Barcelona has had a hectic year. Dramatic events, mistakes, moments to be proud of, injuries, broken records, controversial calls, accusations, lost titles, departures, tears, moments of joy, compliments, stress, missed penalties, bad luck and wonderful goals are only a few of what our beloved Barcelona had to put up with.
What did we do wrong? or How can we improve? are the only two questions we need to be addressing now. Its very easy to point fingers and blame this and that, but we are not that kind of a team, Pep Guardiola has taught us better, our culture and mentality is way better than this. Then.. what happened?
I will try to state the reasons that might have lead to us loosing La Liga, and the Champions League, and what should be done to overcome all obstacles next season to satisfy our hunger and put us were we belong.
This is has the most controversial season in all Europe when it comes bad refereeing. Milan suffered with their legitimate goal against Juventus (Adriano Galliani even went as far as saying that this wrongfully cancelled goal cost them the title), almost all EPL teams sounded their dissatisfaction about referees favoring of Manchester United (Howard Webb's calls to be specific), even Carlo Ancelotti's five months stint at PSG wasn't free of criticizing some red cards and missed penalties.
Barcelona went through rough times because of bad refereeing too. One might argue that Osasuna's first goal in Pamplona was a clear offside, Alexis' goal was cancelled even though he was 100% onside, Pedro's penalty claim which was clearly a handball against Espanyol, along with some soft penalties and missed red cards for Real Madrid's players are some of the reasons why the lead reached an insurmountable level. But as I said earlier, we are better than this.
Barcelona have the decency and self-awareness to criticize ourselves when we see that we are not up to the required level, and clearly this year we certainly went through some dip in form. Guardiola used to say that when we play OUR football, we reach a level where not even bad referee calls can influence the score. And it is factual, if we score and capitulate on our domination of other teams, then not even a wrong penalty and a red card can touch us.
That should be one of our identities next season, leave referees alone and focus on converting our chances.
Dip in form:
In the 2010-2011 season Pique was a beast in the back, Pedro was a flaming arrow on the wing, and Alves was a marauding unstoppable right back/winger. I'm not at all even close to criticizing our stars, but some players got complacent this season.
Gerard Pique in particular went from dwarfing Cristiano Ronaldo to being unable to catch up with our aging caveman. He was even benched in a number of fixtures. Our regular consistent center-back was our former defensive midfielder, and this says a lot.
Pedro's problem this season (injuries aside) were self confidence. Whenever he was given the opportunity, he ended up playing with fear after loosing several easy balls, leading to sloppiness, bad ball control, and wobbly first touch. He will definitely put all this behind him next season, because this is a player known for his determination, since he was playing for the B team.
Cesc Fabregas started the season with a flyer, he managed to score, assist and compliment Xavi and Iniesta in ways we didn't even imagine, but again he was one of several players to let the long season take its toll on him.
What Tito should do is, and is surely capable of, isolate his players from any possible distractions, leading them to a place where they are capable of doing what they do best: enjoying their game. And this could be done in several ways, some of which are promoting team spirit, camaraderie, and working ethics and this shouldn't be a difficult task given that this team has been playing together for a long period now.
David Villa, Ibrahim Afellay, Pedro, Xavi, Puyol, Pique, Alexis, Abidal or Alves are only few of the players plagued with injuries this season. Of our 23 squad members, only three players were not injured this year.
David Villa hasn't played a single game in 2012, his injury in the club world cup game against Al-Sadd was a huge blow because we were really in need of his offerings the past couple of months. Abidal's case is well-known, a player that is always missed even when he is available. He is a leader on the field and in the dressing room, an example to all players, and his absence will be hugely felt next season. Even though he wasn't a regular, Ibi would have presented a much needed level of experience in games such as against Espanyol, Villarreal, and Getafe.
Even though injuries are something that hamper each and every team in the world (Man Utd managed to challenge with the titles race with more than 9 injured players), with a fairly large squad, good preparation, suitable rotation, and proper physical conditioning we can surely minimize the risk of getting injured player.
Pep Guardiola played our traditional 4-3-3 for three successful seasons. He made us unplayable in ways that not even top managers were able to find solutions to our destructive forces upfront. But when you play in a certain style for so long, you either end up getting complacent, and over confident or opposing teams start getting used to defending against you, which is somehow the case this season.
Pep Guardiola, the deep thinker he is, tried to anticipate all this with shifting his formation to 3-4-3 in the majority of games. It worked brilliantly in some games, but it left us a bit frail at the back. Milan scored four goals against us in two games, a feat not many teams are capable of. It is very understandable that a change should occur because after all, the "park the bus" tactic was starting to yield against us. Pep's tendency to crowd the midfield with more thinkers, players capable of creating chances left us a man short at the back, and with Abidal's injury, along with Pique's inconsistency made us suffer.
"Back to basics" should be Tito's short-term goal next season, passing by a transitional period was a must last year, we experienced the 3-4-3 system with relative success, but with Guardiola stepping down we do not have the luxury of experimenting next season, especially given that we have to reclaim both La Liga and the CL. So the assuring 4-3-3 should be put back in function, so that the players gain some of their confidence back in order to get back to winning ways.
After all, for technical players, self confidence is as important as versatility.
San Mames (due to bad weather conditions), Reyno De Navarra, Iberostar stadium, Ciutat De Valencia (not to mention the San Siro) are few of the venue's we had hard time at this season. Not even speaking about tactical mistakes, out-of-form players, or wrong substitutions. We suffered in many stadiums this years even before we had the chance to play our football.
Of course the Camp Nou is one of (if not THE) the most amazing pitches in Europe, well-trimmed grass, and spacious field, it is a fortress. Certain rules are to be met for a field to be deemed worthy of hosting FC Barcelona's "from another world" football. Out of desperation, teams started to use legal but unethical and far from sportsmanship tactics to keep us at bay.
Even Jose Mourinho admitted that he advised his groundsmen to let the grass grow tall and leave it dry in preparation for his semi-final game against us when he was managing Inter Milan. While our brilliance got us out of trouble several times this season, managing to overcome the difficulties when playing on dry pitches, we did drop some points because our stars grew frustrated as minutes passed. We can not afford to loose such points next season.
Competing against what many regard as the greatest ever Real Madrid side, we surely should file a formal complaint to FIFA about pitches conditions. Mr. Rosell should look to use his political and negotiating prowess to push towards having unified pitch standards across Europe, and I am sure most of the G14 would aid him in his mission.
I have a feeling that our philosophy will prevail and we will be back where we belong.
Posted by: Hassan Chakroun, Columnist at 'Blaugrana Insight''