Three talking points ahead of Linares vs Barcelona – Copa del Rey round of 32
The off-pitch developments pertaining to Barcelona would have had the majority projecting a draw or even victory for their hosts as Barça took on RCD Mallorca away from home.
The Catalan giants had a host of players absent for the clash. Notwithstanding the pre-existing limitations, the Garnet and Blue held their own. Xavi Hernandez’ side ground out a 0-1 victory courtesy of a Luuk de Jong header.
Barça are set to face their second of at least five matches away from home this month as they make the trip to Andalusia to face third division side Linares Deportivo. Barcelona owe it to themselves to emerge victoriously.
As per COVID-19 restrictions, fans will not be in their 13,250 seater stadium at total capacity. This should give the Blaugrana somewhat an advantage as they ideally have less to worry about.
Given what Barcelona demonstrated against RCD Mallorca, there should not be much cause for fright. The Catalans delivered one of their most memorable victories, not by performance but by their ability to face adversity head-on.
More of the same will be expected in today’s fixture. With that said, here are three talking points ahead of the Catalans’ clash at Linares.
1. Saving grace
In La Liga, a tournament where consistency is needed above all else, a defeat is not necessarily the end of the world. After all, things such as these happen on a fairly regular basis, but in a league setting, one is granted the possibility of turning things around.
With the change in the format of the Copa Del Rey three seasons ago, even the chance of a second-leg comeback is out the window. As such, winning is imperative.
The season has not panned out anywhere near how Barcelona had hoped. Barça sit a whopping fifteen points behind Real Madrid, who are running away with the title at this point.
This essentially translates to the Copa Del Rey being the most viable trophy that the Catalans can win, as even the Europa League could be uncertain given the strength of Napoli.
A third division side should ideally be the least of Barça’s worries, but as was the case with Los Blancos last term, surprises can occur. Xavi Hernandez simply cannot afford to lose this trophy, especially not against a team the club have technically already beaten this term, as Barça B emerged victorious in that very stadium by two goals to one in their Segunda B tie.
This will be the first of six games that the garnet and blue need to win in this tournament. It only gets more complicated from here on out. A win here will serve as a massive confidence boost for the side, who, in seven days time, will be facing Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup.
2. Yet another test of Xavi’s ingenuity
The sheer number of absentees that Barcelona have had to deal with this season through suspension, injury, or illness is enough to make any manager lose their mind.
After all, the Catalans’ list only grew more extensive, as the team was unable to field any of their best players against Mallorca this past weekend.
A number of the stars return, with Sergio Busquets having served his suspension. The midfield was not as glamorous as it ideally should have been, especially in the holding midfield, as Frenkie de Jong struggled to make the most of his chance.
With a lot of stars seemingly injured, Xavi Hernandez will have to make proper use of every single one of his players to avoid an extension of this torrid list. Numerous players are set to play in positions far from their own yet again, with the likes of Ronald Araujo and Oscar Mingueza perhaps headed to the flanks once more.
The sextuple winner will have to decide whether he will go for his best team in order to ensure victory or if he will include a significant number of B-team players to be sure that he does not lose any more of his very few first-team players.
3. Last few chance for certain individuals
The winter transfer window is officially open and with it the possibility of several exits taking place. Several players in Barcelona will have no choice but to show their best selves against Linares, should this game be one to decide their fates.
In the backline, Oscar Mingueza will be tasked with holding his own in yet another match in which he will play in a position foreign to him. With news fairly regularly stating that he reportedly has no place in Xavi Hernandez’ plans, a second brilliant performance in a row will be essential to him keeping himself at the club, even if it is for just six more months.
Riqui Puig, who has often been sidelined by all his past three managers, will also need to prove his worth here again. Last season in the Copa Del Rey, his carelessness cut his playing time down to even less than the little it already was.
The young Spaniard has only himself to blame if the game tomorrow pushes him yet again to a bench he clearly has no intention of warming anymore.
Further, given Barcelona’s financial trouble, we cannot rule out an exit for any player in the team. It is make or break for a lot of these players, who, if they indeed prove to be convincing, could be starting, or at the very least, considered against Real Madrid next week.
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