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Keys to the Game: Valencia vs Barcelona

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Can Barcelona dust themselves off and rise to the challenge?

FC Barcelona v Granada CF - La Liga Santander Photo by Pedro Salado/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

We’ve been here before.

It starts with complacency. Not coming out with a winner’s mentality.

Barcelona is punished for letting their guard down. The players are reminded how delicate their resolve is, and important points slip away.

Lucky for the Blaugrane, this season is different.

The winner of La Liga will be the last man standing. Luck will matter as much as merit.

With expectations raised, we want to a fight until the end, win or lose.

The future at the club is on the line for the manager and many of the players. This could be the last chance to show pride in the colors they are privileged to wear.

Next up is Valencia, with Atletico Madrid waiting on deck.

With everything to play for in front of them, what kind of response will we get from this team?

Trust the young players

Villarreal CF v FC Barcelona - La Liga Santander Photo by Jose Breton/Pics Action/NurPhoto via Getty Images

It’s a repeating theme, but most fans have agreed from the start that, regardless of the results, we want to see what the young Barca players can do.

One of the most frustrating parts of the Granada fiasco, was that it came at the hands of the same cast of characters who meltdown in big moments time and again.

The low-hanging fruit is choosing Sergino Dest over Sergi Roberto.

Dest, in my opinion, is a positive every time he’s on the field. When he makes mistakes, it’s because he’s young and learning, and they are compensated for by his ability to make plays.

Sergi Roberto is the antithesis of a modern wingback because the only direction he knows is backwards. Dest is a threat, and Barca needs as much of that as it can get.

Ilaix Moriba had a quiet game against Granada, but not because he wasn’t working hard. More than anything, he was being ignored in spite of his efforts.

Frenkie’s decision to force a ball to Messi, instead of squaring an easy ball across the box encapsulated the habitually bad decision making that these Barca players have ingrained in them.

This is a team sport, and Messi is one player. He is not the team.

Pedri will play on Sunday, Ilaix and Riqui Puig will be on the bench. Whoever it is, however, needs to play the right pass every time, no matter who it’s to.

Trust the young players. Every player in a Barca shirt is there for a reason, and is capable of delivering when the right play is made.

Ironically, it’s the experienced players who have developed bad instincts, read Messi dependence, over time.

Leave it to the young ones to lead the way.

If you don’t care you shouldn’t play

FC Barcelona v Granada CF - La Liga Santander Photo by Pedro Salado/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

As a fan, I don’t like it when my team looks like they’re trying to put me to sleep.

The way the second half started against Granada raised red flags immediately.

Do these players realize they’re only leading by one goal? Do they understand what’s on the line?

Is this a preseason friendly, or are we trying to win a title?

It shouldn’t be that hard to figure out which players want to win the most.

Antoine Griezmann isn’t always at his clinical best, but I know he cares about winning because of the way he consistently tracks back to win balls.

This season, I’ve seen a spark that challenges defenders every time Ousmane Dembele touches the ball. It was a mistake not to start him against Granada.

Ronald Araujo and Oscar Mingueza have been playing hard to make a name for themselves.

With a little rest, Pedri should be ready to come back and do the same on Sunday.

Messi, Pique, Busquets, and Jordi Alba need to step up now and be leaders. We know they have the skill to produce magic at any moment.

But what can they do to motivate and hold the team accountable for 90 minutes?

Leading by example. Not disappearing. Playing hard, every second.

Possession has become a crutch. True winners are killers who put away games.

Let’s hope they have that mentality against Valencia.

Valencia are weak and this game shouldn’t be close

Valencia CF v Deportivo Alavés - La Liga Santander Photo by Angel Martinez/Getty Images

Valencia are simply a bad team.

It’s been a revolving door of players, and they make Barcelona look like a functional club.

In their last ten games, they’ve only won twice, and currently reside at the bottom of the table.

They have a competent goalkeeper in former blaugrane Jasper Cillessen, and yet they are one of the worst defensive teams in the league with 48 goals against.

Sounds great, but that logic didn’t work so well for Barcelona against Granada.

This is round two, another chance for Barca to put away a game against a fragile opponent by attacking aggressively.

The flip side of the coin is that Valencia can score goals. Let them hang around, get hit on the counter, and Barca are in danger.

Carlos Soler and Maxi Gomez are likely culprits to do the damage, but for Valencia the goals could just as likely come from anywhere.

With only five games remaining, and a golden chance to make a run for the La Liga title, Barcelona will need to be reminded of all the lessons they’ve learned.

Most important is not to forget that talent means nothing without hard work.

Ronald Koeman won’t be on the sideline to demand it, but that shouldn’t matter.

They have everything they need, and the trophy is there for the taking.