This time, Barcelona were 4-3-1-2 in attack, and 4-4-2 in defense. One reason for this was the return of Andrés Iniesta into the team after injury, as André Gomes is the one injured now. Iniesta doesn’t have the speed or stamina to patrol the flank like Gomes, but he offers a much better player on the ball.
We also saw Paco, whose best work is as a penalty box predator, starting, which changed the equation on offense.
He was the guy asked to shift into position and change the shape of the team, by going up as a striker when Barcelona had the ball, and coming back down and defending when Sevilla did. Valverde took him off instead of Luis Suárez in the 66th minute, despite Paco netting twice and Suárez being in a poor run of form in front of goal. Valverde cited the demanding nature of Paco’s role as the reason he was subbed off, because he had apparently tired.
Gerard Deulofeu came on for Paco and played a similar, but still distinctly different, role. Deulofeu pushed up as a winger, not as a striker, making Messi more like a right-winger than a #10. And in defense, Deulofeu dropped down into midfield, but on the left, not on the right like Paco. Paulinho, who replaced Iniesta, played in the middle, with Sergio Busquets. Ivan Rakitić was on the right.
With his final sub, Valverde brought on Javier Mascherano for the Croatian and Barcelona played their most traditionally 4-4-2 formation yet. Mascherano played a double pivot with Busquets, Paulinho was on the right, and Deulofeu on the left. In attack, Barcelona were trying to counter as fast as possible. This is a sub specifically to kill the game off: it was the 89th minute, and the Catalans were leading by 1. Still, I’m not sure it’s a great idea. The team lost a lot of control, even if Sevilla didn’t create many chances. Maybe, for specialized cases, it’s OK.
Valverde seemed ready to bring in Denis Suárez when the game was 1-1, in a double sub with Deulofeu. Paco scored right then though, and Valverde brought Denis back onto the bench and never subbed him on. Who would have come off? My guess is Rakitić, to give Barcelona two wingers with a bit of flair. That he didn’t bring him on suggests Valverde doesn’t trust Denis defensively and sees him as an option when Barcelona need a goal, not when they’re defending a lead.
Deulofeu then, has overcome the image of himself as a player that uninterested in defending, and he really deserves commending for that. In the game against Sevilla, Deulofeu was very willing to cover his side. Paco also was ready to run himself into the ground doing that. Both seem to have bought into Valverde’s promise that their effort will be rewarded with a spot on the team.
The question is why Denis hasn’t impressed Valverde enough when it comes to defending. Maybe it’s a matter of time. Valverde seems to like Denis on the ball though, and the fact that he was bringing him on when his team needed a goal is proof of that.
Now the even bigger question: where does Ousmane Dembélé fit into this system? Honestly, I don’t think he does fit instead of Paco in this starting formation. Dembélé is a winger, not another striker. But I also think Valverde has given up on playing Suárez as a left winger with the Frenchman as a right winger. Suárez seems totally uncomfortable there.
So what do you do? One option is to play him the way Deulofeu was played against Sevilla, on the left side and ready to drop in and defend. That puts Messi on the right though, and is that what we really want? The questions remain… and they won’t be answered this year, due to Dembélé’s injury.