There’s no question that at this current phase in the season, Ernesto Valverde is still trying to find his ideal starting 11. For the first time, Valverde has a mostly injury-free squad and all options are available for him (except obviously Philippe Coutinho in the Champions League).
Sunday sees Barcelona take on Atletico Madrid in what will be a key game in the title race. Thursday’s draw against Las Palmas saw few players stake their claim for a place, but if we look back at Barcelona’s 6-1 stomping of Girona, two players specifically stood out: Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele.
Coutinho’s gifts were on full display against Girona, his passing, shooting, and spacing were all phenomenal. Coutinho linked up intricately with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez specifically, creating a Suarez goal off a wonderful Messi through ball.
He wasn’t finished there though… in the 66th minute Coutinho left his marker in the dust and curled a beautiful finish around the keeper. Coutinho is known for his majestic hits from distance and seeing it in a Barcelona jersey for the first time was astounding.
In recent seasons, other than Ivan Rakitic and Lionel Messi, Barcelona has lacked a player capable of scoring a wonder goal from outside the box and a player who has the capability to do it frequently. Coutinho’s skill and his ability to change games with a kick of a foot, especially against teams that play extremely defensively in their own box is something that Valverde must keep in mind.
The second player that made a case for their inclusion in the starting 11 is Dembele. Blaugrana fans have been waiting for the time to see the Frenchman’s dribbling skills while driving at defenders, and the game finally gave us the opportunity to see it. Dembele was on a nuisance to Girona on his flank and provided a beautiful cross that Suarez finished, while almost ending up on the scoresheet himself with a shot that flashed across goal.
These two players are making their cases for being considered for Barcelona’s biggest games and it will be interesting to see how Valverde lines up against Atletico Madrid. Should Barcelona win that game they will be eight points clear at the top and looking good for the title once more. A player that is certainly nervous about their game time has to be Paulinho; after a bright start to the season the Brazilian has begun to tail off as the season has dragged on.
Ultimately, Valverde has a real problem, the team has plenty of quality and he still might not know where his ideal lineup is. As the critical part of the season is approaching quickly though, Valverde will be wise to figure out as soon as possible! Visca Barca