An incredible stat came by after Barça’s heaviest defeat in Europe. Philippe Coutinho, the club’s most expensive signing, costs less than the monster that is Bayern’s squad. Money never buys good football, and Bayern’s model is exactly the reason why.
Barça’s defeat against Bayern was one of the hardest ones to take. This time, the Bayern demolition couldn’t be covered with the coach’s condition and the atmosphere, it was all a series of circumstances that began in 2015, and the cataclysmic cycle ended with this defeat.
In 2015, Josep Maria Bartomeu was elected as the Catalan president, and ever since the Champions League win that same year, Barcelona’s decline has been depressive, to say the least. The most depressive point of the board’s doings has been excessive spending.
Dembélé, Coutinho, Griezmann, Suarez. All these astronomical fees for players that either have did not have great success (the former three) or are club legends (Suarez). It’s fair to say that the fees have not justified themselves in most cases. From those players, three remain at the club, and one is currently plying his trade abroad while still having a contract with the Camp Nou side.
On loan at Bayern Munich, 120 million Pounds Philippe Coutinho is close to a treble after scoring twice and assisting once in an 8-2 demolishing of his parent club.
His price tag alone is more than Bayern Munich’s entire starting eleven that night, which cost 90 million Pounds altogether. Bayern’s squad was made and not bought. Of course, many players were bought, but it was a young age, and the Bavarians nurtured them until they were ready. The epitome of this culture is David Alaba. Brought in at the youngest age, it feels like the 28-year-old has been playing for ages and nears retirement. Instead, he’s been playing since he was 18 in the Bundesliga and could have two trebles to his, and only a select few, like Messi, Eto’o, Xavi or Iniesta, have done.
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Besides Alaba, it seems like Alphonso Davies is the Austrian’s reincarnation. Young, explosive full-back demonstrating his prowess from the youngest age (19) after having a minimal transfer fee.
This is what recruiting and recruiting intelligently, does. Despite having the world’s most respected academy, how many youngsters, mainly Brazilians, did Barça buy since Bartomeu and Rosell’s reigns of terror? Bayern can produce talent in two ways:
1. Their excellent academy, where German and international talents grow and become legends for club and country.
2. Buying young and making legends from scratch, with no high transfer fees, like Alaba and Davies.
It’s fitting that Lucas Hernández, Corentin Tolisso and Javi Martinez (the three most expensive signings in the Bavarians’ history) were on the bench, and the fourth (Arturo Vidal), playing for the opposite team getting battered like a kid. For Barcelona, their atrocious youngster policy has brought many problems and their brightest talent in years, Thiago Alcantara, started for the white side, being on the right side of the beating this time around.
Messi aside, the two best academy graduates on the pitch played for Bayern. First, Thiago, who is a gem and played well as mentioned. Then, Thomas Müller. Much like Alaba, the German has been playing at his best for so many years. Ever since the 2010 World Cup, where he finished close to the top scorer award, Müller has transformed into a great creator, and he piled on the misery in Lisbon with two goals and an assist. For Barça, six academy graduates. Leo Messi, who didn’t have a good game at all. Jordi Alba, abysmal in defensive phases. Gérard Piqué, a significant part of the sinking defence. Sergi Roberto, at fault for the second goal, aka the goal that changed the mentalities of both sides. Sergio Busquets, who had his worst performance as a Catalan player. Ansu Fati, one of the two bright spots of the 2019/20 season and who had a cameo to forget, not his fault at all.
With these academy players, some overpaid players grasped the pitch. It would be harsh to criticise Lenglet and Ter Stegen too much, as they have been bright spots for the past few seasons and this was undoubtedly their worst performance in a Blaugrana shirt. The two of them still deserve constructive criticism as the German’s distribution was abysmal and the Frenchman sank with the defence.
However, many players sank, along with the whole team, but some more than others. Few would criticize Suarez too much, as his goal was exquisite, but the Uruguayan did nothing, and some could argue he could’ve changed the game. Eight minutes in, Nelson Semedo gifts a superb ball to Suarez, who’s one-on-one with Manuel Neuer, and he scuffs his shot.
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Suarez, a club legend who came for big bucks, missed the chance to put Barça in front and change the game forever. The first 20 minutes were Barça’s best, and while they didn’t continue on their way because of the second goal and Roberto’s mistake, Suarez and then Messi’s post spoiled the Culés’ chances. Bayern’s eleven was great, and the archetype for any team that builds from scratch.
A few years ago, Bayern were in Barça’s position. It wasn’t as dramatic, but Bayern still couldn’t match their domestic dominance with continental success under Pep, Ancelotti or Kovac. This year, they have scored 39 and only need two to equal the record set by Real Madrid of 41 goals in a Champions League campaign. And that’s with two games less than Madrid if they win the whole thing. What Bayern did was a squad rebuilding with a budget. They did it well and accommodated nobodies like Davies, Gnabry and Kimmich for them to become superstars.
Compare it to Barça, who had their three most expensive signings on the bench, and you’ll get the bigger picture. Barcelona should follow Bayern and this painful defeat might be a blessing in disguise.
Sergio Busquets’ form: Age or complacency?
Sergio Busquets is a club legend and is arguably the best holding midfielder of his generation. However, for a couple of seasons, the veteran has been far from his best. Is it time for Barça to realise that the Spaniard should not be an undisputed starter anymore?
For almost a decade, Sergio Busquets was the consistent and dependable anchor in a world-class midfield. At just 20 years old, Busquets made his debut under Pep Guardiola. He would go on to be a crucial part of two treble-winning sides and form one-third of the greatest midfield trio ever with Andrés Iniesta and Xavi. Busquets was the perfect holding midfielder for the Catalan side.
In recent seasons, however, his performances have deteriorated, and he has not been at his level best. Or even at an adequate level for the Blaugrana. While he managed to redeem himself with the first half of last season, this campaign, Busquets has found it even tougher with having to adapt to the double pivot system. His partnership with Frenkie De Jong is not working as the two do not seem to understand each other’s game. After another poor display against Real Madrid, and with other talented midfielders on the bench, should Busquets still be starting for Barça?
The brilliance of Sergio Busquets
It would be unfair to write an article solely criticising Sergio Busquets. As one of the greatest servants in the club’s history, Busquets deserves a huge amount of respect from Culés. The La Masia graduate broke into the first team at a young age and has been an ever-present since his debut season. He has gone on to become Barça’s fifth-most capped player in history and will likely take over Carles Puyol who is in fourth.
The Spaniard has been a key figure in the most successful period in the club’s history too. The same can be said for his time with the national team, winning the World Cup in 2010 and the UEFA European Championship in 2012. In total, the midfielder has won a behemoth 31 trophies with Barcelona including three Champions Leagues and eight league titles.
Busi has had several moments of celebrations at Barça. (Photo by AFP PHOTO/LLUIS GENE)
At his peak, there has arguably never been a better defensive midfielder. He redefined the role by showing that it was not just about tackling and breaking up play, but how the holding midfielder can be heavily involved in the build-up play and can dictate the tempo of the game.
Opponents quickly learned that it was almost pointless to press Busquets while Barcelona were in possession. His composure on the ball was and still is for the most part unmatched, while the passes were extremely accurate, progressive and have the ability to break the lines of defence.
He had exceptional awareness and ability to read the game, which was second to none; however, they have taken a massive toll. What once allowed him to take over the game with the utmost ease is slowly becoming his weakness at Barcelona.
Busquets was exceptional in every team, every year. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Sergio Busquets has not been at his best for several seasons now, and the time may have finally come when the team realises that his starting spot is no longer undisputed. This campaign especially, the 32-year-old has not managed to adapt to the new system. He is used to playing at the base in a midfield three.
Now, he shares the defensive midfield role with Frenkie de Jong in a double pivot. Neither player has performed close to their best, and it seems as if this partnership, that should work on paper, is not compatible.
Unfortunately, the problem reeks past just the structure of the team; the World Cup winner is struggling with some of the basics as well. His passing has started to him down every game, and his sloppy possession is giving away the ball in dangeorus areas of the pitch too many times. For his high standards, he is losing the ball far too often.
Busquets is lacking, and it is hurting the team. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)
Against Real Madrid, Busquets made a criminal error in his defensive duties. The veteran knows how important this match is and was one of the most experienced players on the pitch. But, whether due to a lack of awareness or complacency, he failed to track Federico Valverd’s run. It resulted in Barcelona conceding an early goal. The experienced midfielder should know better, especially in a game as important as El Clásico.
Age or Complacency?
As one of the Barcelona captains, Sergio Busquets should be a leader on the pitch and set an example to the rest of the team. However, his level has significantly dropped, and he has been involved in several catastrophic defeats. The game against Los Blancos is part of a growing list of big games where the #5 has let down the fans and his teammates.
Busquets was never the most athletic midfielder, but he always made up for this with his intelligence. His age could be a reason for his poor run of form as his physical attributes begin to decline naturally. However, he should grasp a better understanding of the game as he loses more of his pace.
One can always argue that is complacency catching up with the 32-year-old for his innumerable trophies and his world-class performances in the last decade. But, the likes of Gerard Pique, Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta or Xavi never went through this despite being part of the same era of Barcelona’s generational team.
Busquets has managed to maintain his high level for the Spanish National Team. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Moreover, somehow, Busquets continues to perform at an exceptional level for the Spanish national team, playing under former Barça manager Luis Enrique. Maybe Lucho is more tactically adept, and maybe the dressing room for the national team is far less toxic. We can only sit and speculate. That said, with competition for places in the Blaugrana squad, can Ronald Koeman continue to justify Busquets’ starting role in the team?