Has Barcelona caught the injury bug this season?

By guest contributor Soham Banerjee (@IamSohamB).

Injuries have led to a number of lackluster performances by Ernesto Valverde’s men this season and it has been quite a few months since the manager dealt with the tough selection decisions that he would have with a healthy squad. In the engine of FC Barcelona, the midfield, there have been a number of injuries and rotations that have affected the team’s continuity on both sides of the ball.

Over the last few weeks, there has been a feeling every time a player comes back healthy, two more hit the medical table. Denis Suárez and Carles Aleñá started the season on the shelf, Lionel Messi was forced to miss El Clásico, Luis Suárez, Philippe Coutinho, Ivan Rakitic, Thomas Vermaelen, Marc-André ter Stegen, Jasper Cillessen and most recently Arthur have all spent time rehabbing injuries this season with varying lengths of absence. At the moment, Malcom, Rafinha, Sergi Samper and Samuel Umtiti are all still on the sideline. Fourteen players on the first team roster have been injured this season and just eight have remained healthy. The injury bug has not been covered with much depth this season, but each injury has prevented Valverde from sticking with a tactical set-up for more than a match or two.

Particularly in the midfield, those injuries have affected the depth and prevented Valverde from rotating the way he may have wanted to. While Rafinha was playing on the wing and Sergi Roberto has been operating at right-back, they both provide depth in any of the midfield positions in case of emergency. For Denis Suárez and Aleñá, two players with plenty to prove for different reasons, starting the season a few weeks after the rest of the first team put them on the fringes of the rotation. The unfortunate case of Sergi Samper is even more disheartening; a player who has never been able to get his career off the ground due to his health; let alone play well enough to be trusted outside of Copa del Rey matches. This has created a different type of Barcelona midfield than Culés are accustomed to seeing. With the departure of club legend Andrés Iniesta, there has been a considerable lack of creativity. Arthur is giving his best to supplement the play-making ability of the maestro but still needs a lot of polishing before he can match Iniesta’s quality. During the Brazilian’s absence due to injury, Arturo Vidal gave his best, but he changes the way Barcelona plays. Sergio Busquets has been stretched out at times this season while Lionel Messi has been forced to drop back deeper. Maybe due to rotations and a lack of defensive cohesion, there has been a lack of determination to track back and help the defense, often exposing the backline. This in turn has affected a defense that is conceding at a much higher rate this season.

In conclusion, the Blaugrana might be dealing with a minor crisis. The squad’s determination along with Ernesto Valverde’s tactical set-up will shape the results of the upcoming fixtures. Boasting to have the best player and squad in the world, the club is more than capable to overcome such situations. The fans expect nothing less and injuries will never be an excuse for FC Barcelona.