El Centrocampista

DEFENSIVE DILEMMA – Pep Guardiola and Barça’s depleted backline.

By Lee Roden

A new week, a new cup. FC Barcelona collected yet another trophy on Friday to add to their impressive haul under Guardiola.

It was Pep’s twelfth trophy in four years as FC Barcelona manager (and lest we forget, he also got Barça B promoted in his season in charge at the Mini Estadi) and gives him one more cup than Johan Cruyff at the Camp Nou.

As we have come to expect from Guardiola, el mister will not dwell on his success.  Rather, Pep will have congratulated his players, allowed them to rest, and made sure they are now focused on the task at hand.

Villarreal will visit the Camp Nou on Monday night, and as it turns out, they do so in less than ideal circumstances. This is no time for Pep’s dream team to rest on their laurels.

I mentioned last week that the strike in La Liga had dealt Guardiola an unexpected dose of luck.

This week, the opposite has occured. Guardiola will be without five of his first team defenders on Monday night, giving him some serious dilemmas in team selection: fullback Adriano pulled up with an injury in Monaco on Friday, Gerard Pique continues his recuperation from a minor injury, and Maxwell is still recovering from a strain picked up in pre-season.

To make matters worse, Daniel Alves will serve a suspension picked up at the end of last year’s league campaign, making him unavailable.

Talismanic captain Carles Puyol has resumed training, but will he be risked?

Then there’s Carles Puyol.

The captain is still recovering from surgery and is unlikely to participate, and under normal circumstances I wouldn’t even mention his name.

Puyi resumed full training with the team this weekend however, suggesting he is close to a return.

Guardiola must now ask himself a question: does he wish to risk rushing Puyol back to action in order to add some much needed experience and assuredness to the centre of defence, or does he risk playing an untested back four against one of the best attacking teams in La Liga? Tough decisions lie ahead.

If, as is most likely, Guardiola chooses to field a back four without the captain, he has several options. Andreu Fontas, who was newly promoted to the first team this year, is the only natural centre back available, and could partner either Javier Mascherano or Eric Abidal in the middle.

A crucial league opener (is it really an opener? Who knows?) against a capable rival is not the ideal time to test a youngster however.

Alternatively, both Abidal and Mascherano have featured at centreback in pre-season, (most recently against Porto) and would normally be an easy pick for Guardiola if not for the lack of cover at fullback.

With Adriano and Maxwell injured, Guardiola would then lack an obvious left back if choosing to place Abidal in the middle, presenting a whole new set of problems whilst fixing another.

It gets more complicated. Guardiola played Fontas as a left fullback three times last season, and may choose to place the youngster there and opt for the experience of Abidal and Mascherano in the middle.

The risk here is of course that both Abidal and Fontas would be playing in positions that are not natural for both players, to varying degrees.

Adaptability is, as I have said before, key to Pep Guardiola’s squad.

As such, we may even see a pairing of Busquets and Mascherano in the middle,  Abidal at leftback, and Keita occupying the defensive midfield role.

Whilst this is possible, I have yet to see anything comforting when Busquets plays at centre back, and no doubt Guardiola has made similar observations.

Furthermore, Busquet’s capabilities in midfield will no doubt be necessary against the yellow submarine.

At right back the problems are clear too. Without Alves or Adriano, there is no obvious replacement in this position.

The only first team member available to recently occupy the right-back position is Jonathan Dos Santos. Anyone who saw Barça in pre-season will understand that placing the young midfielder at fullback is probably best avoided, especially against a team like Villarreal.

The clear alternative to Dos Santos is Martin Montoya. Montoya is a more than capable deputy to Alves, and plays in a much similar way to the Brazilian.

Tiredness may be a factor however, as Montoya featured as recently as last Saturday for Barça B.

If Montoya does play, we will see the anomaly of the youngster playing for Barça B against Villarreal B on Saturday, then for the Barça first team against the Villarreal A on Monday. Curious, but desperate times…

One thing we have learned about Pep Guardiola is that he has faith in his players, both young and old.

Any of the above options are a possibility, yet the coach may even choose an alternative that is less clear.

On a more certain note, I find it unlikely that Carles Puyol will be rushed out of recovery to play the game after only two full days of training.

That being said, Guardiola has been known to surprise us in the past, particularly when it comes to Puyol.

Nothing is impossible. What is guaranteed however is that on Monday night, FC Barcelona will line up with a makeshift defence of some sort, and Giussepi Rossi in particular must be licking his lips at the prospect.

Cuida’t, Pep.

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