Out of the Champions League and the Copa del Rey, only the Europa League and La Liga remain for the Blaugrana this season. Obviously finishing top four in Spain is the most important job for Xavi over the next few months, with any success in the Europa League being a consolation prize. Yes, winning the Europa League would also guarantee a spot in next season’s Champions League, but the odds of grabbing that spot with a top four finish in La Liga are a lot more likely.
When it comes to the Europa League, Xavi will still be looking to get results, but he won’t have his full complement of bodies. Due to the club signing four players in January for the very first time and only three being eligible for registration in the Europa League, one of Dani Alves, Ferran Torres, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, or Adama Traore was going to miss out.
38-year-old Alves was the sacrificial lamb, and the reasoning may be more simple than one might think. He may be a legend of the game, but it’s asking a lot of a man his age to play at a high level twice in the same week. With Xavi’s desire to play with three at the back, Ronald Araujo’s appearances at right-back under the new boss, and the minutes that Sergiño Dest can provide, the Blaugrana should be able to manage without Alves.
The more curious notes of the squad release are as follows:
- 17-year-old Ander Astralaga has been named to the squad as the fourth goalkeeper after Iñaki Peña’s loan to Galatasaray. Arnau Tenas has moved up one spot on the depth chart to be the third keeper. Astralaga is a keeper for Juvenil A and played once in the UEFA Youth League. Interestingly enough, he’s actually the back-up to 18-year-old Arnau Rafús, so it’s likely a decision to keep Rafús with his group and give Astralaga something to do.
- Nico González is wearing number 28 and still registered as a youth player for the Europa League. If he had been registered as a first team player, as he was for La Liga, Barça would have only been able to register two of their four new signings.
- Arnau Comas was registered instead of Mika Màrmol. Reading too much into this decision probably isn’t wise, Comas was also named to the Champions League squad, and it’s highly unlikely that either would have featured anyway.
- EZ Abde and Ferran Jutglà also miss out. This is the same reasoning for Màrmol. UEFA only allows three players to be added that weren’t on the Champions League group stage list, so Ilias Akhomach keeps his spot and these two will have to watch from home.
- Ousmane Dembélé was named to the squad. Will he play? Xavi may not have the answer yet either, but the club had nothing to lose in giving themselves the option. The Blaugrana has dealt with an overwhelming number of injuries this season, and without Abde and Jutglà, that forward line could look awful thin in the Europa League. Saving the three new forwards for La Liga probably isn’t the worst idea either.
Dan Hilton is an American journalist, broadcaster, and current Editor-in-Chief of BarcaBlog. Extensive work as a play-by-play broadcaster, producer behind the scenes, and quite average player in his younger years has given him a well-rounded and informative perspective on the sport. Alongside BarcaBlog founder Francesc, Dan started The Barcelona Podcast in 2017