What does it mean to say the league is still alive?
Barca fans are too smart to kid themselves that a domestic trophy is within reach.
It’s a good distance away, but the gap could shorten soon with a Madrid derby forthcoming, and opportunities for Barcelona to take down both sides in the coming months.
Talking that way, however, is besides the point. To say “Hay Liga” for Barca is to say there is belief in their ability to take on the challenge.
Confidence that they can make Atletico Madrid sweat. Apply the pressure. Creep up on them, and be ready to take advantage when they slip up.
After two commanding performances against Sevilla, we see evidence that the mental fortitude and winning attitude has returned.
There is much to look forward to, but a disciplined one game at a time approach is required.
Coming up on Saturday, Barca’s next step is to vanquish a tricky Osasuna side.
Let’s see how far the 3-5-2 can go
Ronald Koeman has found a system, perhaps for the first time, that has decisively taken down a quality opponent.
The experiment looks promising because it could be repeated.
For a team that’s been stunted by horizontal play, we are now seeing an ability to open the game vertically by penetrating backlines through the middle and on the flank as needed.
This unpredictability is a game changer.
It creates space for Jordi Alba to roam, and Sergino Dest to go 1 v 1, playing to their strengths.
Ousmane Dembele is striking fear into the hearts of center backs who now need to watch their back constantly. It was fun to see his duel with Jules Kounde, who at times resorted to man marking the Frenchman, but it was clear who came out on top.
The three-man backline seems as solid as it’s ever been, and it’s taken pressure off Sergio Busquets, who can now function almost exclusively as a playmaker.
The question is whether this formation is flexible enough to accommodate other players.
Antoine Griezmann is the first person that comes to mind.
Incorporate Antoine Griezmann
It was interesting that Koeman elected to substitute Dest for Griezmann, because it showed he believed that with Griezmann it was necessary to switch back to a 4-3-3.
Does that mean he’s the odd man out?
With Messi’s future uncertain, it would be interesting to see Dembele play alongside Griezmann up front.
Conversely, could the three play together with Messi dropping underneath in the midfield?
In these last games, Messi looks aggressive defensively. We also know he loves playing quarterback, and the best way to do that is in the midfield.
It wouldn’t cost a whole lot to experiment. The point is don’t give up on Griezmann whose form is up, and confidence growing.
In these Copa comebacks, he has played an integral role.
In fact, I dub him the hero of the Copa.
Against Sevilla, he once again fought until the end to make sure Barca wouldn’t die. What composure, intelligence, and skill to execute the cross that sent the game to overtime.
Along the same lines, Barca has Martin Braithwaite, Francisco Trincao, and Ansu Fati to think about.
Can this new system adapt to serve everyone?
Against Osasuna, eyes will be on Koeman to see where he takes it.
Osasuna is deceptively effective
The men from Pamplona have left the relegation zone, and are comfortably middle of the table after a period of consistent results.
Last time these teams met was in November, and it was one of the few comfortable victories that Barca was able to produce early on.
The score line was 4-0, with Braithwaite, Messi, Coutinho, and Griezmann all getting on the board.
It would be nice to reproduce a team victory like that.
Against Sevilla, Barca demonstrated that the strength is coming from the system, and whoever is called on will take their chance when the moment arises.
Osasuna’s success recently has come down to good defense.
In fact, since the new year they have yet to give up more than two goals in any game.
Barcelona needs to prepare for this, or it could turn into another Cadiz debacle.
How will they open the game?
The new formation may help with getting behind the backline.
If Osasuna is super conservative, which is likely, then the Barca players will need to make their chances count, and not beat themselves with unforced errors.
This is a big test then. Has Barca turned that corner?
Not too many big names to call out for Osasuna, but the leading scorer is Croatian Ante Budimir with 6 goals.
Ruben Garcia has 3 goals and 3 assists, and has been a steady presence with the team since helping them achieve promotion in 2018.
The ecstasy of the last week was fun, but we all know it doesn’t last.
Consistency would be the greatest gift of all.