After a demoralizing loss against Paris Saint-Germain, FC Barcelona have now lost two Champions League home games in a row for the first time in history. But this is just another storyline in a much larger issue.
Expectations were low from the FC Barcelona this season and Paris Saint-Germain were always going to be a formidable team to play against. Many Culés had come to peace with the possibility that the Blaugrana were not going to win the tie. But one thing everyone wanted was that the team would give it their all.
After a run of good performances, there was hope that Barcelona could scrape a win at the Camp Nou. However, this false hope was torn to shreds by the horrid reality. Barcelona were hammered 1-4 by PSG. But the truly nightmarish truth was that when the team suffocated when faced with a big challenge, it surprised no one. In fact, it followed a new pattern developed by Ronald Koeman’s Barça.
The team would show positive signs against relatively easier opponents, and just when fans got their hopes up, they would crumble.
The underlying issue
From Real Madrid in the league to Athletic Bilbao in the Supercopa de Espana Final, the Azulgranas have struggled in the most crucial games. If that wasn’t embarrassing enough, the nature of the losses was the final blow. It is clear that this team chokes in big games.
While performances are positive in La Liga games, these are only a by-product of the difference in the quality of the teams that Barça face.
For example, let us consider the PSG match. The French outfit were without important players like Neymar Jr. and Angel Di Maria. They too were struggling domestically and were nowhere near at their best. Just like other teams in La Liga, they easily created several chances against Barça. But unlike those other teams, PSG made them pay.
The ‘big dogs’ always have quality players who make their chances count. Their clinical finishing is the fine line between Barcelona losing a match by a major margin and Barça taking the victory.
Barcelona in big games this season:— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) February 17, 2021
• Real Madrid: 3-1 loss
• Atletico: 1-0 loss
• Juventus: 0-3 loss
• Athletic Bilbao: 3-2 loss
• Sevilla: 2-0 loss
• PSG: 4-1 loss pic.twitter.com/567fmtReP2
Being able to dominate games is a major factor in Barcelona’s playing style. While most teams play deep and allow Barcelona to pass the ball around passively, the heavyweights bring the game to Barcelona. They exploit the tactical immaturity of the team and utilize the team’s lack of pace and the vast spaces left behind. The moment the Azulgaranas become indecisive, the opposition strike.
Barcelona do not have the players like Atletico Madrid to sit back and absorb pressure. The Blaugranas have to play with intensity, not allowing opponents to settle down and take hold of the game. But the current squad seems incapable of finding this intensity in big games. Mindless horizontal passing and stagnation in defence continue to plague performances.
The broken mentality
Koeman deserves credit for recovering the team mentality for the most part. Yet it is comparatively easy to make a comeback from 2-0 down against a team like Granada. Inevitably, those teams go into the game expecting to lose in the back of their head.
However, teams like Juventus and PSG fight to win. They have experience playing tough games. These teams learn from their mistakes and come back stronger after falling. They also have history on their side.
Heartbreak and pain have left their mark on several players. And these are the very players who continue to form the backbone of the team. Players like Gerard Pique, Lionel Messi, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets. Players who are the captains and veterans of the squad.
Just as important as tactics in major games, another important factor is leadership. While facing high-pressure situations, one needs the veterans and the captains to show the way forward. However, frustration seeps into Barcelona’s players as they see history repeat itself time and again.
Barcelona need players like Sergio Ramos, who have the mentality of lions. Ramos displayed his quality when he led Real Madrid to victory against the Blaugranas. It is at times like this that the team yearns for legends like Carles Puyol.
This is why Barcelona miss the injured Ronald Araujo and Ansu Fati even more. These youngsters are free of the shackles of the past. They only want to play football and win.
What next for the club?
Barcelona are likely going to go trophyless this season. However, the club and the fans must look beyond this season. Mistakes have been made throughout the past few years, and it is going to take a long time to recover from them. But to win trophies, a team needs to win important games consistently.
While Ronald Koeman is to blame for these losses, so are the players. Repeatedly changing the manager is not going to have a major effect during such games as long as the base group of players remains the same.
A complete overhaul is necessary in order to beat strong oppositions at the biggest of stages. A clear and concise project needs to be implemented. The election of a new president is one of the first steps towards the future.
Barcelona desperately need players who can swiftly carry the ball and run into the spaces upfront. Despite spending the big bucks on forwards, the team still relies on a central midfielder like Frenkie de Jong to run in behind the defence and win penalties or score goals. These are runs that Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele should be making as well.
Since signing new players is out of the question, young blood from La Masia need to be integrated into the team. Academy graduates like Alex Collado and Konrad de la Fuente should be experimented with in the absence of Ansu Fati. In defence, the sluggish partnership of Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet, too, needs to be replaced.
The sense of uncertainty within the team too needs to be taken care of. These may be minor issues, but they take a toll on the persons involved. One at a time, each problem needs to be handled with care and patience. Only then can the team return to being the stalwart it once was, steamrolling every opponent that comes in its way.
A significant week in Barcelona for Lionel Messi’s future
It is a topic that gets the football world giddy. The fantasies of Lionel Messi playing in the Premier League, the formation of another star-studded front three alongside Neymar Jr. and Kylian Mbappe, and for the romantics, a return to Argentina is set in their hearts.
After the infamous events of the summer of 2020, now more than ever, the biggest legend of FC Barcelona looks closer than ever to leaving.
Many Barça fans feel that it could be a good thing that the six-time Ballon D’or winner leaves, bringing up the point that the Catalan side needs a hard restart next season and the idea of building a team around a 33-year-old does not seem logical, as it only benefits the near future.
This is a valid point and most likely comes from those who want not only the best for Barca but Messi as well, as Cúlers are not ignorant to the fact that the club cannot promise their beloved number ten the fifth Champions League trophy he craves in its current situation.
However, in an ideal world, Barça fans would want Messi to stay and win his fifth European Cup wearing Blaugrana and if that is to happen, the week that went by is the only decider on course for the club and player alike.
The Copa Del Rey comeback
In the interview with Jordi Évole on LaSexta last December, Lionel Messi stated that he “wanted to keep competing to win trophies.”
Two weeks ago, that desire for this season looked unlikely. Atletico Madrid had a sizeable lead over the Catalans in La Liga, Paris Saint-Germain built up a 1-4 lead in the Champions League, and Sevilla had a 2-0 advantage in the Copa del Rey.
The first of these tasks was addressed on Wednesday night, in what turned out to be a memorable night in the history of FC Barcelona. A 94th minute Gerard Pique header sent Barça into extra time, where Martin Braithwaite completed the comeback to send the Catalans through to the final 3-2 on aggregate.
The chance to win another trophy would no doubt have pleased Messi but it is the story of the match that will help keep the Argentine at the club next season.
If Messi stopped and looked around the Camp Nou on Wednesday night, he would have seen determination and heart from his teammates to keep going to the final whistle, an abundance of youthful talent performing at a level beyond their years, and world-class players such as Marc-Andre ter Stegen ready to step up when certain challenges emerged.
Throughout one night, all these combined into a sort of presentation to the Argentine, exhibiting the future of FC Barcelona and where the team is headed.
There is no denying that the gap between Barcelona and Europe’s elite is still large, but this performance showed the signs Messi has called for and that is something that can be noted down for the future.
The perfect Liga weekend
Looking ahead to the weekend, the second of Barcelona’s comeback missions received an encouraging boost.
The Catalan side were looking to go 16 games unbeaten in La Liga in a match against twelfth place Osasuna and a win would not only see them extend this run but close the gap on Atletico Madrid to just two points, albeit with two games in hand.
The importance of this weekend lied in Atletico’s game as they face city rivals Real Madrid. In an ideal world, Barça fans would hope that the spoils are shared in El Derbi allowing the Blaugrana side to gain points on both Madrid clubs.
Barcelona’s prayers were catered to, and not only did the Catalan giants pick up three ugly, yet important points from their encounter against Osasuna, the capital outfits had to settle for a draw. Playing the angel’s advocate, even if Atleti had come away with the three points, it would essentially narrow the title race to just two teams considering Los Colchoneros gap at the top.
From Lionel Messi’s point of view, winning the La Liga title from the position Barça found themselves in a few weeks back would be a huge encouragement to stay for another season, especially if it is accompanied by the Copa del Rey. The Argentine has been part of teams that let leads slip over the last three seasons and to flip the script on that, would ultimately show progress.
The Presidential election
The final act of the week was the 2021 Presidential Election, where the next president of FC Barcelona was chosen on Sunday night. Joan Laporta, Victor Font, and Toni Freixa were the three candidates fighting for Barça’s top spot, and all have addressed the situation of Lionel Messi throughout their campaigns.
Joan Laporta had emerged as the favourite for a second spell, and like everyone suspected, the Spaniard swayed the elections, coming on top as the winner. Ideally, it would have a significant impact on the future of La Pulga, as Messi showed up to vote for the elections for the first time in his life. In fact, Laporta went on to claim that Leo congratulated him on the night. His renewal will be one of the many hurdles Laporta will have to jump over.
Throughout the presidential campaign, it has been rumoured that Messi will not stay if Joan Laporta does not win. Laporta himself fuelled these rumours on Tuesday during the last of the Presidential debates.
The Spaniard stated, “If I don’t win, I am sure that Leo will not stay at Barcelona”.
“If I don’t win, I am sure that Leo will not stay at Barcelona. “Messi will weigh up the offer we make him. I’m convinced that if the other candidates win, Messi will not remain at Barcelona. He wasn’t happy during Freixa’s time on the board.”Joan Laporta in the presidential debate
If these feelings are believed to be true, the future of Lionel Messi could take a dramatic twist on Sunday.
Having said all this, Lionel Messi’s future could come down to one simple desire, to win a fifth European Cup. At 33 years old, the Argentine does not have time on his side in this pursuit, and it could be years before Barcelona can compete for Europe’s top prize again.
With ready-made teams such as Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain waiting on the side-lines, the final decision in June could come down to this week — if this week does not make it for the six-time Ballon d’Or winner, there is little chance anything else will.