Here we are. Not where we wanted to be.
And yet it could be worse.
Barcelona sit three points behind Real Madrid in the domestic table. They’ve yet to lose, but they have experienced three disappointing draws that could come back to haunt them.
In the Champions League, they are unbeaten, which has contributed to overall positive vibes in the locker room, and amongst the Barca faithful.
Especially when you consider the adversity that Barca has experienced, with player after player going down with injuries, week after week.
Jules Kounde won’t be ready this week, or in time for the Clasico. Luckily, Barcelona have plenty of reinforcements on the backline. Knock on wood. But Kounde being out leaves the team without one of its most consistent players, who brings confidence and swagger to a defense that has been vulnerable when tested.
Amongst the forwards, Xavi seems hopeful that Robert Lewandowski could make a return against Real Madrid, but I wouldn’t count on it. Raphinha is another one that will come down to the wire. In their absence, it’s sink or swim time for Ferran Torres, who will need to continue his good form to justify a regular place in the starting lineup.
The real concern is in the midfield. Frenkie de Jong and Pedri are the players that provide the threat on the ball, and over the past few weeks, Xavi has experimented with several remedies to replace them, but none have looked too convincing. There simply is no like for like replacement.
But there is the fearless 19-year-old Gavi.
And ready or not, he is the leader of the team now, alongside his comrade in arms Ronald Araujo.
I have no doubt Araujo will do his part, likely alongside Andreas Christensen, to keep the team motivated and fighting hard to keep the team from conceding.
The bigger question will be if Barcelona can score goals, and be effective on the ball in general.
Even with injuries, Barcelona are a better team than Athletic Club.
But if there’s one thing we know about the men from the Basque country, it’s that they fight hard, and will bring the intensity.
It’s in that category where Barca have been hot or cold, and will need the best of Gavi to bring the fight to the opponent, and inspire his team-mates to do the same.
Yes, for the next two games, this is Gavi’s team. He’s just a teenager, so maybe this is unfair, but then again, maybe this is a role he was born to play.
Gavi isn’t likely to turn into the next Xavi, Iniesta, or Busquets. If anything, that’s an aspiration for Pedri if he can stay healthy and ambitious.
Gavi is more of a Carles Puyol or Javier Mascherano. Indispensable to the team, because of the character they bring, that can’t be taught or learned.
He is a natural leader who doesn’t look to others for an example. He is authentic to a fault, and he plays to his strengths, not trying to be something that he’s not.
Barcelona will need to play off of his energy to get the six points against Athletic Club and Real Madrid.
Frankly, with so many critical players missing that are regulars in the starting eleven, there’s no tactical approach that will compensate for the missing talent.
Barcelona will need to be smart and minimize mistakes, and they will need to be tough, by showing the grit that champions are made of.
Real Madrid have not been a perfect team this season. They are in search of a new identity with Karim Benzema in Saudi Arabia, while relying less on club legends Luka Modric and Toni Kroos.
But they do have a player in Jude Bellingham that they can build around.
This Clasico could very well be remembered as the Gavi versus Jude show.
Gavi is a fan favorite because he plays with pride and never backs down from a fight.
Does he have what it takes to make himself the face of the club?
Will he rise to the occasion, and embrace the pressure of leading his team to battle with their back against the wall?
These are the moments that legends are made of.
The opportunity is there for Gavi to take, and there’s a lot on the line for him.
But also for Barcelona. They’re going to need their young superstar to show his potential in this time of need.