Golden Opportunities

A win is a win, no matter how you slice it. A draw isn’t winning, but at least it’s not losing. So far this season, FC Barcelona have won every game they’ve played but two, against Atlético de Madrid and Olympiakos, which they drew. Say what you will about the team’s form, its depth, or the tactics of Ernesto Valverde, they’ve had, at least record-wise, a tremendous start to the 2017-18 season. They’ve put themselves in a great position early on, especially in La Liga. Players like Lionel Messi, Samuel Umtiti, and Marc-Andre ter Stegen are at a world-class level of form. And while Valverde’s tactics may rub some of us the wrong way, at least he’s willing to take risks. That being said, we can’t waste the golden opportunities we have now.

Of course, none of this means anything if they can’t keep it up. It’s true that at times this side has struggled to score and suffers from lackluster midfield play. The return of Andrés Iniesta should help against Sevilla, but the loss of Sergi Roberto to a hamstring injury doesn’t. To a lesser extent, the loss of André Gomes to a thigh problem hurts the team as well. They’ll both be out for at least a month, a month in which our depth will truly be tested.

Roberto’s ability to play basically any position is one we don’t really have a replacement for. The sooner he can be back, the better. Gomes, while not quite up to the level we’d like him to be, isn’t terrible. With those two out, Valverde will be forced to explore other options.

These injuries may just turn out to be a blessing in disguise, however. The injury to Gomes means that Denis Suárez might get more run time. So far this season, he’s played well and has fans imploring Valverde to play him more. The injury to Sergi Roberto might pave the way for increased minutes to Nelson Semedo, another player fans have wanted to see more of. For good reason – he’s played very well the few times he’s featured. The ideal would be to play both Semedo and Roberto, moving Roberto up to midfield, but we’ll get to see the Portuguese right back more either way.

I’m a huge Sergi Roberto fan, and I do think his injury is pretty bad news. However, now is the time for Ivan Rakitić and Paulinho to step up. We all know what Paulinho brings to the table: physicality, an eye for goal, and good attention to defense. Time will tell if his ability to pass and control the midfield will appear. Rakitić, in my opinion, is a great player under a bad run of form right now. Can he reach his heights of the 2014-15 season? I fear we’ll need him to as soon as possible.

Iniesta and Sergio Busquets shouldn’t be worried about. They bring to the table what they’ve always brought, consistently. My only fear is that Iniesta seems to be getting old, quite frankly. Will our depth be enough to keep him healthy and playing well?

Luis Suárez… it’s hard to explain what’s happening to him right now. It’s not that the chances aren’t there, it’s just that he seems unable to string two good plays together even once. He’s missing sitters that he would never have dreamed of missing two years ago. If his knee is bothering him, it might be excusable, but if it is an injury affecting him like this, then should he even be playing?

That being said, November isn’t an easy month, with matches against Sevilla this weekend and Valencia, this season’s revelation, on the 26th. If you ask me, this isn’t just a flash in the pan, by the way, Marcelino’s Valencia are the real deal. Champions League matches against Juventus and Sporting Lisbon, who recently battled each other to a 1-1 draw, also loom in the distance.

Sometimes, inexplicably, maybe due to schedule or other factors, teams that aren’t playing very well manage to win. While everyone would love to see Valverde’s squad play better, I’m perfectly content with this level of form as long as we can continue winning.

Despite the problems we have, we are first in La Liga, with an eight point lead on arch rivals Real Madrid as well as Atleti. Valencia, sitting in the second spot, have 24 points to our 28. 28 points out of 30 possible isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination. In the Champions League, comfortable in the group, Barcelona have also gotten good results. Most notably, a 3-0 domination of Juventus.

We have problems, no doubt about it. This coming month won’t be easy, and I do expect a slip-up eventually. But despite these problems, we’re in a good position right now. We have a golden opportunity to survive this month. If we can make it out of November with some cohesion and maintain some of the lead we have right now, we’ll be in good shape. We’re not playing particularly well, but it’s hard to argue with results.

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