With the action coming thick and fast this week, Barcelona travel to Valencia to face Levante for their Copa del Rey Round of 16 clash on Thursday before hosting Eibar at the Camp Nou for Sunday’s La Liga fixture.
Last Sunday saw Barca return to action after a two-week hiatus, where they defeated a resolute Getafe in a hard fought 2-1 victory at the Coliseum Alfonso Perez. Barca’s regulars played an impressive game of football, as was shown by their 77% possession on the night as well as a respectable 8 out of 12 shots being on target. In one of the standout moments of the match, Luis Suarez hit a phenomenal volley that could definitely be a contender for goal of the season.
While the match at Getafe was a challenging one, Barca are expected to have an easier run in the coming weeks with matches against Eibar, Leganes, Girona and two cup fixtures against Levante. This, along with the tough fixtures that the Blaugranes will have in February and March against the likes of Valencia, Sevilla, Real Madrid and Lyon, makes this week an opportune time to allow some of the younger squad players to enjoy some more game time. Not only will this allow Barca to rest some tired legs before times get tough, but it will also give some of Barca’s future stars some time in the spotlight, which the club may not be able to afford to do as the season approaches its climax.
Among these young stars is Carles Alena, a Barcelona native and graduate from the Barcelona B team. Although he has only featured twice in La Liga from the bench, and only started one Champions League game against Spurs, he has already exhibited his talent as a centre-mid, with precise passing and a knack for reading his team-mates and executing effective link-up play. Whilst an unused sub during Barca’s 5-0 drubbing of Levante, Alena got a first hand look at Levante’s playing style from the bench, and can use the knowledge gained from his observations against them in Thursday’s Copa del Rey clash. If Alena is given the chance, he could surely become a necessary component of the Barca midfield and a suitable replacement for Arturo Vidal, Ivan Rakitic or Sergio Busquets once age kicks in.
Looking into Barca’s attack, the newly-signed Malcom has proven to be a talented but under-utilised asset to the team. Whilst he has had a few shining moments, such as his Champions League goal against Inter as well as a goal in the Copa del Rey, five appearances as a sub in La Liga (amounting to 97 minutes game time) is not enough for him to showcase his full potential. Either the match against Eibar or the struggling Leganes would be an ideal time for Malcom to gain league exposure, which will in turn allow key players such as Lionel Messi and Suarez to rest before having to face tougher competition come February.
As for the Blaugranes’ defence, Samuel Umtiti’s long-term knee injury has resulted in Ernesto Valverde relying on Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet to hold Barca’s back line from central positions. Backup option Thomas Vermaelen’s calf injury has further complicated the situation, as Valverde has had to call up numerous players from the Barcelona B team including Chumi and Jorge Cuenca in order to fill the vacancies. This has placed additional importance on new arrival Jeison Murillo from Valencia, who has been brought in on loan in order to add defensive depth to the squad.
Murillo should be used in defence this week and Chumi and Cuenca may also get a look-in if Valverde wants to rest both Pique and Lenglet. Juan Miranda may get a start in the Copa del Rey to give Jordi Alba a rest.
As for Munir and Denis Suarez, neither seem to be options as it seems that Munir, whose Barca career has been underwhelming at best, has no way back into the team and may be leaving for Sevilla this transfer window while Denis Suarez looks Arsenal-bound. Sergi Samper remains doubtful with a calf injury.
Fortunately, the Blaugranes have plenty of up-and-coming players in reserve, and now is as good a time as any to allow them the opportunity to gain valuable first-team experience and turn a few heads; all while Barca’s elite get the chance to rest their legs in preparation for the challenges ahead.