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All work, no rest

When it rains, it pours and no team is currently experiencing more severe weather than Barcelona. Having already been knocked out of the Champions League, they also exited the Copa del Rey at the hands of Athletic Bilbao on Thursday night. That defeat was followed by the news that Ousmane Dembele has refused to sign a contract extension, with the club wanting to sell him immediately as a result.

 

However, the most depressing news might have come in the match at San Mames itself. Ansu Fati, one of the club’s great young players, suffered a hamstring injury in his left leg. He is expected to miss the rest of the season, and having just got back from injury late last year, one cannot help but feel bad for the teenager who has to spend time on the sidelines yet again.

 

The supporters are distraught, and concerns have risen as to whether Fati was rushed back too quickly from his previous almost year-long layoff. The over reliance on young talent looks to finally take its toll, and Xavi knows he has to configure his selections once again.

 

TOO MUCH TOO FAST?

The shift from older veterans to younger players looking to make a mark really began in the 2019-20 season. Fati was the first from the current crop to make his debut, and had a sensational first season in the top-flight, breaking many goal-scoring records along the way. He was heralded as the next great graduate from La Masia and looked set to start almost every game he was available as he became an official first team player before the 2020-21 season began.

 

Fati was joined by Pedri, the 18-year-old who transferred from Las Palmas after a breakout campaign in the Segunda Division. The midfielder would go on to play almost 80 games for club and country over the next one year which would earn plaudits from everyone who was watching. However, his partner Fati was not having the best of times. Having started the season brilliantly, scoring four times in the opening seven games, he picked up a meniscus injury on his left leg in November 2020. Though initially set to be out for four months only, that timeline got extended to more than nine months, ruling him out for the remainder of the campaign. Pedri’s extreme feat of endurance would have repercussions on his health soon, as he barely had over a week’s rest after the end of the Olympics before the current season began. He could only play two games in August before an injury forced him to miss almost a month of action.

 

Pedri would return in September for two Champions League matches, both 3-0 losses by the way, before he got injured yet again in the second of those games. That he rushed back hurriedly to make those games was pretty evident given how quickly he relapsed back into his original injury again. This time, it would be a much lengthier layoff- three and a half months before he came back in the El Clasico defeat last week. Though he asked to be substituted in the match against Athletic, insiders have assured that Pedri did not suffer any serious injury.

 

Xavi admitted today that Fati had indeed suffered a relapse, conceding that he was only medically cleared to play “30-35 minutes” but had to play more due to extra-time, for which Fati said he was fine to continue. Clearly, something was amiss.

 

WHAT IS THE WAY AHEAD?

Xavi’s embrace of youth has been welcomed by almost everyone associated with the club but it begs the questions of burnout and match readiness. Gavi has been another standout graduate who has also made his Spain debut, but he too faces the risk of picking up an injury. Tiredness may have affected his recent performances as he was not as sharp as he usually is, uncharacteristically getting sent off against Granada before the Catalans let in a late goal.

 

He did not complete the full match either in the two cup matches, with Xavi possibly thinking more of the long-term future now. Given the squad is now filled with teenagers who have certainly earned their places as starters in every other match, the over-reliance can begin to have effects by the end of the season. The whole issue with Ousmane Dembele’s contract situation, Memphis Depay’s diminishing impact and subsequent injury, and the good performances shown by the newcomers means they will have to play more as time goes on.

 

However, as he has no doubt learned by now, desperation cannot be the yardstick by which Xavi asks his players to give more than they are able to at a certain point of time. Fati will be a big miss, as his exuberance, energy, and prowess in front of goal could have helped Barcelona in the upcoming games as they try to get back into the Champions League.

Ratul Ghosh
His name means Red and a fan of devilish food, which equals to his favourite team being Manchester United. Can be found sleeping or in front of the TV otherwise. Hates waking up early but loves staying up late for football.

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