Rakitic drop in form and Iniesta’s injury give Sergi Roberto a unique opportunity
Barça won the treble a few months ago with a squad composed of a somewhat fixed starting XI, three substitutions, a second goalkeeper and Rafinha. It had enough squad depth because the setbacks were avoided, but it was always at the edge of scarcity. Xavi’s and Pedro’s farewell left Luis Enrique with not much room to maneuver and compelled the team to plead for the absence of injuries this season. Vermaelen and Sergi Roberto, two defenders added to the most populated line, joined the cause, the latter as a fullback, but whose influence wasn’t initially going to impact other zones of the field.
Rafinha was the first choice to replace any midfielder or striker, but his long-term injury exposed the dire situation Luis Enrique finds itself. The coach now has to rely on Sandro and Munir as useful assets in the attacking front, but in midfield the necessities are clear and he has less obvious solutions. The Busquets-Mascherano tandem will be tested again, but both midfielders haven’t found their peak form yet. Sergi Roberto performed more in midfield last season, yet currently he was still playing as a fullback until the match versus Bayer Leverkusen.
We have said earlier that few things would make Luis Enrique happier than finding in Sergi Roberto a capable player to be included in the coach’s rotations, as Xavi or Rafinha functioned last season in the important matches. The calendar has left behind San Mamés and the Vicente Calderón, but until January when Arda Turan can be registered, Sánchez-Pizjuán, Bernabéu and Mestalla await. All of these, spiced up with Villarreal, Real Sociedad, Deportivo and Betis, only with Ivan Rakitic available.
The Croat’s start to this season has been difficult in spite of the confidence earned after his successful first season as a Blaugrana. The lackluster performances are probably a consequence of Dani Alves’ early injury because of what the Brazilian contributes on the right wing. Besides making life difficult for the opposing defense alongside Messi, Alves and the Argentinean are the right-flank bannermen once the ball is at play and the game flows. By associating among them in the right area of the midfield, they have enabled Rakitic’s precise and peculiar involvement in this mechanism as well. The Croatian, who is a playmaker that lacks constant presence in ball circulation but who instead possesses a fine-tuned ability of when to attack and assist, has found in the Messi-Alves partnership the wedge to prop himself up and the space where to move. He’s been placed higher in the pitch than any of his teammates in the right band more often than not, and now he must deal with a reality where Messi is absent.
The Brazilian’s substitute as right back had been Sergi Roberto, mostly focused on attacking deep down the wing. Dani’s comeback has put the pieces back together and perhaps it will bring some positive news; the right side of the midfield will be mainly concerned with space management and not only with short passing and combinations. This may be the open door that Sergi Roberto’s skills set could use as an entry point to make a room for himself in midfield. Stamina, depth and sharpness in attack are some virtues Sergi has been showing in the wing and with Dani Alves again as the right back, these skills will be demanded in the right interior. Luis Enrique needs to find one with these skills, and of all the players available Sergi Roberto is the one.
Translator: Jaime Ibarra