opinions | 2016-10-08
Luis Enrique's rotation struggles raises doubts, will he be able to solve them in time?
Barcelona suffered their second defeat of the season last Sunday and once again Luis Enrique’s squad rotation policy was called into question
Lucho rested several first teamers for the trip to Balaidos and it backfired on the Barcelona manager for the second time in three weeks. Barça had rested several starters for a home game against Alavés after the last international break and on that occasion Barça slipped to a shock home defeat. So what is going wrong at the moment and could these results have been avoided?
The logic behind the squad rotation is fairly sound especially with Barcelona expected to compete in all three major competitions. Last year Barcelona looked dead on their feet in April, losing three league games in a row and being knocked out of the Champions League by Atlético Madrid. As well as the Champions League exit, the lead that Barcelona had built in La Liga evaporated and the club ended up having to win their last five games to clinch the title by a solitary point from Real Madrid. Ultimately there is a very clear and valid case for rotating the squad but could things be handled better?
It’s always easy to criticise a manager's team selection after the event but this writer is of the opinion that Luis Enrique’s rotation policy is flawed. Most Barcelona fans are clear on the team's starting eleven. Arguably the only doubt is whether, if both were fit, Javier Mascherano or Samuel Umtiti would start in defence alongside Gerard Pique but with the Frenchman injured Mascherano is the clear first choice.
Outside the starting eleven is where the problems begin, particularly in the midfield. Who is the fourth choice midfielder? Who comes after that? What seems to be going on is Lucho is actually rotating these positions more than anything else. Arda Turan, André Gomes, Denis Suárez and Rafinha have all played in midfield this season with Rafinha and Arda also getting time on the wings. Arda leads the way with 482 minutes in La Liga but a large part of that has been deputising for Neymar and Lionel Messi when they were unavailable. Behind him Denis Suárez has 261 minutes, André Gomes has 238 minutes and Rafinha has 232 minutes. The fact Suárez, Gomes and Rafinha have all played between 230-260 minutes suggests this is being actively managed by Luis Enrique and that could actually be more of a hindrance to the team.
In 11 competitive games this season (including the Spanish Super Cup), Barcelona have started with six different midfield combinations. That figure is too high and when you also throw in the fact that Rafinha spent much of last season out injured, Arda Turan struggled for game time after becoming eligible to play in January and that André Gomes and Denis Suarez both arrived in the summer, it becomes clear that the players are still getting used to each other.
It is obviously a fact that for partnerships to grow they need time on the field together but with Lucho rotating the four backups he is doing nobody any favours including Sergio Busquets who must be growing frustrated at lining out with different partners in midfield every game he plays. It has been well documented that Busquets form has been below his usual level this season so could it be that the inconsistency in team selection is having an effect on him? Surely things would be better if there was a clearer indication on the order of preference for the covering midfielders. Could it be that Lucho isn’t entirely sure himself? Three of the four candidates have been eligible to play for the club for less than a year and even Rafinha missed most of last season so perhaps he is still establishing who is best suited to cover the first choice midfielders. Once that picture becomes clearer these changes should mean less of a negative impact as the fourth choice midfielder should be able to build partnerships and increased understanding with his teammates.
Some Barcelona fans have began to show signs of frustration at the squad rotation policy and there was even a campaign earlier this week with some culés wanting Luis Enrique to be sacked. There are definitely question marks over his rotation policy and while many of his supporters will rally to trust the manager as he has delivered silverware, but the fact is that we don’t really know at the moment whether he can fix the rotation issue as it’s not a problem he has faced up until now. Last season we saw the team tire at a crucial stage and there was also the infamous draw with Valencia when Lucho failed to make any subs during a 1-1 draw and some looked at this as him sending a message to the club hierarchy that the squad wasn’t deep enough. It seems he has been burned before with the lack of depth in the squad and now the squad has been strengthened he is perhaps overcompensating and is yet to find the perfect balance.
Will he ever find the right balance? Ultimately at the moment we simply don’t know the answer but what we do know is that so far in his two and a half years as Barcelona manager, Luis Enrique has always responded well to criticism. When his future looked bleak after the defeat at Anoeta in the 2014/15 season, the team responded by winning the treble. When Barça got off to a poor start last season the team responded by going 39 games undefeated. When their season was in danger of derailing after three successive league defeats and a Champions League exit they responded with six wins to earn a domestic double. This team responds when things gets tough. Let the press and fans criticise Luis Enrique when things aren’t going well because he appears to be right up for the battle and so far he has passed all the tests. After winning eight trophies in little over two seasons his latest challenge is squad rotation and the smart money's on Lucho passing the test and all the criticism will only make him more motivated to do so.
Anything wrong? Send your correction.
WRITTEN BY: Gerry Johnston
Gerry Johnston is a 31 year old Civil Servant from County Antrim, Ireland. Gerry has been writing about football for various websites since Euro 2012 and he has been a Barcelona fan since the mid 90s.