As the dust slowly settles two days after Barcelona were ingloriously bundled out of the Champions League semi-finals at home by a 10-man Chelsea , most people are now wondering whether this is the telltale signs that the once almost invincible team has finally reached the end of the prolific circle.
The Blaugrana outfit has dominated world football in the past six years, a time when they won almost all the titles that they competed for, while displaying a magnificent style of play on their road to glory.
But after they were defeated by their arch-rivals Real Madrid in the league on Saturday, a loss that ended their title dreams, and then were eliminated from the Champions League by an organized Chelsea defence, even coach Pep Guardiola agreed that change is inevitable going forward.
“We have to learn to attack better,” Guardiola said immediately after Tuesday’s 2-2 draw. “With this craziness to attack, attack, and attack from the very first whistle – that I have drummed into the players – there are times when we do not know how to find the pause. Perhaps that is a lesson that we need to learn.”
The club by now must have done an initial postmortem to unravel where things have started going wrong and made most teams to craft a working formula to stop them from playing their beautiful football. Moreover, they were denied many opportunity of scoring by the Londoners on Tuesday which certainly raised many eyebrows as the Catalan side lacked their usual fluidity in the attacking half.
Conventional wisdom may force the club to enter the market to bolster the squad. That may also work but assuming that Guardiola, who has won 13 trophies in four in his four years in charge will still be the manager next season, below are some of the tactical changes that he can drum in the squad to reverse the current success embargo that may even see the mighty team go trophy-less this season.
Need a new custodian between the sticks
Legendary Diego Maradona was may be too brass when he made a brunt dig at Victor Valdez by suggesting that “Barcelona are such a great team, even a bad goalkeeper seems good. It’s true. Valdes is bad! But with all the players he has in front of him, even he looks good.”
Maradona may be had not checked the hard facts. Valdes is regarded to be Barcelona’s best goalkeeper ever and is the most successful goalkeeper in Barcelona’s history. The shot-stopper has won a total of 17 gongs including five La Liga titles, three Champions League titles among the several others collections.
While Valdes cannot wholly be blamed after Barca came short in the last three matches, more was expected from in some of the goals and in the many occasions when the backline looked wanting.
A goalkeeper has a better view on what happens in the field than the other playing squad. For instance Valdez should have cautioned his rear guards from surging carelessly upfront. Defence lapse has been Barca’s Achilles’ heel for most of the season.
Barcalona’s defence which over the years has been marshaled by the now 34-year-old Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique has been exemplary. But in many occasions the duo together with the right and left back have regularly been caught in no-man’s land when opponents suddenly master a robust counter-attack as witnessed in the past one week. During that time, Puyol was either caught at the opponent’s goal mouth or was by-passed on the way by speedsters like Ronaldo while tracking back.
Pep’s prefers the 3-4-3 because not many teams have the guts to attack with more than one forward while playing Barca. But Mascherano and Adriano are not defenders! Going forward, Barcelona should plunge into the market in search of two or three solid defenders as age is not in Puyol’s side while Pique’s recent lifestyle looks wanting.
Short passes are beautiful to watch…but ultimate results are more important
Against Chelsea, Xavi played 145 accurate passes, 24 more than the entire Chelsea team and Barcelona enjoyed 72 per cent of the play. The midfield engine completed 168 passes compared to the 135 completed by the entire Chelsea team at the Nou Camp.
This is magnificent performance by an individual but as the result showed, making short passes in the middle of the park count for nothing.
Barcelona need to graft new ways of making occasionally long passes or overhead passes when the opponent’s only task is to block their passage at all cost. While they enjoyed most of the ball possession, they only managed six shots on target against the determined Blues.
Barcelona are certainly missing their marquee striker David Villa, who provides those finishing attributes that Barcelona are sorely missing this season. With Alexis Sanchez trying to share the goalscoring responsibilities with Messi, the pair still lacks the level of understanding which is essential to make them a possible threat for the opposition .
Try the traditional winger tactics
Barcelona needs to bring more creativity in the flanks. With Dani Alves being their only moe of supply from the wings off-late, Guardiola should use Isaac Cuenca and Cristian Tello more often on the flanks. This will give a completely new dimension to the Catalan attacking unit and will also create some space in the centre, which can help Messi to dart in with his mesmerizing runs. This variance to their ever so accomplished possession play can only improve their attacking fluidity in the final third of the pitch.
Changes imminent at the back
All the poor displays in the recent week has surely posed some questions to the Barcelona’s composure against the counter-attacks. Both Chelsea and Madrid were clinical with their chances on the break, but it was the lack of pace from the Barcelona defence that made it easier. Its probably time when Guardiola should start looking for quality replacements for Puyol, who is just becoming a fading influence to the side. Also, Gerard Pique’s inconsistent performance for most of this season has concerned a lot of fans worldwide and maybe its just a matter of time before we see some big changes to the Barcelona defence.