Barca’s fringe players struggle
Barcelona survived another Copa del Rey scare after coming from behind to see off third-tier side Linares on Wednesday. This was a ground where Barca B ran out 2-1 winners in October, and the senior side eventually picked up the same result but only after Gerard Pique, Ousmane Dembele, and Frenkie de Jong had been introduced at half-time.
The opening 45 minutes were probably the worst we’ve seen under Xavi as a sloppy and careless Barca struggled badly. The goal was a poor one to concede too. Riqui Puig and Jordi Alba failed to prevent the cross while Oscar Mingueza and Eric Garcia stood and watched Hugo Díaz head home.
Riqui had a particularly poor game which was painful to watch. It’s the first time he’s started two games in a row this season but he lost possession of the ball countless times in the first half and it was little surprise to see him hooked at the break. It might by a while until we see him again on this evidence.
Mingueza was another player who was well below-par. The youngster became an important squad player last season, not least because of his versatility, but it’s now difficult to see where he fits in.
There was also a far from assured performance from Neto in goal. The Brazilian looked jittery all night and got away with a really poor moment when Linares saw a goal chalked off. Surely it’s time Inaki Pena was given a chance to be Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s back-up?
Dani Alves is back
There were plenty of youngsters on show at Linares but there was also the sight of 38-year-old Dani Alves lining up for Barca once again. It was a strong effort from the veteran too who played the entire 90 minutes and characteristically couldn’t stop smiling afterwards.
Xavi employed Alves in a wing-back role and he spoke about his position after the match.
“Today I had a role that was in between a full-back and a midfielder, filling spaces, it is a position that I dominate, having such quality players by my side makes things easier.”
| Dani Alves vs Linares.— Barça Buzz (@Barca_Buzz) January 5, 2022
• 93 Touches.
• 53/60 Passes.
• 5/8 Accurate Long Balls.
• 7/13 Crosses.
• 7 Chances Created. (Most)
• 7 Key Passes.
• 9/14 Duels Won.
• 1 Clearance.
• 3 Dribbles.
• 3 Tackles.
• 8 Ball Recoveries.
• 3 Fouls Won.
What a player! pic.twitter.com/3xKm2wOsyI
Alves also had another telling comment after the match. “We must learn to compete and fight until the last moment – it’s only those who fight who win,” he said.
You get the feeling that one of reasons Alves has been brought back is for his personality and influence in the dressing room. Barca did manage to find the spirit needed to complete the comeback and while it may not have been pretty, the Catalan giants are in the hat for the last 16.
What does the future hold for Ferran Jutgla?
Ferran Jutgla grabbed the winner for Barcelona with a fine strike that takes his tally to three goals in five starts for the senior side (against Boca, Elche, and now Linares). The striker may not be the most talented of Barca’s current crop of youngsters but he’s certainly proving effective.
The 22-year-old only arrived at Barca B from Espanyol in the summer but injuries have seen him given a first-team chance. The retirement of Sergio Aguero and Barca’s financial problems could mean he gets a few more over the rest of the season.
Barca should have Ansu Fati and Ferran Torres (fingers crossed) back fairly soon, while Martin Braithwaite doesn’t seem to be too far way from a return either. However, Luuk de Jong is expected to leave, Yusuf Demir too, and Alvaro Morata isn’t coming which could all spell good news for Jutgla.
Hit and miss from Dembele
Barca’s other goalscorer was Ousmane Dembele who came off the bench and levelled the game for the visitors with a curling effort. It’s the Frenchman’s first goal of the season for Barca on what was his ninth appearance.
Dembele’s appearance certainly appeared to unnerve Linares and he should have added to his account against the third-tier side. The 24-year-old had seven shots in total in his 45 minutes on the pitch but only found the back of the net once.
7 - Ousmane Dembélé attempted seven shots against Linares Deportivo (two on target), the most by a @FCBarcelona player in a game this season in all competitions and the most by a LaLiga substitute in an competitive game this season. Critical. pic.twitter.com/43mgn8oEYt— OptaJose (@OptaJose) January 5, 2022
In many ways it was a typical Dembele performance. There was a bit of brilliance for the goal, another piece of magic to set up a better chance and then a wild finish when he only had the goalkeeper to beat but somehow managed to smash his shot against the crossbar instead.
We’ve seen Dembele miss good chances throughout his Barcelona career (Liverpool anyone?) which does make you wonder how much he’s actually progressed during his time at the Camp Nou, particularly when he’s reportedly asking for huge wages to continue.
Barca’s injury problems continue
Barca have brought back Dr Ricard Pruna to help try and solve the team’s injury crisis but picked up more problems on Wednesday as Ronald Araujo and Frenkie de Jong both went off injured.
Contamos en @JijantesFC— Gerard Romero (@gerardromero) January 5, 2022
Las primera exploraciones al jugador apuntan a una fractura del meta de la mano. El jugador cuando llegue a Barcelona pasará pruebas para confirmar la fractura #jijantesfc pic.twitter.com/voH8XfJ6Mx
Reports on Thursday morning reckon that Araujo has fractured his hand and could require surgery which may mean a lengthy absence. If that proves to be true it’s a huge blow for player and club given how important Araujo has been in the early months of the season.
De Jong could also be forced back onto the sidelines with a muscle problem. The Dutchman played less than half an hour after coming on at half-time and now seems a big doubt for Saturday’s game at Granada.