for those of us who think he should be managed more cautiously, will have a big role to play. The only way around that is if Ferran Torres steps up and gives him a challenge again.

Let’s hope the Barca players continue competing hard against one another for minutes on the field, and that it translates to a strong fight together on the field against whoever they’re up against.

October will be a big month, and by the end of it, we’ll know what this team is really all about.

Will they be ruthless in their Europa league level Champions League group?

By the end of it, will they come out on top against Real Madrid, and take an early lead in the race for another La Liga title?

FC Barcelona v Sevilla FC - LaLiga Photo by Jose Hernandez/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

I’m optimistic, because even though I’m not seeing a team play the best football they can play, I am seeing confidence and positivity from players who refuse to back down.

For that to continue, they’ll need results on the pitch.

Given the circumstances, it won’t be easy, and the players, formation, and tactics may change from game to game.

It’ll be intriguing to see how the team lines up next, and if they can build towards something greater and more consistent.

Whether they take off, or are brought down to earth, will depend largely on Xavi’s tactical solutions, but also his ability to continue motivating the players.

Hopefully the former catches up with the latter quickly.

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