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While Barcelona have not been performing at the same level as last season, they certainly have a lot more depth, more than any other team in Europe. Last season, players like Villa and Pedro had to play every single game, even if they were about to collapse from exhaustion. That's no longer the case, though.
Pep Guardiola has used 25 different lineups in 25 matches this season and he'll surely use a different one this Thursday in the Club World Cup.
It has become almost impossible to guess Pep Guardiola's lineup. Even on Saturday, he surprised by leaving David Villa out and playing Cesc Fabregas as a forward, which turned out to be a great decision. Other than Villa, world-class players/talents like Pedro Rodriguez, Javier Mascherano and Thiago Alcantara were left on the bench. It's easy to understand why Pep has felt the need to rotate so much.
No matter who he selects, he'll always have to leave top-class players on the bench. On the other hand, having so many quality options allows him to keep everyone fresh and select his team based on form and the characteristics of the opponent.
So far this season, Xavi Hernandez has started 20 games, Sergio Busquets 16, Thiago 14, Keita 13 and Iniesta 12 (mostly because of his long-term injury). All of Barcelona's five main midfielders started at least 50 percent of the matches, a stark contrast with last season where Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets all started around 80 percent of the games.
Up front, Messi aside, the players have also been rotating. David Villa has 16 starts, Pedro 13, Cesc Fabregas 11, Alexis Sanchez seven, Cuenca five and the same is true, to a slightly lesser extent in defense.
All this rotation might have led to some unexpected draws in the league, but it will also make sure that everyone will be fresh in the late part of the season, where the trophies will be decided. Barcelona's spectacular strength in depth might make the difference for them this season. Other than Barca's Holy Trinity of Messi, Xavi and Iniesta, every other player can easily be replaced by a player of similar quality if he can't contribute for some reason.
It has become almost impossible for rival managers to guess which formation Pep will employ and which players he will start; the positive results of that tactical and personnel unpredictability were there for all to see on Saturday.