After the humiliation of losing 2–8 in the Champions League, the club has hit rock bottom. For the third year in a row Barça embarrassed themselves. As painful as it may seem, it is important to understand what went wrong on Friday night as Barcelona totally collapsed against Bayern Munich.
Following the worst defeat in the club’s history, there must be significant changes, and quickly. The Barcelona vs Bayern Munich showed one team that were completely lost and another that is doing things right. There was a clear lack of leadership from the Catalans and a management that was completely out of its depth. Many players proved that they are not at the level to be playing for the Spanish giants.
The game also highlighted that there are much deeper problems at the club than just poor performances on the pitch. Financial troubles, an incompetent board, reckless spending, midtable managers and awful squad planning are just some of the issues behind the scenes.
Disaster against Bayern
When the line-up was announced, many fans’ fears had come true. Quique Setién had abandoned his principles and chosen a team that proved he is not brave enough to manage the blaugranas. He tried to set up defensively with four in midfield. This meant Arturo Vidal often playing behind the front two and Sergi Roberto in right midfield.
It evidently did not work and resulted in the midfield completely collapsing in both defending and attacking. They could not keep the ball and gave in to Bayern’s pressing while also being unable to win the ball back. Nélson Semedo and Roberto were hopeless on the right-hand side and simply did not have any understanding between them. This led to most of the Bavarians success coming from Barça’s right flank.
That the game was lost in the flanks when that obviously was Bayern’s main threat hints at the poor tactics chosen | Photo by UEFA / Handout via Xinhua
In defence, it was simply embarrassing. To concede eight goals is unacceptable. The full-backs have been a problem at the Catalan side for years now and change is needed in this position. Clément Lenglet and Gerard Piqué just gave up as both are experienced enough to do better. Marc-André ter Stegen also had a miserable night. His passing let him down and he should have done better with a few of the goals.
One of the most concerning issues is the team’s mentality. They looked beaten after the third goal went in. There was no leadership, no confidence and every player just hid. This has come from too many players hiding behind Lionel Messi carrying them for seasons now. The team desperately needs to be freshened up as most of the heavyweights have become comfortable and lost their competitiveness.
When Quique Setién was appointed he sold fans a dream of returning great football back to the Camp Nou. He was going to reinstate Johan Cruyff’s style and give priority to the youth players. However, Quique did not live up to this. The clash against Bayern showed that Setién does not have the personality, strength or ability to manage Barça. He went for a defensive formation and conceded eight goals. This is not Cruyff football.
Again, he only made two out of the five available substitutions. He brought Antoine Griezmann on at half time when the Messi, Luis Suárez and Griezmann trio had only worked once this season, against Villarreal. Moreover, he substituted Ansu Fati on and it looked like he was told to play through the middle. Barcelona needed width in the team and pace upfront which Setién still has not learned. He did nothing to try and fix the result.
“I like my team to play well, that’s the only way I can go home happy. If we win 1–0 undeservedly, I will be happy with the three points but I will go home annoyed because what you need is to feel good and do things properly. If you do it well, you will always have more chance of winning”
in his first press conference as a Barça manager
From start to finish, his six months in charge have raised more questions than answered. Quique failed to compete in any competition and made the exact same mistakes as Ernesto Valverde. His substitutions were bizarre as he seemed to forget he could make any until the 80th minute in most matches. Furthermore, he did not have the courage to drop those who were under performing and replace them with younger players. It has been a sad end to his short term in charge after promising so much at the beginning.
The bigger picture
For years Barça’s demise has been clear because of one man: Josep Maria Bartomeu. During his time, president Bartomeu has taken the joy from the club and permanently scared it. The Bayern match showed just how broken the club has become during his time. At the start, there were happy sensations projected by the board to make it seem that all was well, this was an illusion. Under Bartomeu’s leadership, Barça has lost its identity and spirit.
The current president is part of a growing trend of football club owners that do not care about football and are only in it for business reasons. What makes Bartomeu stand out is that he does not understand business either. He has financially ruined the club with shady deals. No club has spent more money over the last decade or has a higher wage bill than Barcelona.
What has the club got to show for it? The oldest starting eleven the azulgranas have ever fielded in the Champions League. Three of the most expensive signings in their history costing nearly €500 million combined that have failed. Four years of Champions League embarrassment. A lack of competition throughout the squad from disastrous planning. La Masía being overwhelmed with strange signings to balance the books. There are almost no positives from his time in charge.
Friday’s game showed a disgraceful performance by the players and the manager of Barcelona. There can be no excuses, and both must own up to their failings. Although, when looking at how it has come to this point, the board must take the blame too. Bartomeu’s time at Barça was always leading to a disaster. Nobody could have predicted it being so bad.
It is sad to see a club that prided itself on playing attractive football, its youth academy and love for the game abandon everything it believed in. The further the club drifted from its principles, the worse it became. Change is desperately needed, and this must come from people that understand what Barça stands for.
Can Alexander Isak be the firepower Barcelona need in their attacking arsenal
With incoming presidential elections and the resulting anticipation of a rebuild, more and more players are being linked to Barcelona. Besides big names like Erling Haaland and David Alaba, Real Sociedad centre-forward Alexander Isak is reportedly on the Catalans’ radar. A new striker is an absolute must for the club and Isak’s €70 million release clause is turning heads. His stock is rising and he has a bright future ahead of him, but should Barcelona pursue him?
Isak is currently in the midst of his second season for Basque-outfit Real Sociedad. The 21-year old started his career at the Swedish club AIK before moving to Borussia Dortmund’s youth setup in 2017. Lacking first-team opportunities, he was loaned to Dutch club Willem II, where he tallied an impressive 14 goals and 7 assists in 18 appearances. Isak then moved to Sociedad in the summer of 2019 and scored 16 goals in his debut season. This season, he has 12 goals in 29 appearances.
He has been dubbed the “next Zlatan Ibrahimovic” by some, and with the Swedish national team, Isak has scored five goals in 18 appearances.
Tactical and Statistical Analysis
Isak has all the attributes of a classic “target man”, one whose main role is to win aerial duels and play off of creative teammates, but his game is much more than that. He stands tall at 190 cm, or 6 foot 3 inches, but has incredible speed and balance. Despite his height, however, he is only winning 42% of his aerial duels this season.
Isak likes to play off the shoulder of the defence, eagerly waiting for through balls from creative midfielders like Mike Merino or David Silva. Alternatively, he can also hold the ball up. With his combination of speed and dribbling ability, he is a constant threat on the counter-attack, capable of getting past defenders or dragging bodies and creating space for runners. He also has decent vision and passing acumen for a centre forward, but Sociedad’s set up doesn’t allow him to maximize these qualities.
Statistically, he is averaging 1.36 dribbles per 90 minutes this season at a clip of 64.8%. According to fbref.com, when compared to forwards in Europe’s top five leagues (Spain, England, France, Germany, and Italy), Isak stands out in terms of his successful pressures rate (93rd percentile), pressures in the attacking third (81st percentile), and carries into the penalty area (87th percentile).
In front of the goal, Isak is dangerous with both his feet and his head. He is unpredictable with his finishing, always keeping defenders and goalkeepers on edge. This campaign, his 12 goals are fairly evenly distributed: six with his right foot, three with his left, and three with his head. Most of his goals have come from through balls or passes over the defence. He carries the ball in his stride and finishes with confidence.
His goalscoring record was rough to start the season, scoring only four goals across 20 appearances, but he’s picked things up in 2021. The forward has been in rich vein of form, already scoring nine goals this calendar year. Furthermore, in La Liga, he has scored in each of his last six appearances, not to mention a hat trick last time out against Alavés. He could have a breakout season if he continues scoring at this rate, attracting offers from teams across Europe.
Where would he fit at Barça?
Naturally, Isak fits a need for the Blaugrana at centre forward. The team has no natural “number nine” –other than Martin Braithwaite — and with Messi entering his twilight years and potentially leaving in the summer, they desperately need goal-scorers. The Swedish international is well adapted to playing as a lone striker in a 4-3-3 system and is already accustomed to playing in La Liga, so Barça won’t need to worry about adaptation along those lines.
Tactically, his height and runs into the box could bring a different dimension to a fairly one-dimensional Barça attack. While he could fit in well with the team’s patient and possession-oriented approach, his game is more suited for runs into open spaces and spearheading counter attacks.
The question is, would he start for Barcelona? Messi is best suited for a false nine role, and Isak would not displace Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembélé, or Ansu Fati in the front line. On the contrary, he could be an extremely productive squad option, but his potential transfer fee would be too high to warrant such a role.
Should Barcelona pursue him?
There are plenty of intriguing reasons for Barça to pursue Isak, but he should not be their number one transfer target. He undoubtedly has a bright future ahead of him and is showing immense quality this season, but he might not be ready to carry Barcelona’s front line.
There will be a lot asked of him, and he will be expected to perform on the biggest stages in world football, and his zero goals in the Europa League this season are not reassuring. Despite his incredible form over the last few games, Barça need to see more consistent output if he is to be their number nine for the next decade.
He would also cost the club around 70 million euros, and that money could serve the team better by investing that in other areas like centre back or centre defensive mid.
While he is still young and has time to improve, Barcelona should focus on more refined and finished products.
On the one hand, Isak could bring a lot to the Blaugrana and offer much-needed variation to their attack. On the other hand, there are signs pointing to the fact that he is not yet the calibre of player Barcelona need to lead their frontline, especially for that sum of €70 million. He could be a more than sufficient squad option and someone who could develop in the long term, but once again, that transfer fee warrants caution.
Also, facilitating his move could be quite difficult given that his ex-team Borussia Dortmund have a reported €30 million “buy-back” clause attached to his name. If (and when) the German club are to lose Erling Haaland, they could easily opt for Isak as his replacement.
Isak is a solid striker and has a lot of potential, but he is not yet the player capable of leading Barcelona’s front line. That paired with his potential transfer fee means the club should focus on other transfer targets first.