After the COVID-19-enforced break, La Liga is finally back and running. Reigning champions Barcelona have benefited from the sudden break as it provided the club with valuable time to get some of their injured stars fit.
Although French forward Ousmane Dembele still remains on the sidelines, owing to a hamstring injury, the likes of Samuel Umtiti, Sergi Roberto, Arthur Melo as well as Luis Suarez could return to action soon.
Barcelona are currently just two points clear of arch-rivals Real Madrid at the top of the table, with 11 rounds of fixtures still left to be played. The slender advantage doesn’t count much as Real Madrid would be the champions if they are level on points with the Catalan giants at the end of the season.
Unlike the Premier League, where goal-difference comes into play when two teams are level on points, La Liga takes into account head-to-head results, and that’s where Los Blancos have the advantage. While the first Clasico of the season ended in a goalless affair at the Camp Nou in December last year, Zinedine Zidane’s men triumphed 2-0 in the second one at the Bernabeu in early March.
Both Spanish giants have a good chance of winning the league title, but in this article, we will discuss what Barcelona need to do to maintain their domestic dominance and lift the La Liga trophy for the 27th time in their illustrious history.
Improve their away form
Barcelona’s away form has been atrocious in the present campaign. In their last five La Liga fixtures away from the Camp Nou, the Catalan giants have drawn two and lost two, including the 2-0 Clasico defeat against Real Madrid, with their sole win coming in the form of a 3-2 victory over Real Betis.
Moreover, Barcelona’s first match after the break is an away trip to Mallorca and dropping points at Son Moix could prove fatal to their chances of retaining the league title.
With a host of players returning from injuries and the new five substitutes rule in place, Barcelona boss Quique Setien would want to utilise his squad fully to counter the horrific streak away from home. Furthermore, empty stadiums could also play a role in improving the champions’ shaky away form.
The Catalan giants still have to play at Sevilla, Celta Vigo, Villarreal, Real Vallaloid and Alaves, and the outcome of these matches will play a vital role in their bid to win La Liga for the 27th time.
Cutting down on defensive errors
The defence has proven to be the main downfall of Barcelona all season. From rookie mistakes to being out of position, the Blaugrana’s backline has been exposed throughout the season. Quique Setien would have the option of playing Samuel Umtiti and Sergi Roberto, with the duo returning from injuries.
Despite his disciplinary and injury issues, Umititi is still the best partner for Gerard Pique at the heart of Barcelona’s defence. The French international and the veteran Spaniard are both comfortable in possession and can play the ball out from the back.
On the other hand, Sergi Roberto proved to be a solid player both in midfield as well as in defence and has an edge over his replacement – Nelson Semedo. His positioning, coupled with Barcelona’s trademark possession style of play, could see the champions concede fewer goals.
Barcelona’s defence needs to win possession back quickly and get the ball out to the midfield by playing out from the back as the long-ball game proved to be futile under Setiens’s predecessor, Ernesto Valverde. A backline consisting of Pique, Umtiti, Jordi Alba and Roberto would be a good shout for this style of play. However, the personnel won’t make any difference if proper strategy and defensive discipline are not implemented at the instant.
Be less dependent on Lionel Messi for goals
Barcelona boss Quique Setien confirmed on Friday that Luis Suarez is “likely” to feature against Mallorca on Saturday. The Uruguayan underwent surgery on his knee in August and thought his season was over. But the unscheduled break has allowed him to recover in time for the run-in.
In the absence of Suarez, Barcelona heavily depended on the talismanic Lionel Messi for goals, with summer signing Antoine Griezmann yet to find his footing at the Camp Nou.
A fit Luis Suarez is always lethal and the former Liverpool star could score vital goals needed to retain the La Liga title. Moreover, the 33-year-old’s return to the team would also rejuvinate his chemistry with Messi, something which has proved to be beneficial for Barcelona over the years.
Despite missing a large chunk of the season, Suarez is still the league’s third-highest goalscorer with 11 strikes to his name. The striker’s form and availability will be crucial in determining whether the La Liga trophy heads to the Camp Nou for the third straight year.