Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona side is the worst Barça in quite some time. The sleeping giants have started horrifically in the league, recording the worst start to a La Liga campaign since the change to the three-point format, and have not topped their Champions League group for the first time since 2006.
The Dutchman does not seem to have an effective system, and his side’s morale is incredibly low. They have never won this season when they have gone down a goal and effectively lost their top spot in the group in the last game. They went down to a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty at home and never seemed to get it together.
The 3-0 defeat, at home to a weak Juventus side, hurt everyone. The players, the coach and, most importantly, the fans. Seeing their team so weak sportively and mentality has taken a toll on most Culés, and they now feel bereft of confidence ahead of the Champions League Round of 16.
Finishing second in the group means that Barça will face some of Europe’s biggest sides. From Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City to Bayern Munich, the treble winners, passing by Jurgen Klopp’s intense Liverpool and Neymar’s Paris Saint-Germain. These teams are some of the most dangerous in Europe, and Barcelona will have to enter their den in the next round.
This year, and under this management, it looks like Barcelona do not stand a chance in Europe’s premier competition, and here is why:
Bayern Munich: The cyborgs
We start with the best team. Bayern Munich are treble winners, and they might do it again this year. The Bavarians battered Atlético Madrid, who beat Barcelona 1-0 in November, at the start of the season, and have shown no signs of slowing down ever since.
What terrifies Culés when they think about Bayern is the thought of yet another humiliation. Before Juventus, Barcelona’s last loss at Camp Nou in the UCL was against the Bavarians. The Catalan giants lost 4-0 away from home only to lose 3-0 at home. More recently, Bayern Munich dismantled Quique Setién’s lost Blaugranas 8-2 en route to a treble win.
Facing the Bavarians would be a massacre—a blood bath. Moreover, if Koeman plays his unbalanced 4-2-3-1, and with the mistakes the Blaugranas have made recently, playing Bayern will mean another demolition. This time, it will be over two legs.
The Bavarians have the best striker, the best goalkeeper, the most balanced midfield and quick defence. What is worse with Bayern is that they play with a high line. Their tactics make you hope for something and think you will get some sort of positive. However, the German champions crush their opponent and leave them hopeless.
Facing such a force in the competition would be disastrous for a side in a rebuild and with a stubborn manager. Barcelona will thank their lucky stars if they do not face the treble winners.
Barcelona’s chances of qualifying to the next round: Around 5%
Liverpool: The bloodthirsty reds
Ever since Jurgen Klopp took over at Anfield, everything the Reds touch turns to gold.
Again, Barcelona have a history with Liverpool; having lost shamefully to the English Champions in 2019. Lionel Messi lifted his side against Klopp’s men in the first leg, only to be let down by his teammates in the second. Liverpool recovered from a 3-0 battering, without Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Divock Origi scored twice to win the game 4-0.
Since then, the Merseyside team have won the Champions League, the Club World Cup and the Premier League. This season, after a plethora of injuries and a 7-2 defeat to Aston Villa, Klopp’s intense side is second in the league on goal difference and have managed to demolish Atalanta 5-0 away from home.
Ever since that magical night in May 2019, Liverpool have gone from strength to strength and their squad is filled with even more talent.
They have added Thiago and Diogo Jota to their squad while players like Naby Keita or Joe Gomez, who is injured, have won their way in the starting lineup. Facing Thiago, a La Masia graduate will be hard for Culés, and even more so if he demolishes his former just like he did in August with Bayern.
Barcelona’s chances of qualifying to the next round: Around 5%
Paris Saint-Germain: Neymar’s astonishing return to the Camp Nou
After analysing the two best teams, let’s look at a less dangerous side. Thomas Tuchel’s underwhelming Paris Saint-Germain side, who topped the group of death.
At the start of the Champions League, Paris lost badly at home to Manchester United and were even worse away to RB Leipzig. They were lucky to beat Leipzig at home thanks to a generous penalty and shined at Old Trafford. They might have topped the group, but they are not really shining.
In the league, Paris are not at their best either. They lost to Lens, Marseille and Monaco, while drawing with Bordeaux recently. If their eternal rivals Marseille win their two games in hand, they will top the league table, and the French side finished dead last in their group.
The fans are starting to question Thomas Tuchel and the team. Other than Neymar and Kylian Mbappé, Paris do not have a star-studded side. Sure, they have Keylor Navas, Marquinhos and Marco Verratti, but they do not have either the depth or the quality the first two candidates possess.
However, after stating these facts, PSG still possesses that spark that provides the edge over any opponent. Playing against Neymar alone is one of the biggest dangers in world football. After three years plagued with injuries in the French capital, the Brazilian is at the top of his game physically. Against Istanbul Basaksehir, the winger even looked like the best player in the world currently.
If Barcelona’s slow and error-prone defence has to fight against Neymar’s and Mbappé’s pace and tricks, a heavy loss will be on the cards for the Catalans.
Indeed, Tuchel is not the best manager, and is heavily criticised by the supporters. However, if his two stars are ready for the fight, they will batter this lacklustre Barcelona side easily.
Nonetheless, the giants have a history with the Parisians. The last game between the two sides resulted in the 6-1 Remontada back in 2017 and the French side are also notorious in losing easier ties. This is a team that lost 3-1 at home to a depleted Manchester United squad after winning 2-0 at Old Trafford.
If the Blaugrana players can get it together, they might have a chance to win the tie. However, Paris will still have the upper hand if they get drawn against their rivals.
Barcelona’s chances of qualifying to the next round: Around 25%
Manchester City: Pep Guardiola’s revenge
Manchester City have been a force in England ever since Sheikh Mansour’s takeover in 2008. They have won four league titles after the takeover and two of them under Pep Guardiola’s tenure.
The Catalan coach is one of the best in Barcelona history. He has returned once to his former side as an adversary. It was in 2015 while managing Bayern Munich. Lionel Messi broke the internet with his crazy skill move on Jérôme Boateng. The Bavarians received a beating from Luis Enrique’s treble-winning Catalans.
Ever since leaving Camp Nou, Guardiola has never won a Champions League. With Bayern, his side got battered by Barcelona and Real Madrid. However, with Manchester City, he has lived a lot more humiliations. Against Olympique Lyonnais in 2020 or Monaco in 2017, Guardiola has not shown his best side and his future at the Etihad was not clear following the bad loss to Lyon this summer.
Moreover, City have started the league campaign awfully. The Citizens are seventh in the league. They lost 5-2 against Leicester City at home and suffering a bad loss to José Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur.
Still, they topped their Champions League group with only one goal conceded. The last side to achieve this feat was Ernesto valverde’s 17/18 almost unbeaten Barcelona side. They were matched with below-par teams like Marseille and Olympiacos but also struggled against Porto.
The former holding midfielder is notorious for overthinking Champions League ties, especially when he is touted as the favourite.
Nonetheless, Koeman’s tactics are lacklustre and surely no match for Guardiola’s. If Barcelona draw City this Monday, they will have to deal with Raheem Sterling, Kevin de Bruyne, Sergio Aguero, and Riyad Mahrez. This star-studded side might brush aside this underperforming Barça side easily, especially if they make mistake as flagrant as Raphael Varane’s in August.
Against a former friend, the giants will surely see an abrupt end to their European dreams. It will not be as big of a massacre as Bayern or Liverpool would do, but it would still be painful to watch.
Chances of going through to the next round: Around 20%
Chelsea: Lampard eliminates Barça again
We go from one of the best midfielders in the history of the game to another one. Frank Lampard was one of the best midfielders in the world when he beat Guardiola’s Barcelona over two legs en route to win his Champions League medal.
As a coach, the Englishman returned to Stamford Bridge while the Blues were banned from making transfers. He used the youngsters last year, but his 2020 summer transfer window was mesmerising.
The London side brought Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Édouard Mendy, Hakim Ziyech, Ben Chilwell and Thiago Silva for large sums of money, and might be getting their money’s worth. The attackers have started brilliantly while Mendy has made the Blues forget about Kepa Arrizabalaga’s horrible performances and Silva and Chilwell have helped the defence massively.
They topped their group in front of Sevilla after beating the Andalusians at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan 4-0 with an Olivier Giroud poker. The Londonians conceded only three goals and scored 14 goals in the group.
If they face Barcelona again, it might get ugly. Werner is rapid and knows how to find spaces in behind the defence, Ziyech is one of the best midfielders in the world and Havertz is a gem. At the back, the Blues have changed their fortunes and become an unbreakable force.
The Blue side of London does have a history with the Catalans. The last time they face them was in 2018 when Messi nutmegged Thibaut Courtois twice and sent through his side.
On paper, Chelsea looks like a sublime team, but they do not look like the scariest team in the competition. They might toy with their rivals, but they still are not a proven side in Europe or England.
Barcelona’s chances of qualifying to the next round: Around 35%
Borussia Dortmund: Pace, tricks and clinicality
Borussia Dortmund has always been the bridesmaid but never the bride. In Germany, the cyborgs of Munich have won every league title since 2012. In Europe, Dortmund’s last final was against Bayern in 2013, where they lost due to a late Arjen Robben winner.
Since this final, the black and yellow side has gone through a rebuilding phase. They have bet on youth and brought in Jadon Sancho, Giovanni Reyna and Erling Braut Haaland.
These youngsters have shown a lot in the past few seasons. Sancho is the talk of the Rhine-Ruhr, Reyna is the new rising star, and Haaland is touted as the next goal machine. This time around, Dortmund managed to top their group, a relatively easy one, and advance in the bigger pond for once.
If the Germans draw Barcelona, they will be able to expose the slow defence the Catalans have. Sancho has blistering pace, Reyna is brimming with confidence, Marco Reus is an essential part of the squad, Thorgan Hazard has been the best Hazard in 2020, Haaland is the best youngster in the world, and Mats Hummels is a team leader.
On paper, their starting lineup seems balanced and full of talent. However, they are still not a huge side in Europe. Last season, with the exact same crop of players, Lucien Favre’s men lost to Paris Saint-Germain after winning 2-1 at home thanks to two Haaland goals.
The fact Dortmund is not regarded as a big side in Europe will make Culés want to draw them. On paper, it seems like the easiest draw. However, easier does not mean a walk in the park.
Moreover, Dortmund would want to draw Koeman’s men to show them who is boss. These youngsters might not have proven themselves yet, but that is the scary part: What if they do so against Barcelona?
Barcelona’s chances of qualifying to the next round: Around 40%
Images via Getty and Imago
Barcelona’s rebirth is inevitable, but it will take time
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.