Real Madrid were officially crowned champions on a night where Barcelona lost their unbeaten home streak. The Catalans have been poor and inconsistent for a major part of the season. The problem is rooted far deeper, but it is time for Barça to be self-critical and assess their situation with proper changes.
There couldn’t be a more painful night for the Barcelona faithful. Watching Real Madrid lift the title whilst losing at home to a mid-table Osasuna side on the same night was a hard pill to swallow. As hard as it was to watch, there has not been too much backlash at the result. Madrid might have had several refereeing decisions go their way, but they churned out the results.
Barcelona have been very mediocre, it is not even debatable. It tremendously hurts to say this, but Real Madrid deserved this title over the blaugranas simply because the latter have been poor.
The struggles of the club
Barcelona is in shambles. Physically, mentally, psychologically; the board, the manager, the players; finances, transfers, injuries. The club seem to be in deep trouble from every angle. The fanbase has been silenced in the worst way possible. Watching such mediocre football played week in and week out has rendered them emotionless. So much so that a single dribble from any player other than Lionel Messi becomes a talking point for weeks.
Dropping points doesn’t hurt as much anymore. It has become a routine to expect 75 minutes of dull football with maybe two or three instances of individual brilliance. As the club’s life slowly ebbs away, the life gets sucked out from the fans too. But who can be held responsible for this? The board? The players? The manager?
The board’s reign of terror
It is a known fact that the entire problem stems out from a single seed. The board. President Josep Maria Bartomeu has replaced the spring Blossoms of Barcelona and made it a graveyard. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that Barcelona’s problems off the field are far more serious than those on the field.
The relationship between the board and the players has broken down beyond repair. Lionel Messi has also been quite vocal about the same. Relations have broken down to such an extent where the club captain now threatens to leave his home. And rightfully so. The directive have taken the players for granted. They have run coordinated social media attacks on high-profile stars of the club to hide their own mistakes.
The board needs to be accounted responsible for the club’s failures | Photo by Alejandro García via Imago
The I3 Ventures scam that was so comfortably denied by the president was beyond shameless. More than €900,000 were spent on this social media monitoring and attacks, to make it appear that players take all the decisions at the club. The firing of Pep Segura, newly-appointed vice president Emili Rousuad and six other board members was yet another smokescreen to cover the reality.
The lack of planning has been impudent. In the January window, the club found itself in dire need of a striker. Not only did they fail to sign one, but the board managed to sell two existing attacking options in La Masía graduates Carles Pérez and Abel Ruiz. With Luis Suárez and Ousmane Dembélé out with long-term injuries, the club found itself in need of an emergency signing.
Since the departure of Neymar Júnior in 2017, only three or four out of 13 new acquisitions have made an impact of any magnitude in the team. Poor scouting and questionable transfer decisions have left a permanent dent. The departure of Arthur Melo in such an outrageous manner, along with the loan of Jean-Clair Todibo and Carles Aleñá, fail to make any sense. Naturally, the biggest cause of concern has to be attributed to the board.
Players have to be more self-critical
Once a player dons the prestigious red and blue colours of Barcelona, he is expected to play and defend that pride with paramount passion. However, as Lionel Messi has said innumerable times, this is not a winning team.
“This game represents the entire year. We have been an erratic and weak team. We have to be critical of how we have played, starting with the players, and the rest of the club”
on the disappointing season
To say that the team is mentally fragile is an understatement. They have never recovered from the defeats in the last two seasons of the Champions League. The panic is evident to everyone who watches. The players often look flustered when it comes to holding on to leads. The last ten minutes of every game seem to be agonising. It does not look like a winning or confident team on any measure. It was a similar panic that cost the team the Copa del Rey and the Spanish Super Cup this campaign. Not to mention that the match against Osasuna followed the same blueprint.
“Roma, Liverpool…the fans are running out of patience because we are not giving them anything. If we want to fight for the Champions League, a lot has to change. Like this, we will lose to Napoli”
after the defeat to Osasuna
With unplanned contract extensions and enormous salaries to even squad players, the situation is not very great. The club can’t seem to figure out an exit formula for any footballer, because of the large wage bills and long contracts. Confusion at the administrative level has had its effects on individual performance too.
Every time the Catalans walk out on the field, they are far too predictable. It is a known fact that they can not break open a low block, and opponents exploit this. Whenever it appears that they might have found the trick, another disappointing performance follows. With the existing inconsistency, it is high time to buckle up and reassess the situation before it is too late.
The managerial aspect
Coach Quique Setién has come under heavy scrutiny after the sudden collapse in the title race. While there have been larger factors operating outside his circuit, he hasn’t largely helped himself either. It is no secret that he has been unable to exploit Messi‘s prowess in front of goal. The line-ups are often confusing, and substitution feels quite late at times. The team seems to lose steam very quickly.
“I agree with some things that Messi said. We need to be self-critical and improve”
after the defeat to Osasuna
The azulgranas boast of more possession on paper but struggle to break down defences. The goal conversion rate has seen a rather steep fall since his appointment too. A trophyless season is never received well, and he finds himself at the receiving end of heavy criticism. His decision to ostracise Arthur from games after his transfer is baffling, given how Barça’s future Miralem Pjanić continues to drop masterclasses for Juventus.
“Will I be the coach for the Champions League? I hope so, but I don’t know”
There have been positives, like the rise of Ansu Fati and Riqui Puig, but is that enough for him to keep his place? With RAC1 already reporting that he has overseen his last game as manager at the Camp Nou, it looks to be a question of when rather than if.
The state of Barcelona at present is a pitiable sight. Burning out Messi’s final years as a player because of administrative tensions is devastating. It is a fact that the team has been miserable, but the board has been even worse. Now is the time to buckle up and introspect.
It would appear that starting from scratch would be the best option. Elections are the only event that can prevent the collapse of this club. A rather difficult Champions League stares Barcelona in the eye. Unless there is a major turnaround by the players, it will be a long dark couple of months up ahead.
Koeman’s system in the Barcelona 4-0 Villareal
With a 4-0 victory at the Camp Nou, Koeman’s side has started the season on a positive note. Find out more about the tactical aspect of the match in this tactical analysis of Barcelona’s match against Villareal.
La Liga is finally back, and it’s back in full swing. We saw many high-scoring matches, with even Atleti scoring 6 goals against Granada. A very entertaining start to La Liga was capped off by Barcelona’s 4-0 Victory over Villareal. Koeman’s first La Liga game in-charge of Barcelona was a resounding success. The mindset of the players involved was clearly different from the mindset under Setien. With many players looking rejuvenated, Barcelona put in a performance which was desperately needed considering the fact that the wounds from Lisbon haven’t yet healed. Find out just how Barcelona managed to dominate a strong Villareal side in this tactical analysis.
Barcelona started out in a 4-2-3-1 as expected. The only surprise was that Messi’s starting position was more central than usual and Griezmann occupied the right-wing. Messi does eventually drift towards the centre anyway but the starting position is usually wider.
Villareal were in a 4-4-2 which later transitioned into a 4-4-2 diamond in the second half after the substitutions. Right from the start, Villareal looked to press from the front, with Chukwueze and Moi Gomez cutting out passing lanes to the full-backs and the two Villareal strikers pressing Barcelona’s center-backs. Here, an advantage of the 4-2-3-1 Koeman deployed was immediately visible. De Jong would drop back to receive the ball and then play it forward to Busquets, who was the other pivot. Had Barcelona played a 4-3-3, the pivot would have dropped back to receive the ball and build-up from the back in this case. But the midfield would be stretched vertically which we saw many times last season.
In midfield, Barcelona were prevented from playing through the centre by Parejo and Coquelin. The distance between Villareal’s midfield and defense lines was not much which forced Barcelona towards the wings. This strategy came back to bite Villareal in the form of Ansu Fati. The 17-year-old left-winger was unplayable against Villareal. Gaspar was unable to contain him. Jordi Alba was much better than in a long time. The work-rate Koeman demands and the many extra training sessions were really showing. After a 2019/20 season which wasn’t the best for Barcelona, yesterday’s performance was very impressive.
Both wingers would regularly tuck-in between the full-backs and center-halves. This allowed Barcelona’s full-backs to advance up the field much more. With the full-backs attacking and the wingers tucking in, the Villareal defensive line would be occupied. This allowed Coutinho more space than usual. Along with this, Busquets and De Jong would be available to either stop the counter, or to act as passing options. This assortment of many attacking roles allowed Barcelona to have sustained attacking possession.
Villareal had a clear game plan as well. Considering the fact that their two strikers are performing well and are well-synchronized, the wingers were instructed to cross the ball often. The full-backs would advance, but not overlap frequently. This could either not be a part of the game plan or because of the attacking threat, Barcelona posed from the start. With Dani Parejo in midfield, Emery would ideally be able to continue playing the possession-based football his teams play. Coquelin would offer a bit of dynamism in midfield along with the Spanish midfielder.
However, Koeman took an interesting decision and gave Busquets the role to man-mark Parejo. Though both were surprisingly not the best on the ball on the day, Busquets did well to restrict Parejo to lateral and back passes. In the second-half, Vilalreal’s game plan was executed better in the 4-4-2 diamond. This allowed Parejo to get on the ball more, wit him playing a major role in the build-up. Emery knows his players’ strengths very well. Parejo in the defensive mid role, with pacey wingers on either sides means fast transitions. For Barcelona s well, the transitions were key. Coutinho’s mediapunta role and the freedom Messi has both contributed to this.
We already saw the many benefits this formation has offered, taking the strengths of the players Koeman has into full consideration. The ease during build-up with one pivot dropping back, being able to sustain the attack with the mediapunta getting more space, the freedom Busquets had to man-mark Parejo, which would have been difficult in a single pivot, etc. Another one of the advantages is in defense.
Barcelona were vulnerable in defense throughout last season. Jordi Alba looks like refreshed and fitter than usual, and with Dest potentially joining the Blaugrana, the full-backs are looking promising. In case that Barcelona does get caught on the counter, Koeman does have a solution to one of the problems. When Barcelona are on the backfoot, De Jong and Busquets would need to make sure their positioning is immaculate. They were instructed to plug the gaps between the center-halves and full-backs, which would have a two-fold purpose. Firstly, through-balls against more creative players would be much more difficult, with the gaps being reduced and Coutinho and Griezmann helping in defense. Secondly, the opposition would be less likely to crowd the box, since Barcelona can now afford to get at least 4 players into the box if the pivots were to position themselves as such. However, this would be very dependent on the split-second judgment and whether the players decide to press or track-back.
For Koeman’s first La Liga match, the performance was quite promising. Barcelona looked better tactically and in terms of hard work than Villareal as we saw in this tactical analysis. The latter being something that Barcelona desperately need, what remains to be seen is how Barcelona will fare against teams that rely on individual ability more than Villareal and the unpredictability that follows. Apart from this, will the players be able to sustain the intense work ethic Koeman demands? If Barcelona do decently in these conditions and some others, we might see a much better season from them than expected.