Can Barcelona rely on Lamine Yamal’s magic again to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League?

Barcelona are in the midst of a worrying injury crisis. Left-backs Marcos Alonso and Alejandro Balde are both out. Yet what is most concerning is that Barcelona’s midfield three are all injured. Gavi (ACL), Pedri (hamstring), and Frenkie de Jong (lateral ligament sprain) are all out. Without their key midfield metronome, recent results have been mixed for the Blaugrana as the gap between them and their arch-rivals Real Madrid grows increasingly big.

Frenkie de Jong is the latest Barcelona midfielder to pick up an injury. (Photo by Eric Verhoeven/Soccrates/Getty Images)

As Barcelona gear up for crucial fixtures against Napoli at home in the Champions League second leg and Atletico Madrid away on Sunday, their lack of options due to the injury crisis is glaring. These matches demand high-quality performances in midfield to control the tempo and dictate play, making the absence of Pedri, Gavi, and Frenkie de Jong all the more significant. Pedri’s ability to drive forward with the ball, Gavi’s composure in possession, and de Jong’s versatility and defensive solidity are key components that Barcelona sorely miss in such high-stakes encounters.

In the absence of the injured trio, Barcelona has been forced to improvise with their midfield selections. Deploying Andreas Christensen, primarily a center-back, in midfield showcases the extent of their options crunch. While Ilkay Gundogan provides immense quality, he can’t replicate the unique qualities of all three of Barcelona’s injured midfielders. Oriol Romeu, known for his defensive attributes, offers cover when needed, but lacks the creative spark Barcelona often rely on. Youngster Fermin Lopez, though promising, is still raw and inexperienced at the top level. However, none of these combinations come close to emulating the iconic midfield trio of Xavi, Iniesta, and Busquets that once defined Barcelona’s dominance. The makeshift midfield options underscore the club’s urgent need for the return of their injured stars.

The 2023/24 campaign has been difficult for Barcelona who have agreed to part ways with manager Xavi after the season ends(Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

Regarding the return of the injured players, timelines remain uncertain. Gavi’s ACL injury likely sidelines him for an extended period, while Pedri’s hamstring issue and de Jong’s ligament sprain could see them out for weeks. Barcelona’s hopes hinge on their swift recovery to bolster their midfield options and improve their chances in crucial fixtures ahead.

Against Mallorca last Friday, Barcelona edged past Mallorca in a 1-0 victory, thanks to the star power of young winger Lamine Yamal. After Ilkay Gundogan missed a penalty in the first half, Barcelona were getting increasingly frustrated as they failed to break down their opponents. Enter Yamal. The 16-year-old, bright the whole game, received the ball on the edge of the box on the right side. He cut towards the wing before feinting back inside and curling the ball into the far left corner. It was sensational. It won the game for Barcelona and won the hearts of the Barca fanbase.

Yamal is a special player. Barcelona fans have been quick to note the comparison between him and a certain player called Lionel Messi, but manager Xavi has been equally quick to dispel those comparisons. In a press conference, Xavi wisely noted that ‘everyone that has been compared to Messi has lost’, so Yamal needs to be allowed to develop at his own pace without the constant likening to the greatest player the world has ever seen.

Regardless, Yamal is performing unbelievably for such a young player. His talent is undeniable. In pre-season, aged just 15, he caught the eyes of the world in a match against Tottenham. Coming off the bench in the 80th minute with the score 1-2 in Tottenham’s favor, his 13-minute cameo saw Barcelona win the game 4-2 as he notched three assists.

Lamine Yamal’s heatmap vs. Mallorca. The youngster can play on either flank but has predominantly operated on the right-hand side. (365Scores)

His impressive pre-season saw him thrust into the first-team squad from day one, and he has been a mainstay ever since. He’s scored four goals and made three assists in La Liga and he has also won his first Spain caps. On his debut for Spain, against Georgia, he became not only La Roja’s youngest-ever player but also their youngest-ever goalscorer. He truly is electric. His dribbling is magical and he looks like he’ll be a key player for Barcelona in the years to come. If Barcelona are going to progress to the Champions League quarter-finals, Yamal’s vivacity and vibrancy will be key to achieving the result and financial boost that Barcelona so desperately needs.

This game against Napoli is essentially all or nothing for Xavi and Barcelona. Real Madrid are becoming practically out of reach in La Liga and Barcelona were knocked out of the Copa del Rey by Athletic Bilbao in the quarter-finals. This is Barcelona’s opportunity to make something of their season. In their quest to reach their first Champions League quarter-final in four years, does Xavi pick the reserved, experienced options, or does he let Pau Cubarsi and Lamine Yamal work their youthful magic towards a huge potential win for Barcelona?

Keep up with all the latest Barcelona scores and news on the 365Scores website!

By Nicky Helfgott / @NickyH3lfgott on Twitter

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