Ousmane Dembele made his first start for Barcelona in over a month as they travelled to Huesca, but an otherwise severely depleted side could only manage a goalless draw against the La Liga struggles on Saturday.
Ahead of their second leg Champions League quarter-final tie with Manchester United, the Catalans’ lead at the top of the Spanish flight gave them the luxury to shuffle the pack as they attempt to defend a 1-0 first leg advantage against the Premier League outfit in midweek.
Dembele, who was an unused substitute at Old Trafford, could well feature in the return leg having been hooked after 68 minutes in Huesca.
DRAW FOR BARCA, DOOM FOR UNITED
Huesca would’ve been pleased with the Barcelona starting XI when the team sheets were released. Ernesto Valverde essentially fielded his ‘B’ team in which the likes of Ousmane Dembele, Marc-Andre ter Stegen and even Samuel Umtiti looked out of place.
Given the 11-point advantage the Catalans held over second-placed Atletico Madrid heading into the fixture, playing a depleted team with the midweek clash against United in mind was a perfectly viable option.
Of course, they would’ve preferred to leave Huesca with another three points in the bag but in the grand scheme of things, they’ll accept the draw and move on to more pressing issues.
The draw for Barca spells doom for United. As if showing up at Camp Nou and attempting to recover from a 1-0 deficit against the Spanish giants wasn’t daunting enough, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men must now do so with their opponents rested and refreshed.
FRINGE PLAYERS FLOUNDER
For many of the XI who took the field for Barca on Saturday evening, this was a rare starting berth. Against the team rooted to the bottom of La Liga, it was also an opportunity to shine. Sadly, no one really seized the day and it passed them by without incident or excitement.
There were a couple of encouraging displays from debutants Riqui Puig and Moussa Wague, playing on either flank of a 3-5-2 formation. The Spaniard set up Dembele for the best chance of the game, sliding a through ball into his path but the Frenchman was unable to beat Roberto Santamarina in goal.
Wague on the other hand was a constant and considerable threat down the right side, generating plenty of width while boasting good pace and skill. He even played two key passes, joint-top along with Dembele. Jean-Clair Todibo also impressed in a back three, particularly with a last ditch tackle on Ezequiel Avila in the closing stages.
Meanwhile, it was another disappointing outing for January signing Kevin-Prince Boateng who was barely involved. Carles Alena would’ve been vying for inclusion against United but he was uncharacteristically sloppy in possession, losing the ball six times.
Playing in an unfamiliar central midfield role, Malcom was nowhere near as effective as he can be. It was a chance for these fringe players to prove their worth but few will have left a lasting impression.
HUESCA HOLD THEIR OWN
Yes, they were playing a significantly weakened Barcelona side but after the 8-2 thrashing they suffered at Camp Nou earlier this season, the encounter at El Alcoraz was a marked improvement.
On paper, they set up in a 4-3-3 formation but with Christian Rivera playing as a sweeper in front of the defence and sitting increasingly deeper, it was really a back five and a flat one at that.
That said, their defensive performance will have encouraged manager Francisco Rodriguez for it’s in that department that they’ve let themselves down. A tally of 35 goals this season is a respectable one and seven have come in the last three games, including two at Real Madrid.
So even though Huesca sit bottom with 25 points, they are only five away from 17th-placed Valladolid (though they have a game in hand) and more decent displays at the back could yet secure survival. With games against Rayo Vallecano, Eibar and Villarreal up next, Huesca have hope yet.
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