Barcelona sit atop their Champions League group, and are one point off of Real Madrid in La Liga.
All in all, it’s been a strong start to the campaign. The team has learned to suffer for results, and in many ways are making their own luck.
Porto had their chances, but Barcelona never looked truly worried after being gifted a goal in the dying minutes of the first half.
But once again, the victory came at a cost, with Robert Lewandowski going down with an ankle injury that will reportedly see him miss the upcoming clash against Real Madrid.
Luckily, the international break is around the corner. Hopefully, that will be enough to get Pedri back on the field. But on a team like Barcelona, where most of the players are selected internationally, the club will be holding their breath and hoping that everyone comes back fit and ready to pick up where they left off.
But make no mistake, this is a headache for Xavi, who will have to think carefully about how his team lines up, while putting trust in players who aren’t his first choice option.
Before considering what he may do, let’s take a moment to vent, and re-evaluate the summer transfer window.
We all know it’s a tricky time with the club’s finances, but at the end of the day, Barcelona “strengthened” their team by signing three thirtysomethings, and were fortunate to secure loans for Joao Felix and Joao Cancelo, both of whom now seem undroppable.
After Ousmane Dembele’s surprise exit, which significantly weakened the forward line, they then allowed Ez Abde and Ansu Fati to walk out the door, while only managing to bring in one forward as a replacement for the three of them.
The same could be said about allowing Franck Kessie and Pablo Torre to walk away, without a plan to maintain proper depth in the midfield.
The current injury crisis, if you believe it rises to that level, is a problem of Barcelona’s own making.
The good news is that the defensive line is strong and, once again, performing at a high level.
It’s true that the addition of Cancelo is a choice to be more attacking at the expense of defensive security, but so far he’s proving he can make an impact by making the team more dynamic and unpredictable through the midfield and in front of goal.
But with Lewandowski now out, and the midfield still reeling, Cancelo may be essential to helping Barcelona survive, maybe even thrive, while his team-mates recover. But maybe it won’t be as a full-back.
Could Cancelo deputize as a midfielder? Especially if Barcelona chooses to play with three center-backs, while having Alejandro Balde and Lamine Yamal take over as wing-backs?
In that formation, maybe Cancelo could play centrally, next to Oriol Romeu, or as a box-to-box in a role that Frenkie de Jong previously occupied.
Cancelo is the rare player who is so versatile that he may be worth taking a tactical risk on if Xavi is looking to shake things up.
On the other hand, could Xavi pull an anti-Barcelona and go defensive in the short term?
Could we see a back four of Ronald Araujo, Jules Kounde, Andreas Christensen, and Alejandro Balde, while simply inserting Fermin Lopez into the midfield, and hope that Ferran Torres steps up and gets the job done while Lewandowski is out?
This may be less risky, and very easy to predict what we’re going to get.
Best case scenario, Barca gets a run of narrow 1-0 results behind their dominant backline.
With the current crop of midfielders available, likely Romeo, Ilkay Gundogan, and Gavi (Lopez for the next Champions League match), there won’t be much playmaking, so Barca’s best hope may be to press and win the ball high up the field. This is something they’ve already done effectively this season.
Perhaps Gavi could play as a pseudo winger, and play alongside Lopez, making it four midfielders on the field. The truth is the options aren’t great in the attack, so Xavi will have to motivate the ones who are left by default, and hope they rise to the occasion and take advantage of the massive opportunity being given to them.
My prediction is that this team will be just fine. They are much more mature and confident than they were over the past few years.
I don’t see them panicking, instead, I imagine they’ll be smart and organized, and look to take advantage of mistakes being made by their opponents, as they did against Porto.
Sadly, it won’t be exciting to watch. But as fans, we’ll stick by them in the short term if we see them grinding and going hard for the win every time.
This is where that esprit de corps will really be tested.
So far, it’s paid off, but they’ll need to dig in deep and take nothing for granted if they want it to continue.
You can’t deny how serious it is to be without Pedri, Frenkie de Jong, Raphinha and Robert Lewandowski.
You also can’t deny how concerning it is when you look at your bench and see that Sergi Roberto and Marcos Alonso are your next best options.
But so far this season, we’ve seen that this isn’t a team of individuals.
It’s a unit of players who are putting the team first and staying focused on the mission.
That should give us all hope in light of the challenges to come.