Is Barcelona Facing Crisis?

Still in contention one week ago for the two main jewels in Barcelona’s reach – La Liga and the Champions League – today the prevailing sentiment is that Barcelona’s hegemony over European football has come to an end. Therefore, I would like to hypothesize about why Barcelona has not hit the same highs this season as in the previous 3.

To start, defensive frailties. Most culés believe that Barcelona just need to take their chances in front of goal, but if they had not given up even one of the soft goals against Chelsea, they would have advanced. The reason for the defensive frailties is simply that Puyol, Pique, and Mascherano do not constitute a back line. There is not a left back among them and Mascherano is a midfielder. Pique’s running disagreement with Guardiola, and the probable concussion he suffered last night, complicated things further.

The second structural problem is on the left wing, which seemed to be a focal point for attack but which often lost the ball. In this position, Barcelona’s youth academy has been churning out a flavor of the mouth that sparkles and then fizzles.

In 2008, it was Bojan Krkic. He kept the team afloat during the dark final days of the Rijkaard regime but in 2011 was sold like scrap to Milan, having become the fancy sports car that you never take out because you bought another, even fancier one. 

Next came Pedro. The multi-footed winger was a revelation in 2009 with his big-game goals, seemingly always from different places on the pitch. Fast forward to 2012 and locals groan when Pedro comes on. 

And this year we had Christian Tello who scored twice in his debut and has earned solid league minutes but has been completely ineffective in the recent big matches. 

I have several suggestions for the critical left wing position: 

1) Thiago Alcantara. He’s probably the best at running at defenders from this position and Barcelona doesn’t need him in the midfield with Cesc, Iniesta, and Xavi fit. For me, Thiago should have been deployed here lsat night and on Saturday.

2) Loans. La Masia is a factory, and the great thing about a factory is that it churns out players of a similar standard. The bad thing, in a footballing sense, is too little variation – which has enabled defenses to neutralize the young newcomers relatively quickly. It is perhaps no coincidence that two successful cantera alumni, Cesc and Pique, cut their teeth in foreign leagues before coming back to Barcelona.

3) Outside buys. Sometimes Barcelona has to look outside the cantera for a truly de-stabilizing player, given that its youth setup produces so little variation. Alexis, Villa, and Alves are examples. Unfortunately, there aren’t many good players available who fit this position. The best wingers in Europe who are likely to be available, Jesus Navas and Adam Johnson, play on the right (though Navas occasionally plays on the left). Iker Muniain is a player to watch and does play on the left, but at 19 he’s too unproven.

One final thought: should culés be so concerned about this year’s disappointment given that the critical pieces are still in place? After all, Messi is still Messi, Alexis and Cesc have shined, Xavi and Iniesta are still the best midfielders in the world, and Puyol shows no sign of slowing down. This year’s failure doesn’t mean Barcelona can’t maintain its pace since 2006 of winning the Champions League ever 2-3 years, which is still an achievement unprecedented in the modern game.

I think the real desperation comes from the knowledge that all dynasties inevitably fall. Barcelona experienced some lean years after the 1990’s Dream Team; Madrid went hungry after the initial success of Galácticos I; and Liverpool has not tasted Premier League title success for 20 years. 

It is premature to call this Barcelona generation over; but there are signs of cracks in the foundation. 

Posted by: Andrew, Columnist at  'Futbolaholic'