Xavi's wide conundrum & the Raphinha-Dembélé experiment

Barcelona opened the 2022/23 season with a disappointing draw against Rayo Vallecano at the Camp Nou. But despite the bitter taste in Xavi's mouth, can we learn anything from his experiments?

It’s quite interesting - and impressive - that Barcelona haven't lost their LaLiga opener at the Camp Nou since 1939. That’s over 80 years of draws and victories to start the season with (some) wind in their sails. Again, impressive. But any serious title challenger wouldn’t and shouldn’t be satisfied with a point in any game, let alone the very first one that also happens to be on home soil. While a draw against Rayo Vallecano in particular is a step in the right direction as of late, considering Barça had lost their last two bouts with the lads from Vallecas before Saturday’s draw, the point still feels… insufficient. Disappointing. Or perhaps, in some way, even cruel?

Alas, it’s all they got and Rayo deservedly left back to Madrid with at least some spoils of war. However, despite the slow start to the campaign, Xavi will have (hopefully) finished the game at least a bit wiser. Mistakes and experiments can often backfire, costing you goals or even games. Barça’s experiments yielded some results but ultimately proved not to be enough to get all three points. While you could argue Ronald Araújo manning the right-back position is an experiment on its own, as is the somewhat surprising centre-back partnership of Eric García and the newcomer Andreas Christensen, it’s the one in the wide areas and further up the pitch that piqued my interest much more.

You see, Raphinha, Barcelona’s big summer signing, is largely seen as Ousmane Dembélé’s second; an additional elite rotational option to give both depth and quality to a team - and position - that sorely needs it. However, there was always an option that both could start at the same time - one manning the left whilst the other occupies the right. After all, Raphinha is left-footed so could theoretically be used as a wide(-ish) option on the left while Dembélé is ambipedal and apparently doesn’t have a preference at all. Or does he?