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Analysis

La Liga over? Analysing the chances of Barça turning the lead around

With four points and five games remaining, can Barça make a comeback and retain the La Liga title?

Suhas Achanta

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Header Image by Enric Fontcuberta via Imago

Real Madrid’s 1–0 win over Getafe put a massive gap between the top two. Heading into matchday 34, what are the chances of Quique Setién’s Barça closing the lead and winning La Liga?


The nail-biting La Liga title race that the whole world has been watching seems to be edging in one direction, and it’s not Barcelona. Throughout this season, the top spot saw a massive flip flop and it was hard to decide who would end as the champions of Spain. However, the inconsistency displayed by the blaugranas saw them fall far behind. The standings and results since the restart speak for themselves. The Catalan outfit hasn’t exhibited the form worthy of winning the title.

With several pundits and fans beginning to feel that the title will be heading to Madrid, Barça manager Quique Setién has a massive challenge ahead. To close down a gap of four points within five games especially when Los Blancos don’t look likely to slip up is a huge ask for the azulgranas. But if there’s anybody who can do it, it’s Barcelona. The manager, players, and fans still haven’t given up on the challenge and will look to give their best shot.

Nevertheless, if they are to push Real Madrid to the limit, they must improve on a lot of things. It’s worth noting that Setién should be more worried about his side winning their games rather than hoping the leaders to slip. Right now, nobody can confidently say that Barcelona are fine-tuned to go on a streak of wins. With a trip to an in-form Villarreal, which is pushing for Champions League football next, the fans fear that more points could be dropped.

What has to change?

As stated on numerous occasions, Barcelona just doesn’t seem to have its head in the game. With more off-pitch issues on Antoine Griezmann‘s situation emerging, Setién is being pummeled from all directions. Unfortunately for the tactician, he is in a place where he can’t guarantee 100% focus from the players. With massive uncertainties looming over the camp’s overall obedience to the coach’s instructions, Barça could be in free fall.

Even if the players consider themselves as eligible enough to make whatever decision that pleases them, the ego should be tossed aside. One can surely question the coach on his inability to control the dressing room. Still, we have already seen the ravages of an unhealthy amount of player power even under former manager Ernesto Valverde. The senior footballers continue to hurt the club’s overall development both on and off the pitch.

Gerard Piqué Barça Karim Benzema Real Madrid La Liga chances

As Barcelona continue to drop points and Real Madrid to get victories, the chances of the latter winning La Liga increase | Photo by Imago

At the moment, it’s clear that the mishaps in the structure are visible to the fans. The azulgrana loyalists have seen too much of the board and squad’s catastrophes. With the supporters making their dissent loud and clear, the players should understand that this is not a time to fight for power. The challenge that they have ahead is to go toe-to-toe with a highly focussed Real Madrid. The bare minimum that’s needed to compete with Zinedine Zidane’s men is a complete commitment to the cause.

The football hasn’t been poor under Setién. But unfortunately, the fanbase and media outlets seem to be too reactionary to see that. Despite being let down by poor officiating against Atlético de Madrid, the entire blame appears to be on the manager‘s head. As much as one may deny it, the Spaniard’s job is undeservedly on the line. There’s a lack of understanding from a few sections of the club that he was appointed midseason. Some people conveniently forgot the situation the club was in when Quique was hired.

“These are decisions I make and they are technical decisions. They’re not made rashly, and they are done with the best of intentions for the team”

Quique Setién
on leaving Antoine Griezmann on the bench against Atlético until the 91st minute

The onus is on the players to respond to the criticism that they are being subjected to. Scapegoating the manager is only a short term fix as their inconsistency is bound to be exposed under any coach. For now, they should look to bounce back against the Yellow Submarines, with the entire focus on getting all three points.

Why is Real Madrid at the top?

One can say for sure that Zinedine Zidane’s determination to win La Liga is what has helped put Barcelona and Quique Setién in danger, as he has turned things around pretty well. The likes of Karim Benzema and Sergio Ramos have been stepping up to lead the team too. Even though Real Madrid’s football hasn’t been dominant, ideal, and flawless, they have managed to get the results needed to stay on top.

Against both RCD Espanyol and Getafe, the defence was wavery, and the attack was below par. Despite them not being in full-throttle, their game-management skills helped them to pick up two 1–0 wins from both games. The players, the coach, and the fans are aware of the fact that in a neck-to-neck title race, nobody sees the style of play. Notably, towards the end of the season, the only thing that the fans would be looking for is their team winning every game.

Zinedine Zidane Real Madrid Barça La Liga chances

While the latest wins have not been the flashiest, Real Madrid keep achieving the three points week in and week out | Photo by Gabriel Bouys / AFP via Getty Images

Furthermore, Zidane’s men have taken advantage of Barça’s half-hearted approach to games. They’ve made use of their rival’s off-pitch misfortunes and have ensured that they only remain focussed on the pitch. The numerous problems at the Camp Nou seem to have rattled the entire structure and squad. But at Madrid, there appears to be clarity in the division of labour.

The board works on the administrative proceedings, and the players work on the pitch. There is no mixture of both, and even if there is an amount of player power at Real Madrid, the ultimate control is in Zidane’s hands. Barça should look to emulate this at least till the season ends. They can’t make a comeback if the players keep involving in issues that don’t ease the manager’s work.

Conclusion

Is La Liga over? Mathemetically it isn’t. But emotionally, the people associated with Barcelona are aware that their club isn’t entirely focussed. The performances on the pitch have been inconsistent and unpredictable. So, the judgement based on what’s going on at Barça currently would favour Real Madrid to win the league.

Nonetheless, football continues to be an unpredictable sport. There is a chance for the players to up their game for the coming weeks. Putting pressure on Real is mandatory. The destiny of the title is no longer in their hands, but they can pressure Real Madrid into slipping up by winning their games. For now, Zidane’s men will be watching the situation at Barça and head confidently into their games. So, even if the league isn’t over yet, it could end in Real Madrid’s favour if Barça fails to beat Villarreal.

With five games remaining, Quique Setién should try his best to unite the dressing room and push for a positive finish. Not winning the league might not be the end of the world. A string of good results could boost the team’s confidence before they head for the Champions League in August.


See more

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• Starting Luis Suárez: Do the negatives outweigh the positives?

• Tactical analysis: Barcelona 2–2 Atlético de Madrid

• Editors’ Takes: Debating on the Barcelona 2–2 Atlético de Madrid

I started writing so that I could bridge the gap and pass time on days when there were no matches. But little did I know that writing about the beautiful game would amp up my love for it. I've always wanted to learn more, and share whatever insights I have on the game, to anyone, anywhere. The world stops for 90 minutes when your team plays, and that for me is very much true.

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Analysis

Can Alexander Isak be the firepower Barcelona need in their attacking arsenal

Jan-Michael Marshall

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Photo via Imago

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?

Player Profile

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.

Isak is Sweden’s next star. (Photo by JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP via Getty Images)

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.

Isak has the speed and strength to bully players anywhere on the pitch. (Photo via Imago)

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.

Isak’s goal scoring locations for the 20/21 season, retrieved from understat.com

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.

Isak is built for the modern game with immaculate pace and power. (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)

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.

Isak is incredible, but he has a long way to go. (Photo via Getty)

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.

Closing Thoughts

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.

Maybe in a few years. (Photo via Imago)

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.

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