Barcelona defeated Slavia Prague in a match that left them atop their UEFA Champions League group, but also with a very troubling feeling. The Czech minnows dominated long stretches of the match and should have gotten more out of it, with Barça lucky to escape with all three points.
The main reason for this was Slavia’s physical dominance over the blaugrana. They covered 115 km while the Catalans covered only 100 km, according to stats from UEFA. Five of the top six players as far as distance covered were Slavia players, with only Frenkie De Jong breaking the pattern.
Barcelona covered less ground than any other team during matchday three of the competition, a worrying sign. The Catalans did well in the beginning and got a very early goal from Lionel Messi. But as time went on, they faded physically, with Slavia pressing them into mistakes.
The Czechs were faster and the gap only got wider as the minutes went by. Barça looked exhausted and players such as Messi made simple, uncharacteristic mistakes.
To what degree this lack of physical prowess is due to a extensive travel in the preseason coupled with playing a midweek game, and to what degree it’s due to many players being over 30, is up for debate.
It remains to be seen how Ernesto Valverde will cope with this kind of challenge in the future. Will he opt for faster, younger players such as Ousmane Dembélé? He may, although Dembélé himself left something to be desired against Slavia.
Will Valverde look to rotate more? Can he make changes to the players’ physical conditioning? What is the answer?