Barcelona fans are optimistic that Andrés Iniesta will be fit again to face Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League second leg, but even if so, Ernesto Valverde still has one spot open in his starting XI. There are four choices to pick from: Paulinho, Ousmane Dembélé, Aleix Vidal, and André Gomes.
In the first leg, Paulinho took the spot, but he didn’t have the world’s best game or anything like that, so there’s every chance Valverde opts for a different player. Still, Valverde has shown a tendency towards cautiousness and has explained he thinks Paulinho earned his spot in the first leg given all his work throughout the season. Paulinho’s best quality is his ability to change games, particularly with his trademark driving runs into the box. He does lose the ball often, but he can take people on with his sheer strength. He’s also strong in the tackle, and his added muscle might be something Valverde is interested in against Chelsea.
Dembélé played his best match in a Barcelona shirt in the 2-0 win over Málaga. The young Frenchman has struggled to establish himself due to a couple injuries, but if he starts producing performances like that consistently, he will be difficult to keep out of the lineup. Dembélé is very fast and skillful, and on one-on-one situations he’s a danger always. If you want a player to create chances, he’s undoubtedly your guy. He can make bad decisions, but that aspect should be melting away as he becomes more comfortable with his teammates. His biggest weakness is on defense, he’s relatively light and isn’t a natural at it like he is with the ball at his feet. Valverde might keep him on the bench and only bring him on if the team needs a goal.
Vidal is also very fast, and he has an admirable workrate. He’s not as talented as Dembélé in creating chances or taking people on, but he’s not bad at it. On the other hand, he’s a better defender, particularly in intercepting the ball. His biggest weakness is he loses the ball too often, compared to how often he creates scoring chances. Still, he might present Valverde a more balanced option than the Frenchman.
Gomes has struggled recently with a lack of confidence from the stands, telling the media that he’s sometimes felt “ashamed” to go out on the street. Gomes has not looked great on the ball, which is strange as that was supposed to be a strength. He doesn’t lose the ball too often, but he doesn’t create chances or take people on much, either. What Gomes does bring is a physical presence, particularly in the air, and an ability to position himself well when defending. Of the four, Gomes is the one least likely to create or score a goal, but then again, Barcelona do not necessarily need one to progress. Still, one wonders whether he’s mentally strong enough for this type of game.