It has been a tough season for FC Barcelona. They eliminated from Copa del Rey a few weeks ago by Athletic Bilbao. The Blaugrana lost Luis Suárez to a knee injury in January. Ousmane Dembele also joined him on the doctor's table this month. Both injuries mean that they lack depth in attack.
Real Federación Española de Futbol (RFEF) rules allowed the club to unregister Dembele - who has been ruled out of the season - and sign a new player from within Spain to replace him. As a result, the club signed former Middlesborough forward, Martin Braithwaite from Leganes to add some strength in their forward line.
While Barça have improved the options upfront, there is another problem lurking in the corner - the defense. The backline has failed to impress this season with the club having the highest conceding rate among the top 5 teams in La Liga. They've let in 29 goals so far this season, while title rivals Real Madrid have conceded only 17 from 25 games.
Overlapping is a major concern. Quique Setién's system requires the two full-backs, Nelson Semedo and Jordi Alba to move high up the pitch. That leaves the centre-backs without shield when opposition teams launch counter-attacks. The centre-backs, Gerard Piqué, Samuel Umtiti and Clement Lenglet also lack pace, which makes it difficult for them to track back on time when possession is lost.
It has also been noticed that Barça's defensive performance drops during the late stages of matches. The players appear tired and find it difficult to cope when opposition teams throw in fresh legs in the last 10 to 20 minutes of games. This happened against Atlético Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup. In the 2-1 victory over Levante, the match could've ended on a different note if it were extended by just 10 minutes. Even in the recent match against Getafe, they allowed the hosts to get back to life in the latter stages.
Setién's men need to wake up as soon as possible. The La Liga title is up for grabs. Real Madrid currently trail behind by just two points with Los Blancos are enjoying having the best defensive record in the Spanish top flight this season. Zinedine Zidane's side hasn't scored as many goals as Barça this term but their backline has made sure that the advantages secured by the attackers are maintained.
Moreover, Barcelona will remain far from achieving their dream of returning the Champions League title to Camp Nou if their defense continues to disappoint. The club needs to address the situation quickly, otherwise, the big-game capitulations that have hurt their European ambitions in the past could surface once again. The Champions League returns this week. The Catalans need to raise their level at the back as they travel to Napoli for their Round of 16 clash on Tuesday.
Published 24 Feb 2020, 22:54 IST