The big question coming out of the Clasico was whether Xavi would run back the new formation that yielded mixed results against Real Madrid.
Against Real Sociedad, the manager went for round two, but the outcome was in many ways the inverse.
Barca went from bad result, in spite of a solid performance, to good result, in spite of a bad performance.
Now we have more data to go off of in analyzing the three in the back system, and whether it makes sense to continue down this path in La Liga, and with the final group stage games of the Champions League coming up.
In this match versus La Real, there were a few significant changes.
Jules Kounde came back from injury and was inserted into the starting eleven, and Robert Lewandowski got his first start as well since coming back from extended time away.
Neither looked sharp, and maybe it was a mistake by the manager to give them the nod under such conditions against such a strong opponent.
Real Sociedad was intense and relentless from the get-go, and Barcelona looked as if they were caught off guard. Thanks to heroics from Marc-Andre ter Stegen, the Blaugrana survived and were able to grow into the game, although they never truly looked threatening.
And yet, there is something about this new formation that looks like it has potential.
Once Kounde gets his footing, Barcelona has formidable center-backs to fortify the defensive line.
Ilkay Gundogan is becoming the leader of the team off the field, and is making his presence felt in the midfield no matter where you ask him to play.
Barcelona no doubt had its struggles in this game, but with time they also showed an intention to combine, and build up the field with small passes. It seemed like maybe with time, and the right players on the field, this formation could be useful.
But the question is how often, and against which opponents? And perhaps most important, depending on which players are available to the team.
The return of Robert Lewandowski and Pedri makes the team much stronger, but I am skeptical that this 3-4-1-2 structure is optimal when they’re on the field.
Against Real Madrid, it was brilliant given how short handed Barcelona was. It gave the men available to Xavi a chance to shine and become more than the sum of their parts.
That was important since many of the players on the field are not supposed to be regular starters.
But now the most talented players are coming back from injury, and Xavi will want to maximize the impact they can make.
To get the most out of Lewandowksi and Pedri, that will mean going back to the 4-3-3, as unexciting as that sounds.
That may also mean that Lamine Yamal or Raphinha get their spot back on the right wing, while Joao Felix will move to the left wing, where he can be the most effective.
But the most interesting question to answer may surround the midfielders. Xavi will likely be looking for a way to move away from Oriol Romeu.
Pedri, Gavi, and Gundogan are his main men while Frenkie de Jong is still out.
In order to make that work, maybe it’s worth considering a 4-2-3-1.
That way, you can continue on with the blossoming double pivot partnership of Gavi and Gundogan, while giving Pedri the space to create as the lone attacking midfielder.
It may weaken the defense, especially if the manager continues on with Joao Cancelo and Alejandro Balde as full-backs.
Unless Xavi considers playing Kounde or Ronald Araujo as a right full-back, while alternating with Balde or Cancelo on the left. Frankly, both players will need a rest from time to time given the lack of rest they’ve received thus far.
So where do things stand?
Maybe in the best case scenario, Barcelona will find they can line up differently from game to game.
Depending on who’s available, and who the opponent is, Xavi has learned enough to know he can be flexible and get good performances from his team.
But the bigger problem has nothing to do with tactics or formation, but attitude. Just like Gundogan said a week ago.
You simply can’t show up and allow yourself to be outplayed by a rival who wants it more than you do.
Real Sociedad played harder, and they played better for most of the match.
If Barcelona can’t improve their mentality, it will be difficult to win silverware, because they won’t be able to count on luck so often.
Kudos to Araujo for not giving up, and for going the extra mile to find a way to get the winning goal.
He is a true warrior, but he can’t be the only one.
Time for these Barcelona players to look into the mirror that Gundogan was holding up to them.
He was onto something.