5 issues Barcelona must fix to challenge for Champions League next season

By Soham Banerjee

With the shock Champions League exit against the Giallorossi, FC Barcelona find themselves in a position they didn't expect even couple of days ago. With reports saying that the players have lost trust on Ernesto Valverde, here are some things that the Blaugrana can do to avoid getting knocked out early in the Champions League next season.

1. Squad Rotation

We have constantly observed that Ernesto Valverde, even though having a strong bench, always preferred to play the same team even against teams much inferior in terms of the capabilities of the Azulgrana. One example is playing Gerard Pique even when he is going through a knee injury. We have seen El President playing almost every game since his injury without a break. What was the point of signing Yerry Mina if we didn't want to risk playing him? We saw something similar with Busquets against Roma.

2. Rotating Messi

Messi isn’t 24 anymore. As much as it is painful for the Culés, Messi will be 31 this June. It has been 14 years since Leo has made his debut and may not be mentally or physically fit every game. It was unnecessary for Valverde to play Messi against Leganes on Saturday, considering the fact that Barça had to face a tough Roma side on Tuesday. While experience tells us that La Pulga may not be too happy about being a more integral part of Valverde's rotation policy, the No.10 may not actually have a choice if his hugely successful career is to be prolonged.

3. Playing the La Masia players more often

La Masia players have traditionally been the key to Barcelona’s squad depth. Playing the young talents in games against struggling teams helps in better fitness of the first team players as well as development of the La Masia boys. They are more likely to be mentally and physically fitter than the older players and are determined to get more playtime. Gone are the days when the squad was full of Masia players! Notable mentions from the academy that aren’t first team players are Jose Arnaiz and Carles Aleña, who only played a meagre 221 and 225 minutes respectively. Players from La Masia should be given more minutes.

In The Barcelona Podcast 77, your hosts talked about how to improve La Masia in much more depth, listen now:

4. Motivation and physicality

A team’s season can be changed in less than 90 minutes. We saw something similar against Roma on Tuesday. Each and every player should be determined to give their hundred percent in each and every game. If they are not mentally or physically fit, they should be rested. Games like the one against Juventus away at Turin or versus Roma at the capital city of Italy, Barça just weren’t determined. The coach plays a huge role in determining the players’ morale.

5. Having a Plan B

Let's face it: Messi has saved Barcelona on many occasions, perhaps too many. We can’t always rely on the Little Magician to save Barça from the jaws of defeat. Having a Plan B is hence essential. For example, Roma were bossing Barcelona physically and pressing very high - Gegenpressing, more popularly known as counter pressing was the right tactic against such a unit.

It is widely acclaimed that when the Barcelona Side under the tutorship of Pep Guardiola lost the ball, they were given 6 or 7 seconds to win it back. If they did not do it in this time they would then settle into shape. By doing this they are able to win the ball back high up the pitch and disrupt the opposition’s transition from defence to attack. Speaking about this style of play, Barcelona fullback Dani Alves said, “Pressing is difficult to pull off, but when the team manages it well, there is no better way to win games.” Where did this Barcelona go?