Who's the Barcelona Player Who Has Been Criminally Underused so Far This Season?

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistSeptember 26, 2017

TARRAGONA, SPAIN - AUGUST 04:  Paco Alcacer (L) of Barcelona celebrates with Denis Suarez of Barcelona (R) after scoring a goal during the pre-season friendly match between Gimnastic de Tarragona and FC Barcelona at Nou Estadi de Tarragona on August 4, 2017 in Tarragona, Spain.  (Photo by fotopress/Getty Images)
fotopress/Getty Images

Six games into the new season, things aren't going quite as terribly for Barcelona as some imagined they might be.

They sit top of La Liga, with a 100 per cent record thus far, having scored more and conceded fewer than any other side in Spain's top flight. In Europe it's not bad either; a 3-0 win over Juventus in the UEFA Champions League group stage means they're already the front-runners to top their own particular four-team battle.

All things considered, Ernesto Valverde won't be tremendously disappointed at this stage—though he could have perhaps done without an injury to new record signing Ousmane Dembele.

Valverde continues to use his squad wisely in the opening weeks of the season, giving game time to all but four players in his squad already: backup goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen, the injured Rafinha and out-of-favour duo Thomas Vermaelen and Arda Turan.

But which other player has deserved more of an opportunity or should have been seen more frequently?

Defensive reliance

The centre of the back four is pretty well set in stone for Barca, with Gerard Pique and Samuel Umtiti the go-to men and Javier Mascherano still a more-than-capable third in command.

But on the flanks, rotation is a must. The demands on Barca's full-backs are incredible, asking them to overlap on the wings in the final third but also chase back, be in position and defend against counters. The signing of Nelson Semedo is perfect for that, though with Sergi Roberto and Aleix Vidal also available, depth is taken care of and each can play a part.

On the opposite flank it's a different matter, and that's where our first player who deserves more game time resides: Lucas Digne.

The French defender isn't as electric as Jordi Alba, but he doesn't really have any particular weakness to his game either; he's well-rounded, reliable and has never let Barca down when in the side.

He's a backup to Alba, that's understandable, but there will come a time when he's required to fill in with greater consistency—be it through injury, suspension, poor form, Alba suffers from each at times—and so far he has been a mere bystander.

One start and one sub appearance in La Liga isn't enough to keep Digne involved and sharp, and he was left out of the squad entirely against Juventus.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 19:  Ernesto Valverde, Manager of FC Barcelona looks on prior the La Liga match between Barcelona and Eibar at Camp Nou on September 19, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by fotopress/Getty Images)
fotopress/Getty Images

Barca need depth at full-back; they only need look at rivals Real Madrid for why two starters are needed at left-back, with Marcelo's injury problems causing difficulty last year and leading to the capture of Theo Hernandez.

With 105 minutes to his name in all competitions this season, only one Barca man (who has taken to the field) has played less: central midfield misfit Andre Gomes.

Valverde must involve Digne more going forward, to ensure he's ready when called upon more regularly—or the Frenchman will simply leave for game time elsewhere.

Resting Andres

No. 8, captain, schemer-in-chief and still a genuine talent above the levels of most others...but Andres Iniesta is fading with age nonetheless.

Barcelona are trying to manage his minutes, keeping him ready for the big games for as long as possible, but he struggled to impose himself toward the end of last season and Barca need others ready to step in.

Andres Iniesta of FC Barcelona during the UEFA Champions League group D match between FC Barcelona and Juventus FC  on September 12, 2017  at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain.(Photo by VI Images via Getty Images)
VI-Images/Getty Images

Journalist and Barca fan Alex Truica thinks there's an obvious name to look to, who should have been in the side more often already: Denis Suarez.

"On first sight, Denis has played in five out of six league games, but that number is misleading," he told B/R.

"If you look closely, he played only 172 out of possible 540 minutes, only starting in one game.

"The competition is high in Barcelona's midfield, but Denis should feature more in the role of Iniesta—who naturally needs more breaks given his age—or even on the flanks.

"Dembele's injury should help Denis' case here. His dribble ability and guile should be used more by Valverde."

La Liga tactical journalist Carlo Valladares agrees.

"Obviously, at big clubs like Barca, many quality players will be underused.

"But I think Denis Suarez should start more. He's a technically sound player and can operate well in the half-spaces in a 4-4-2 if Valverde chooses to experiment.

"Tactically, Denis should benefit from Dembele's injury too."

Forward stand-in

Dembele's absence does leave a hole in the front line, and in the past couple of games that right-sided gap has been filled by both Gerard Deulofeu (in a 4-3-3) and Vidal (in a 4-4-2).

Denis Suarez got a run-out from the start against Eibar when Luis Suarez missed out, an unused sub that game, with Lionel Messi reprising his old role of playing centrally and drifting wherever he wanted. It worked pretty well: Messi hit four goals, Denis got another and Barcelona won 6-1.

But there's another alternative here, which Valencia-based journalist Andrew Gaffney was keen to point out.

VITORIA-GASTEIZ, SPAIN - AUGUST 26:  Paco Alcacer of FC Barcelona reacts during the La Liga match between Deportivo Alaves and Barcelona at Estadio de Mendizorroza on August 26, 2017 in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain.  (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Ima
Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

"Luis Suarez's so-so start to the season should've opened the door to more minutes for Paco Alcacer. Instead, he looks even further down the pecking order than last season."

Thus far, Alcacer has managed just 122 minutes on the pitch across three appearances, without scoring a goal—and he hasn't managed any game time at all since the second game of the season against Alaves. Indeed, Diario Gol (h/t Express) suggest Valverde has told Alcacer he can leave in January.

While that might be premature—Barca have plenty of games to get through between now and then, and as noted Luis Suarez isn't yet firing on all cylinders—there's no doubt Alcacer has struggled since his move.

Ultimately, the only way he's likely to become more of a regular is if he impacts from the flanks, particularly while Dembele is absent—but the reasonable form and work rate of Deulofeu, and the demand for more game time for Denis, may hamper that.

More minutes

Two candidates, for most underused then, in Digne and Denis, but in truth both should be seeing more time on the pitch for different reasons.

While Digne could be a first-choice without issue, he's a slight level below what Alba brings to the team on account of his absurd acceleration and link-up in the final third—but Barca still need that competition, that cover, to drive Alba on. After all, the memories of being out of the side last season cannot have disappeared for the Spaniard already.

Denis, meanwhile, is a clear favourite for fans and journalists alike to get more action, covering for Iniesta and getting the chance to show he can be a new part of the Barca team going forward.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 19:  Denis Suarez (R) of Barcelona celebrates after scoring a goal during the La Liga match between Barcelona and Eibar at Camp Nou on September 19, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by fotopress/Getty Images)
fotopress/Getty Images

With Paulinho the new arrival making an impact, Ivan Rakitic still superb and even Sergi Roberto fighting for game time in the middle, Denis has to do everything he can to bring consistency to his game—but if he does that, he perhaps has the edge on others with greater execution and invention in his passing and dribbling.

Valverde should be utilising him more right now, at the start of the season, to ensure he can offer plenty more—later on in the campaign and in seasons to come—as a regular starter.

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