This is going to be the third time the two Spanish giants, rather the two biggest football giants will lock horns this season. This time, in the Copa del Rey semi-final 2nd leg fixture. Barcelona comes on the back of a big 4-2 win against Sevilla where Leo Messi netted a hattrick to drag the team to victory. Whereas Madrid managed to outscore Levante in a 2-1 victory where the controversial penalty awarded to them became a huge talking point after the game.
Barcelona battered Real Madrid thoroughly in their first encounter this season, that too without their best player who was out due to injury. However, in their last meeting (Copa del Rey 1st leg), which took place at Camp Nou, the two sides did not let many goals in as the match ended in a 1-1 stalemate. For Valverde, it is going to be important to field the correct players from the start if he wants to increase Barca’s odds for a win. Barca cannot let their 5-1 triumph hangover get into their heads as this Madrid team is different from what we saw initially this season. They need to adopt an aggressive approach against Madrid in the next match as they hold an away goal advantage in the semi-final stage. Considering this, the following are the key concerns Ernesto Valverde will need to address before selecting his lineup for the clash.
- Who plays Right Wing?
In absence of a proper right winger in the lineup of Barcelona in the last match, Pablo Machin focused more on stopping their attacks from the left than the right. In absence of a proper RW player, Barca could hardly do any damage from the right. Machin exploited this flaw and other managers might exploit it as well. A passing network chart of the previous match of Barcelona shows the lack of creativity in the right flank.
The right wing did not produce anything before the half time
Messi is the most used man in that position but another player who is highly effective in the same position is Ousmane Dembele. Dembele wasn’t played by Valverde from the start in the last match but as soon as he was subbed in, he started creating trouble for Sevilla. The mistake of benching him in the El Clasico will be a huge one, especially considering Barca need to score more than one goal at the Santiago Bernabeu. The dilemma ahead of Valverde is to select the role for him where he can be used optimally. So RW or LW is the question.
Here’s how Ernesto Valverde can choose to use the pacy winger in three formations:
- a)An asymmetrical 4-3-3 with the front three of Suarez, Messi, and Dembele. Here Dembele can play as RW with Messi as the second striker.
It is worthy to know that Messi, even when played RW has a tendency to drift centrally. A heat map of his this season will help you understand this perfectly. This is one way Dembele can be used effectively.
Messi’s heat map shows he plays more in the middle than in the right wing
b) Another way is to implement a 4-2-3-1 lineup with Dembele on the right, Coutinho/ Malcom on the left, Messi in the middle and Suarez up front. This would be a very aggressive formation which Barca used in the second half of their match against Sevilla. Knowing Valverde, he probably would not go with this one right from the start.
c) Finally the last way would be to incorporate Dembele would be to use him as LW in a 4-3-3 with Messi as RW and Suarez as the striker. This will likely take a toll on his effectiveness but Sergi Roberto can be played over Semedo as RB to keep attacks from the right side alive.
- Who will be the 3rd midfielder?
Rakitic and Busquets is the most trusted pair of Valverde. The two players hold the strings of the midfield and have been played in almost all the matches this season. So we should not expect any surprise there.
Vidal has been playing along with these two but his performance has been underwhelming lately. The problem with Vidal- Rakitic- Busquets mid is that there is no creativity contributed by them. It has been the case since several matches and the gaffer has drawn flak from the fans for this severely.
Coutinho is the player who is expected to create something from the build-ups but he has been shockingly poor this season.
So the last option is Carles Alenya. He got promoted this season itself and he has impressed everyone with his game. Valverde had substituted him for Vidal in the last match and he showed his mettle. He was indirectly responsible for one of the goals in that match as well. So a midfield of Rakitic, Alenya, and Busquets should be the right choice.
- Should Jordi Alba be given aid in the left flank?
Alba is in top form this season and has contributed to numerous goals for the team. He has developed incredible chemistry with Messi as the Messi-Alba connection is one of the most reliable combinations for Barca. But it has been observed that Alba is more destructive when he rules the left flank all by himself. That is, he works better without a left winger in front of him. Therefore logically, a LW should not be used. Or Dembele can play there because, in the end, he will occasionally slip into the RW role too when Messi plays in the middle.
After considering all the above concerns it seems it would be appropriate for Barcelona to go with an asymmetrical 4-3-3 lineup. However, you never know that because a team having Lionel Messi can shock you even after doing multiple things wrong.