What has gone wrong at Barcelona?

The Blaugrana are way behind Real Madrid in the La Liga and are on the brink of being eliminated from Europe by PSG.

It isn’t very often that a team yet to play the second leg of a European tie at the Nou Camp are favourites to wrap the tie up. This, without a doubt, sums up what has been a disastrous first half of the season for Barcelona.
After watching his team being outplayed, outthought and outclassed at the Parc des Princes, Luis Enrique now has a terrifying four-goal deficit to overcome at the Nou Camp – and not to mention, the man who won three consecutive Europa Leagues with Sevilla, Unai Emery.
The Blaugrana have been brilliant to watch on many occasions this season, but there have been evident differences in comparison to their treble-winning campaign. The fluid, scintillating Barcelona who steamrolled Laurent Blanc’s PSG 5-1 on aggregate is incomparable to the team that showed up at the Parc des Princes a week ago.
A 2-1 loss to Alaves at the Camp Nou earlier in the season should’ve been a reality check, but as it turns out, it wasn’t enough.
In the 14/15 season, Barcelona’s forward line of Messi, Suarez and Neymar had scored an undisputed 122 goals across all competitions. The ‘MSN’ as they’re commonly known, have been the fulcrum of Barcelona’s success in recent years.
Even in matches when most of the team had underwhelmed, their forward line, of arguably the most elite attackers in world football, had given them the edge. In this process, their reliance on one player went under the radar, if not unnoticed – Andres Iniesta.
The Barcelona and Spain midfield metronome is, undoubtedly, one of the best central midfielders on the planet. And, it his ability in the middle of the park to dictate the tempo of the game and to control it that makes the Blaugrana’s midfield tick. The midfield trinity of Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic play a significant role in the Catalans’ success.
Rakitic’s form this season has undeniably plummeted, which automatically puts a lot more responsibility on Iniesta’s shoulders. There is a lot of pressure on their midfield to work as providers for MSN. To put it simply, their midfield at the moment doesn’t appear to be able to move the ball quickly enough. This was exposed when they went up against a midfield trio of immense energy, precision and vigour – Blaise Matuidi, Marco Verratti and Adrien Rabiot.
The lack of an adept deputy for either of them is unfathomable, given that the Catalan giants spent an approximate €122m during the summer. The arrival of UEFA Euro winner Andre Gomes looked ideal at the time – given that he’s just 22 years of age and is a future investment with a certain amount of experience already amassed.
Yet, the Portuguese has flattered to deceive, with one underwhelming performance after another when called upon. Gomes was deployed on the right of a midfield three in the hope that he could support Sergi Roberto on the right, but was left chasing shadows himself. Messi, who plays on Roberto’s flank, offers almost nothing in those terms as he continues to drift centrally.
Roberto was a player who was targeted time and again by the Parisians. While Di Maria and co. kept one flank busy, Julian Draxler relished the opportunity to go up against an unprotected Roberto. The German looked like a ferocious hound against Roberto in 1v1 situations. It is safe to say that he ripped the makeshift full-back apart, which raises the question – why didn’t Barcelona replace Dani Alves with a specialist right full-back?
Their 3-1 defeat to Manchester City was another instance where their weaknesses were exposed by the brilliant Kevin de Bruyne. Former boss Pep Guardiola, despite not salvaging a goal at the Nou Camp, set his side up brilliantly in the reverse fixture and one of the goals was created by pressurising Roberto into giving the ball away cheaply in a dangerous area.
Paco Alcacer is arguably the most questionable of their new arrivals. Having been bought to deputise for Luis Suarez, Alcacer has only one goal in the La Liga to show for his efforts. He has done nothing to suggest that he can be the viable alternative to their prolific Uruguayan.
The pattern followed here is quite simple to deduce – for a team of Barcelona’s ambition, they cannot compete on all fronts without a squad able and potent enough to do so. With a specialist right full-back such as Djibril Sidibe thrown into the mix, the Blaugrana arguably have one of the most devastating starting XIs in the world – but do not have any depth in their squad.
An ideal comparison on such a large scale would be that of Clasico rivals Real Madrid. Isco, James Rodriguez, Kovacic, Raphael Varane, Marco Asensio, Lucas Vasquez, and Alvaro Morata are some of the names that Los Blancos can call upon to deputise for their Galactico line up. An embarrassment of riches, which has immensely aided their title charge under Zinedine Zidane.
Barcelona’s rumoured links with PSG’s diminutive Italian, Verratti seem to be growing stronger with every passing day, albeit with no official statements from either end. Whoever it is that the Catalans are planning to spearhead their rejuvenation with, it is evident that they are in desperate need of some flair in their midfield and depth in their squad.
As for Luis Enrique, the relentless criticism that he has faced this season is expected but not necessarily deserving. After all, it was ‘Lucho’ who oversaw Barcelona make history by winning the treble for the second time.
Source: All Football

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