Headache for Valverde: Barcelona in a tricky situation heading into Real Betis clash – opinion

The opening game didn’t really go as planned for Barcelona as the Catalans lost their La Liga curtain-raiser for the first time in a decade. Of course, San Mames is hardly an easy ground to visit but it was difficult to escape the feeling that Ernesto Valverde’s troops looked sloppy and disjointed.

A big part of his problem was, of course, the absence of Lionel Messi, who sustained an injury just after returning back from his holiday over the summer. The Argentine, however, should be given the green light from the medical staff come Barcelona’s weekend clash against Real Betis at the Camp Nou.

But taking all of that into consideration, Ernesto Valverde still has a huge question mark above his head coming into the game on Sunday: what lineup to choose?

And this might sound like a really generic issue every manager faces before any given game but Valverde is in a particularly interesting and rather complex situation that many will be eager to see him do his best to resolve.

The game against Athletic Bilbao last week was special as well because the coach decided to field a rather fresh, and in so many ways experimental, lineup. He benched both Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitić and pushed Sergi Roberto into midfield, leaving Nelson Semedo at right-back.

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In so many ways, this was revolutionary – but it also backfired. Whether it was solely because the players are still getting used to each other, which is also a possibility given that there were two debutants in that lineup, or simply a matter of poor choice by the manager, is impossible to say for sure.

Either way, the game against Real Betis might prove to be an even bigger challenge since it will be the one he’ll have to face not only without Messi, presuming Valverde won’t risk him from the get-go even if he does get his medical clearance, but also without Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele, both of whom are now out injured as well.

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Valverde took a gamble in the opening game, one that ended up coming back to bite him and now, as it currently stands, he won’t have much of a choice but to gamble once again.

Due to the aforementioned injuries, the forward line is bound to be an experimental one, to say the least. With Philippe Coutinho and Malcom having both left the club now, the only available options are the youngsters or the slightly out of favour Rafinha, who’s been reduced to only occasional appearances in recent times.

It’s either that or shifting the whole system, changing up the formation and coming up with something else on the spot. And that’s before delving into the middle of the pitch, which is historically the core of every Barcelona team.

Everything starts and finishes in the midfield and the Catalans have been known for their exceptional quality in that specific area, with the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets leading the line.

But it seems that by benching both Busquets and Rakitić, moving Roberto away from defence and throwing the newcomer Frenkie de Jong into the fire immediately, Valverde was adamant in his stance that a change was needed. But is he going to stand by his decision now that it didn’t work out the first time around?

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Getting the lineup right and choosing his personnel correctly will definitely shape the whole game on Sunday. And it’s a pretty big one, too. Camp Nou’s maiden game in the 2019/20 La Liga season is something the fans are certainly looking forward to.

Messi or no Messi, Valverde will have to make it work somehow and with so many core players missing from the squad, it might prove a tall order.

Is he going to thrive or buckle up under pressure? The tension is very much growing in Catalonia, and for Valverde, every game feels like a final.

Tick-tock, the clock is ticking and the ball is in Barcelona’s court. Where will they kick it?

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