Can Barcelona get through its injury problems in time for the UCL and Clasico?
The "butterfly effect" that Barcelona president Joan Laporta envisioned when he mortgaged portions of the club's future so he could immediately invest a few hundred million euros in transfer fees and wages was that of a solitary, unattractive footballing larva evolving into a beautiful, colorful, and highly admired creature. The severe injuries Ronald Araujo and Jules Kounde sustained while serving abroad, however, have the infamous kind of impact, where the flap of even the smallest set of bug wings, at the wrong moment and location, can have devastating, ever-expanding effects.
The butterfly effect, which is also known as "chaos theory," contends that although small events cannot literally start a storm on the other side of the world by flapping their tiny, colorful wings, they can nevertheless start a chain reaction that causes things to go terribly wrong in non-linear, complex systems.
Do you now recognize the similarities to Barcelona?
In particular, Frenkie de Jong, Gerard Pique, Andreas Christensen, Marcos Alonso, Hector Bellerin, and Andreas Christensen are Barcelona players who can fill in for Kounde, whose absence is expected to last at least a month, and for Araujo, who will undergo surgery, until late December or early January. Most clubs would bow in prayer of thanksgiving if they had such resources at their disposal. Just to be clear on that There's no need for anyone to get out the tiniest violin in the world and pretend to feel sorry for the Camp Nou team.
However, in terms of a causal relationship, these injuries unquestionably have the potential to result in Barcelona being eliminated from the Champions League at the group stage for the second consecutive year (something they haven't experienced in 21 years); to do so would cost the club up to €100m in lost revenue; to scupper their LaLiga campaign through a loss in the upcoming Clasico against Real Madrid; to have a domino effect on their team's morale and form if the Champions League group
All of the dangers fit the definition of a near and present danger. Depending entirely on how Xavi Hernandez chooses to play his cards, Pique might also decide to abandon his career as a professional football player. It's also possible, according to this chaos theory, that Barcelona will find a way to fight their way out of this predicament; to utterly restore their self-respect and confidence; or even that Pique will be called upon to perform, to shine, to once again declare his availability for Spain; who knows, this might give Luis Enrique some food for thought before he selects his World Cup team in November.
Please be patient; I'll explain everything.
For those who support the Blaugrana, the first series that the butterfly's wings can directly and adversely effect is Barcelona's next five matches, three of which are against Inter Milan (away, then home), and Real Madrid (a Clasico at the Bernabeu.) Quite brutal Do Barcelona still have the ability to win at Camp Nou and earn five points from those games by drawing the two away tests? Potentially.
But aside from their exceptional individual performances, would Araujo and Kounde have started all three games and played crucial tactical roles if they had been healthy? Unquestionably. The high defensive line, as well as Xavi's occasionally used three-at-the-back experiment, entirely depend on Araujo's speed and strength.
He would have been used to cover the suddenly fit Romelu Lukaku against Inter. He would have faced Vinicius Jr. versus Madrid, as he did in the previous two Clasicos (both of which Barcelona won with a clean sheet). Right-back for Uruguay and attacker for Brazil square up in what is quickly developing into a fantastic man-on-man sideshow to the main feast.
The absence of that upcoming, exciting confrontation will diminish the Clasico, at least for the neutral.
The stats for this season show Kounde's match reading, pace, interceptions, tackles, and ability to bring the ball out from the back. Oh, and he's already contributed three assists in five games. By the way, Mallorca supporters: As long as the 6-foot-4 Kosovo center-forward is healthy when he returns from international duty, I will not overlook Barcelona's diminished ability to handle Vedat Muriqi's aerial and physical threat on Saturday.
It is already clear that how Xavi arranges his remaining defenders and how well they play will be crucial in preventing the catastrophic damage that is now threatening Barcelona's burgeoning comeback.
Garcia, first. Xavi respects his mentality, his ball-handling prowess, and never stops praising his fundamental skills. The 21-year-old has started only 184 of Barcelona's last 360 competitive minutes, is undersized for a center defender (5-foot-11), and may be outpaced for speed if turned by a striker. When Barcelona is defending with a high line, Garcia plays extremely closely to his man because, if he allows a quick striker to gain possession, pivot, and sprint, it's likely that he won't be able to keep up.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen's goal is at risk of receiving a caution, a red card, or both if even the smallest timing or placement fault is made. When he sees how Breel Embolo completely trapped and bossed Garcia for Switzerland's game-winning goal against Spain in Zaragoza at the weekend, Lukaku, if healthy and selected at San Siro next week, will be licking his lips in anticipation. Compared to Embolo, who is undoubtedly impressive and scored the game-winning goal in Switzerland's first-ever away victory versus La Roja, the Belgian striker is superior, bigger, stronger, and far more experienced at the highest level.
In the last Clasico, Garcia and Christensen actually started as the central defenders. But be cautious. Anyone who doesn't remember that Madrid were much worse prepared for the season because of their later start to their preseason program in terms of match practice, fitness, and sharpness. De Jong and Pique played the last minutes of that Clasico, which Raphinha won with an incredible goal.
Christensen, like Garcia, is skilled with the ball, joined on a free transfer, and played a key role in the rebuilding effort that Xavi, Jordi Cruyff, and Mateu Alemany undertook this summer. However, Christensen has also demonstrated a notable propensity for positional errors and lack of focus. He is not accustomed to Barcelona's approach of playing out from the back and can be forced into giving ball away. Studying the Danish international's positioning, response time, and athleticism when Bayern Munich scored their second goal in Munich the previous week, four minutes after taking the lead, reveals that he was fundamentally at fault.
Both Inter and Madrid will have carefully examined that specifics. Now, the sensible thing to do would be for Xavi to turn to his former teammate Gerard Pique, who has won the Champions League, the European Championship, and the World Cup, and say: "Geri, it's time for your 'Last Dance' — lead the defense through this crisis."
Will he, though? Is he permitted to? Will he" refers to the idea that former teammates do not necessarily make good friends when one is promoted to managing the team because egos clash and it might be difficult to draw a line between the past and the present. Only two things actually tie Xavi and Pique together in terms of their habits, attitudes, ideologies, personalities, and private lives: their love for their club and success in general.
This season has seen many sparks fly. Privately, but there are still sparks. Is he permitted to? is a question that alludes to Laporta and the bean counters at Barca wanting Pique to retire willingly to stop his expensive contract, which runs until June 2024. The theory that the coach may have received a message suggesting, "restrict his minutes, burn up his patience," is related to a recent report from El Mundo that the defender makes about €28 million gross and €15 million net per season.
Even without taking into account his turbulent personal life, Pique could have easily scored an own goal in this situation. When discussing hanging up his boots in April of last year, he said to journalist Jordi Wild: "It's not just physical; it's motivational. If I don't have the necessary motivation, I won't wander through all the stadiums in Spain. With all due respect, getting ready for a 4 p.m. kickoff means mentally preparing for a stadium and pitch where I've already played 15 times. I proceed match after match. Fortunately, up till now, I've discovered little things that keep motivating me. But even at the club I adore, I frequently struggled to stay motivated.
"I wouldn't switch teams for all the money in the world. I am certain that I will retire here. I've always claimed that whether I had two, five, or 25 years left on my contract, if I no longer "felt it," I'll quit. What is the substitute? to idle on the bench or in the stand? No way. No need to ruin what has been good here. I want to go out feeling like I've always mattered."
Despite being right-footed, Pique is still unquestionably excellent enough for Xavi to center Barcelona's defense around him. This is especially true given that he feels at home playing at left center-back. His tremendous knowledge, his match reading, his passing out from the back, and his unwavering desire to win all outweigh the fact that he is no longer a "peak athlete" at the age of 35.
But would Xavi believe him, ignore the media's unrelenting fixation with Pique's divorce from Shakira, and risk disappointing one or two of his own new recruits? Could the team demand to the coach that Pique should only start when absolutely necessary? If Pique is made to serve as nothing more than a bench warmer while Araujo and Kounde are out until November and after the World Cup, respectively, wouldn't that send the clearest message possible that his time at Barcelona is over, regardless of how much of a contract he still has left?
For the biggest clubs in Europe, the weeks leading up to the World Cup were already packed with fresh challenges and chances. But with these two devastating injuries, Barcelona, their young coach, and their intriguing but still young change are now in the public eye.
Will Pique come to the rescue or will it be final goodbyes? Will Barcelona be saved from such a precarious Champions League predicament by perseverance and spirit, or by even greater financial losses? And when it comes to El Clasico, humiliation or resistance?