How Barcelona can recover their lost mojo

Jogo Bonito

A difficult season is nearing an end for Barcelona. When football resumed since the COVID-19 outbreak, they still had a good chance to win a third consecutive La Liga title and maybe had some Champions League fight left in them.

Barcelona are still alive in the Champions League which is set to restart in a month. But in the La Liga, we can safely say that Barcelona's title defence now looks like a difficult proposition.

There are a few teething issues that have stalled Barcelona's success in recent seasons. Here are a few areas where Barcelona need to improve in order to reassert their dominance and return to their heydays.

Barcelona need to bolster their defence

 Goalkeeper Marc Andre Ter Stegen is one of the rare bright sparks in the Barcelona defence.
Goalkeeper Marc Andre Ter Stegen is one of the rare bright sparks in the Barcelona defence.

Defence is where titles are won and lost. Barcelona, since the days of Pep Guardiola, have not given as much importance to defence as they have to the other areas on the pitch.

Over the years, the neglect in the defensive department is now there for everyone to see. Marc Andre Ter Stegen is solid and one of the few areas where Barcelona do not have to worry much. Gerard Pique, as good a servant of the club as he has been, is ageing and needs to be replaced.

Clement Lenglet and Samuel Umtiti can form a good centre-back pairing. Barcelona should get back Jean-Clair Todibo and Moussa Wague, who should come back wiser with the experience they have gained while on loan.

Jordi Alba has excelled as a left-back for Barcelona, but he too is now ageing and needs an understudy. Junior Firpo is good, but needs to cut out the mistakes in his game. He could do with more game-time next season for tightening up defensively before becoming a reliable left-back option for Barcelona.

If Barcelona could lure back Marc Cucurella, another academy product now at Getafe FC, that would be an astute move as well. The right-back position is relatively stable with both Nelson Semedo and Sergi Roberto capable enough to do the job.

However, Barcelona's overall defence has a shaky appearance, one the club might have to live with for a while.

Barcelona need midfield replenishments

Arturo Vidal (left) and Ivan Rakitic are on the wrong side of 30.
Arturo Vidal (left) and Ivan Rakitic are on the wrong side of 30.

Midfield is an area where the engine room of most teams reside and it could not be more true for Barcelona. The club has a possession-based football philosophy, one they have followed for decades.

While the current Barcelona midfield possesses the technical qualities to continue the club's proud tradition, it seems to lack energy in the final stages of most tight matches.

Barcelona's midfield trio of Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic and Arturo Vidal are all over 30 and need to be replaced. A case in this regard can be made to sell Rakitic and Vidal to reduce the club's wage bill.

In Frenkie De Jong, Carlos Alena and Riqui Puig, Barcelona have the makings of a creative and yet philosophically apt and young midfield triumvirate. They also have Alex Collado, who is very highly rated by the Barcelona youth coaches and is someone who can get some crucial minutes next season.

De Jong, Alena and Puig are young and talented players who can give the extra boost of energy and speed while continuing to play the game the Barcelona way.

And of course, there is Miralem Pjanic now who should slot into the midfield maestro role once donned by Xavi Hernandez. I have deliberately discounted Philippe Coutinho because it does look like Bayern Munich will not be making an attempt to buy him, and Barcelona are very likely to offload him in the coming season to recoup some of their initial investment on him.

Barcelona have worries upfront as well

Lionel Messi (left), Antoinne Greizman (centre) and Luis Suarez
Lionel Messi (left), Antoinne Greizman (centre) and Luis Suarez

The front-line presents a strange worry for Barcelona. In Lionel Messi, they still have their talisman who continues to be the focal point of anything the team does in attack.

Luis Suarez, when fit, is still slotting the goals. His buildup play is questionable, but when you can finish like he does, no one can complain.

Antoinne Griezmann is the third part of Barcelona's forward line. He is a ready-made, highly regarded player with loads of La Liga experience and is a World Cup winner. Of late, he has been getting a lot of bad press. But looking at his stats, Greizman has scored as many as Neymar did in his first season at Barcelona and could yet prove to be a handy buy.

The rise of Ansu Fati this season has been one of the positives for Barcelona, and his continued development augurs well for the club's future. And lastly, Barcelona would do well not to lose their faith in Ousmane Dembele.

Fati is a young talent with a lot of promise. Yes, he is injury prone and has had a few off-field issues as well. But he is seen by many as a generational player and some patience with him could do Barcelona a world of good.

Barcelona should look to bring back Carles Perez from his loan spell at Roma. He is quick and energetic and can come off the bench to inject some pace into the attack. Being an academy product, Carles Perez will be able to retain the Barcelona style of play.

New acquisitions

Could Thiago Alcantara be persuaded back to Barcelona?
Could Thiago Alcantara be persuaded back to Barcelona?

If Barcelona do intend to buy new players, they should prioritise Thiago Alcantara ahead of anyone else. He is yet to sign a contract extension with Bayern Munich and has his heart set on a move to Liverpool.

Liverpool may have some finances after their Premier League win and frankly would be a massive acquisition for them. But with Xavi Hernandez likely to take the helm at Barcelona next season, Alcantara may be swayed to return to his roots and run the midfield at Camp Nou.

Thiago would bring the 'La Masia' soul back to Barcelona and its midfield, something whose importance is well understood by the fans. The 'La Masia 360' project has its detractors, and when we see the limited supply to the first team from the academy, doubts do emanate on the practicality of the approach at the youth levels. Maybe some fixes in this direction would restart the supply chain from La Masia to the Barcelona first team.

Barcelona have been linked with a few high profile transfers like Lautaro Martinez and Kalidou Koulibaly, and of course the evergreen links with Neymar.

While these players are undoubtedly world-class, their price tags are likely to be very high, which Barcelona in their current financial state would be ill-advised to pursue.

The way ahead for Barcelona

Lionel Messi's Barcelona face an uncertain future at the moment.
Lionel Messi's Barcelona face an uncertain future at the moment.

Barcelona need to take a leaf from their bitter rivals Real Madrid. They have been quietly building a squad of flair and talent with the likes of Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo, Eder Militao, Luka Jovic, Brahim Diaz and Martin Odegaard who is set to come back into their fold.

Madrid have Marco Asensio fit again, and Isco has also been slotting in well whenever he gets game-time. They are also making astute seasoned buys like Eden Hazard and have an eye on Paul Pogba as well. They seem to be clear on ageing players like Gareth Bale and Rodriguez who are likely to exit the club before the next season starts.

We are close to the end of a decade of La Liga dominance by Barcelona. Reconstructing a storied squad is always difficult and some teams, like Liverpool, have had to wait 30 years for their glory days to come back.

With the curtains drawing on the career of the talismanic Lionel Messi, Barcelona are in need of a miracle to repair the damage and stagnation that have set in over the last five years. Barcelona can start by going back to their roots, and with some foresight and a lot of gumption, they have enough talent in and around the team to come back fighting next season.

Paul Merson has predicted the results for Chelsea vs Tottenham and other GW 2 fixtures! Click here

Edited by Bhargav


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