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Barcelona are back in the La Liga title race after many ups and downs

Domagoj Kostanjšak



Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images

Following a rather poor showing throughout the 2019/20 season, everyone knew this campaign would be a largely transitional one. After all, having lost two coaches in a relatively short span of time and then being on the edge of losing the best player in the history of the club was bound to rattle a few feathers. And rattle them it did.

The appointment of Ronald Koeman, therefore, was largely a hail Mary by the struggling hierarchy who knew they had to take drastic measures in order to survive. Measures were taken, sure, but they didn’t finish their mandate with Josep Maria Bartomeu flying out the exit door.

Now, however, a bit less than halfway into the 2020/21 season, Barcelona are still a wounded giant. At the very start, it did seem like Koeman’s changes would be enough to weather the storm. Until they weren’t.

Things started falling apart relatively quickly, resulting in Barcelona plummeting down the standings week after week. Of course, the first couple of games went great as they crushed both Villarreal and Celta Vigo 4:0 and 0:3 respectively, which made many fans excited for the immediate future.

However, Koeman always stumbled at the bigger challenges. First there were Sevilla, then Getafe, then Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid and Juventus. All the big games ended either in a draw or a defeat, mostly the latter though. And just like that, Barcelona found themselves in the bottom part of the table with the alarm bells blazing across the Camp Nou.

The issues were aplenty – the new system obviously had too many glitches. The 4-2-3-1 is a well-balanced structure on paper but seemingly not suitable for Barcelona. The choice of personnel was also doubtful and at times, still is. Then there are the performances on an individual and collective level, as well as the never-ending injury list. You name it, it had happened to the Catalans.

But we are now past game week 12 for Barcelona and they find themselves fifth in the table, having beaten the previous league leaders Real Sociedad at home. Atlético Madrid, who are currently leading the pack, are only six points clear but also with one game fewer on their account.

Of course, Real Sociedad, Real Madrid and Villarreal are all ahead of the Catalans, in that descending order too, and it still feels like there’s a mountain to climb before we can actually start celebrating some improvements. But even though the sample is far too small, there’s no denying that improvements do exist.

Reverting back to the 4-3-3 structure and trusting the innate ability and understanding of the youth while also playing to the strengths of the team seems to be working for Koeman. But caution is advised.

We’re still very early into the 2020/21 campaign and many difficult challenges await. The victory over Real Sociedad was Barcelona’s first against a big team in La Liga, not counting the triumph over Villarreal in game week one since the Yellow Submarine was in a similarly weird situation back then.

The Catalans still have to face each of the teams above them in the standings once and then there’s the Champions League clash against Paris Saint-Germain too. Again, Koeman has struggled on big nights so nothing is guaranteed apart from more nail-biting moments.

But as was alluded to earlier, hope is still very much alive. Against Real Sociedad, who were clearly weakened by some absences as well, we’ve seen the best half of football Barcelona have produced this season.

If we get to see more of that Barça further down the line, they may be something to fight for at the end of the season.

I’ve been a Barcelona fan for more than half of my life. What started as blind love is slowly turning into professional writing. Now, I get to write about Barca, analyse them, and voice my opinions on them across platforms. I’m happy to be a part of this big project.



Barcelona’s rebirth is inevitable, but it will take time

Domagoj Kostanjšak



Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER/AFP via Getty Images

Barcelona’s rebirth is just around the corner. In early March, the club will finally get their long-awaited new president following the tyranny that was Josep Maria Bartomeu’s tenure. And perhaps ‘tyranny’ may be a bit too harsh of a verdict, but how else would you call years of systematically destroying the club, consciously or subconsciously, plunging it deeper and deeper into the abyss? On second thoughts, ‘tyranny‘ will just have to do.

But all of that is firmly behind us now. In just weeks’ time, the Catalan giant will rise once more, reborn from the ashes of its fallen self to conquer the world anew. But things in football are never really that easy, are they? Everyone knows you can’t win all the time.

Even the greatest of teams such as Pep Guardiola’s very own Barcelona had their rise, peak and subsequent downfall. And there are not many clubs out there who have faced the harsh reality of building new dynasties from scratch as much as Barcelona have.

Pep Guardiola’s team reached heights unheard of in club football. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

So if history is any indication at all, change takes time and the upcoming presidential tenure at the club will be no different. But let’s get one thing clear right away – this is not meant to bash any of the three candidates nor promote them either. All three of Joan Laporta, Victor Font and Antoni Freixa have their own visions of the direction in which to take their beloved club.

However, to think everything will suddenly and immediately change upon their appointment would be foolish. No, in March, we’re not getting the rebirth; we’re only getting the very beginning of one. With a new president sitting in that chair and appointing a new board, Barcelona will once again lay the groundwork for future success.

The immediate appointment of the new upper hierarchy might boost the morale, of course. And that in itself could then translate to a boost on the pitch as well. But a new president can only do as much in such a short amount of time. The real battles are always fought on the pitches and there, Barcelona are still looking like a broken team.

This too, of course, can be fixed over time. With the appropriate staff behind the scenes, a much better scouting department, physios, psychologists and a step-by-step tactical and squad overhaul, we can start hoping for result. But those are all long-term goals that require patience both from us the fans and the team itself.

Baby steps. (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER/AFP via Getty Images)

Unfortunately, years of failure in the market, chasing ghosts of our pasts and blind picks, have resulted in a financially distorted club. Where once was wealth and prosperity now we only have crumbs of former glory. Yes, Barcelona are still a powerful outfit that can and should be aiming to attract only the very best.

But we also have to remember that each of the three candidates is seemingly putting a lot of emphasis on going back to the roots. ‘The roots‘ here mean La Masia, the academy and the youth. But just as is the case with any sporting project, especially the ones founded on the strength coming from within, this takes time to develop. Rome wasn’t built overnight. Nor was La Masia or Barcelona’s legacy, for that matter.

The Azulgranas really do have incredible talent in their youth ranks and this is definitely a pool of players that should be utilised in the future. We shouldn’t, however, expect to find the new Golden Generation right around the corner.

We have been fooled into thinking the likes of Andrés Iniesta, Xavi Hernández, Sergio Busquets and Lionel Messi are the standard and the rule. Unfortunately, as much as we like to keep telling ourselves otherwise, they are very much the exception to the rule; the standout and likely a one-in-a-million crop of players that flourished under a brilliant manager.

The peak, not the standard. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)

So many things had to be in the right place for them to make it, and somehow, the stars had aligned back then to ensure their development into footballing giants. It would be foolish to expect the same thing to happen again, or rather, to happen that quickly.

But with the right foundations, the right personnel, trust and hope, why shouldn’t we believe in it happening once more? After all, we have the secret recipe for success but are too afraid to use it. Why? Well, the times have changed since Barcelona last ruled the world.

Back in 2009, success was not guaranteed nor was is so expected and the fans were nowhere near as spoilt as they are now. Back then, the coach actually had the time to build a squad, groom them and mould them in his image. That’s what Pep did and miraculously enough, it didn’t take him years, not even months, to start making something truly incredible.

And in so many ways, 2021 mirrors that exact same situation. Before Pep’s time, Frank Rijkaard had been struggling for a while and his team, despite having some big names, was in a need of an overhaul. In that regard, Barcelona were entering their transitional period, the same one they are experiencing now.

Rijkaard bowed out from the stage having finished third in La Liga and having exited both Copa del Rey and the Champions League in the semi-finals. It was a valiant effort for a broken team but ultimately, he finished his tenure with a trophyless season. But in so many ways, that 2007/08 campaign was a start of a new story; one that promoted trust in the youth, power from within and confidence in the beginning of a rise to glory.

So what can we learn from that? We must accept that change is sometimes necessary but that it can cost a lot. In football, results and trophies matter, that’s in the nature of the sport. But sometimes you have to take a step back before you jump two steps forward. 2020 wasn’t easy and 2021 is looking equally as exhausting and challenging. But it’s also necessary.

Already, in a season that may seem full of pain, anger and disappointment, we’ve seen glimpses of what’s to come. Players like Pedri, Frenkie de Jong and Ronald Araújo rising to the occasion to guide us to a better future. That future may also be without Lionel Messi, the one player who embodies this club the most.

The future, even without Leo, does look bright. (Photo by Fran Santiago/Getty Images)

But we should also remember Pep had to lose, or rather let go of Ronaldinho to kickstart his great overhaul. Both players were and still are icons of the club but a new era requires new heroes and new leaders. So even if Messi leaves this coming summer, the world won’t suddenly stop, nor should Barcelona’s strive for greatness.

In March, a new president will get elected and the foundation for a better future will finally be set. It will take time and it won’t suddenly solve all of our problems.

But it will give us a push that we oh so need. Barcelona’s rebirth is just around the corner.

Don’t give up hope in the moment of our greatest triumph.

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