From two absentees in three months to six injuries in a week. Just before the most important month, in which FC Barcelona is waiting for the diptych with Internazionale and El Clasico, trainer Xavi sees his infirmary fill up in the old-fashioned way after numerous measures that seemed to have an immediate effect. Reserves Frenkie de Jong and Memphis Depay are by no means his biggest concern.
Spain qualified last on Tuesday, at the last minute and at the expense of rival Portugal for the Nations League Final Four. Six FC Barcelona players celebrated, including Sergio Busquets, Gavi and Pedri, who contributed to the breakaway in Braga with a strong comeback. Meanwhile, their trainer had his hands in her hair.
A few hours earlier, Xavi saw Hector Bellerin out of training in Catalonia with a muscle injury. The right back, who was recruited last month, brought the number of injuries in the international match to six. A hard blow for Barça, where the coach did everything possible this year to get the Spanish superpower back to war strength.
Chairman Joan Laporta even defied (unwritten) moral laws at the financially distressed Barcelona to meet Xavi’s wish to have at least two top players in every position. Not only that. Ronald Koeman’s successor knew that there was still a world to be won in the field of injury prevention.
In recent seasons, Barcelona had a lot of reminiscent of a physical practice with countless injuries. It was a coming and going of players. After Ronald Koeman, it also drove Xavi crazy. The trainer also made injury prevention one of his spearheads at the club and during training sessions.
How? By having the doctor, physical trainer and physiotherapist work overtime with a team of seven other therapists. The medical team made use of all kinds of gadgets, such as rings with which the heartbeat, movements and sleep rhythm are monitored and where possible checked. Even more GPS data was made available to FC Barcelona’s medics to coordinate the balance between effort and rest.
And that seemed to have an immediate effect. Since the start of the preparation, Xavi has only seen Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Ferran Torres drop out (for a while), also due to injuries they sustained outside the club. The empty infirmary was perhaps most embodied by Ousmane Dembélé. His subscription to the rag basket suddenly expired this season. And suddenly the crowd at Camp Nou saw the fast Frenchman play a series of matches and flash over the flanks.
The fact that Dembélé also reports in Catalonia with aches and pains is perhaps Xavi’s smallest concern now. Reserves Frenkie de Jong and Memphis Depay, who have returned with hamstring complaints, do not give him the most headaches either. The three defenders who drop out with muscle injuries do.
In addition to Bellerin, Xavi cannot for the time being have Ronald Araujo and Jules Koundé, who also formed a strong duo on the right side of the renovated defense until the international match. They also contributed to Barça’s fine run in La Liga. In that, the team was not beaten for almost 450 minutes. In those last five games, Robert Lewandowski and co were accurate 23 times.
The Uruguayan mandekker Araujo even had surgery on his tendon today/Wednesday. The crowd favorite has to rehabilitate for at least a month and a half and hopes to make it to the World Cup. That means Barcelona cannot have the stopper in the squatters with Internazionale (twice), Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.
Whether Koundé will make the diptych in the Champions League and El Clasico remains to be seen. The same goes for his backup, Bellerin. It more or less forces Xavi to bring in veterans Sergi Roberto and Gerard Piqué, the latter of whom barely played this season, again in the month that will largely color the season of the recovering giant.
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