What Barcelona need to change to achieve success in the coming years
Barcelona really need to step up their game if they want to win silverware, and the problem isn't always the team mentality.
After slumping to a lowly 3-0 defeat against Juventus in the Champions League, Barcelona need a miracle to make a comeback and advance to the semi-finals of Europe’s premier club competition. With the type of squad the Blaugrana are fielding at the moment, qualifying for the next round seems highly unlikely, let alone winning the cup.
Barcelona's main weakness seem to be Jeremy Mathieu and Andre Gomes; Mathieu backtracked too much against Cuadrado, which provided him space to supply the ball to Dybala, who coolly turned and whipped one into the net for the opener.
Also Read: Painful night for Barcelona, says Ter Stegen
Andre Gomes, though having a high pass percentage, has been largely invisible in midfield, struggling to replace the likes of Iniesta and Busquets. He seems to have no conviction with the ball at his feet, and has struggled to create chances and tee up the forwards.
The current season seems to have gone down the drain, with Real Madrid looking set to win the league and Barca struggling in the CL. The only chance of silverware for the Catalans this season is the Copa del Rey. But what should Barca do to once again be the force that they once were in Europe?
“There’s a lot of players here and you think, ‘they couldn’t have got in this Barcelona team three years ago!’, there are too many names to mention,” said Rio Ferdinand after Barca’s humbling by the Turin giants, and his words couldn’t be truer.
Barcelona have failed in the area of transfers under Luis Enrique, with th exception of Luis Suarez. Some of their supposedly best buys have been underperforming and like Ferdinand said, wouldn’t have been signed by Barca a couple of years ago. These transfers only put a face to the fact that the squad is losing it’s quality. Paco Alcacer, Jeremy Mathieu and Andre Gomes have been a complete waste of money for the Blaugrana.
Luis Enrique has been focusing only on short-term success and has not adopted a long-term winning approach and his transfers speak for that. Enrique has bought average players that can perform at a high level for a short period of time. He has not supported the youth team much, thereby reducing the number of homegrown players in the starting XI. This will affect Barca in the next five years and the manager is the one to be blamed for that.
Now that Barcelona knows who to sell, who should they buy?
After losing Dani Alves to Juve, Barca hasn't filled the void left by him. His performance, although marred by a few fouls, showed exactly what his previous owners are missing in their squad. Sergi Roberto, a midfielder-turned-defender, was made to adapt to the right back role and he has done well, but he still has a long way to go. The problem is that no one can play the position effectively when Roberto is injured (Aleix Vidal is gone for quite some time now).
There seems to be no need to buy a centre-back since the Catalans have Pique, Mascherano and Samuel Umtiti to create a formidable back line. Jordi Alba/Lucas Digne can fill in the left back role quite well.
The famed Barcelona midfield is deteriorating; Iniesta is in his last few years as a Barca player, while Gomes and Rakitic’s playing style is different from the Barca philosophy. Barcelona are losing its identity as the masters of tiki-taka and the pioneers of the passing play.
Under Luis Enrique, Barca has undergone a transformation from a slow paced, pass-and-play team to a faster-paced counter-attack team, and the best candidate in the midfield area for this style of play is undoubtedly Marco Verratti, who is coincidentally heavily linked with a summer move to Barcelona.
He’s young, strong, energetic, full of stamina and has great technical ability combined with good vision and passing. The Italian midfielder is the perfect all-in-one package for the Barcelona midfield. The transfer rumours are further being fueled by Verratti himself as he has expressed his desire to play alongside Neymar one day.
The famed attack of Barcelona needs no changes except for the mentality of the players. Paco Alcacer must be sold as he has been a complete waste of £30 million. Munir must be brought back from loan as he has shown glimpses of being a great replacement for Suarez and Messi in the future. Denis Suarez seems to have a promising future, and Barca do not need any major changes in the front line.
Following Luis Enrique’s shift from the usual 4-3-3 to a 3-4-3 (or a 3-3-1-3 with Messi being given freedom to move around as a false nine), Barca look absolutely baffled all around. Their performance against Juventus showcased some of the worst play by the Catalan giants.
Their passes seemed pointless, as all they ever did was kick the ball back to one of the defenders, give lofted passes which only resulted in possession turnovers which was done when the players were pressurised, and pass to Messi who seemed helpless since he was always surrounded by at least four people around him.
Juventus had Barcelona’s best player covered, but the diminutive Argentine still managed to create a few chances that Neymar, Suarez and Iniesta failed to score from. What formation best suits Barcelona? Will Enrique stop changing formations every game?
The standard 4-3-3 with the defensive midfielder has been the most used formation for Barca in the recent years, simply because it worked well and guaranteed results along with having the right players for each positions.
However, this success lasted for a short while under Enrique, as teams figured out a way to break down the defence, which could largely be attributed to the poor performances of the defenders and the change in the playing philosophy. Barca are stuck in a no man’s land between the tiki-taka and Enrique’s fast paced approach.
The 4-3-3 starting XI would be: ter Stegen; Alba-Pique-Mascherano-Roberto; Iniesta-Busquets-Rakitic; Neymar-Suarez-Messi.
The strategy would be better off under tiki-taka, with three players always surrounding an opponent, making way for swift, short passes that slowly moves the play towards goal (this was especially visible under Guardiola’s Barca when the Catalans were in their prime).
Luis Enrique has imposed a strategy that is much different to what it was a few years ago; pass the ball to Messi or Neymar who will lay it on a platter for Suarez to finish. The approach is more direct and Barca switching up their gear on the counter is a visible characteristic of the formation.
This is the new formation introduced by Lucho after Barca’s 4-0 defeat away to PSG in the Champion’s League. The setup looks very fragile and leaves the wings completely exposed and Juventus proved it a couple of days ago with Cuadrado terrorising the flanks time and again. It even gave Alex Sandro, the Juventus left back, plenty of space to make forward runs.
A starting XI with the 3-3-1-3 would be: ter Stegen; Pique-Mascherano-Umtiti/Alba; Iniesta-Busquets-Rakitic; Messi; Neymar-Suarez-Rafinha/Denis Suarez
Tiki-taka will be completely limited to the final third of the pitch, since the defence and the midfield need to guard the flanks and take care of the centre, which leaves them with limited time to make short and quick passes. A possession turnover will be the best opportunity for the opponent to go hard on the counter, especially on the flanks.
Although the strategy worked against PSG in the second leg, Juventus and Malaga were quick to show that it isn’t the best long-term solution for the team’s problems.
Possible starting XI: ter Stegen; Alba-Pique-Mascherano/Umtiti-Sergi Roberto; Iniesta-Busquets-Rakitic/Rafinha; Messi; Denis Suarez/Neymar-Suarez
The formation seems very balanced, right from defence to attack. The flanks aren’t left exposed, the four-man back line combined with a partly defensive three-man midfield makes for a solid wall which will make it tough for opponents to cut through. Messi is given freedom further up the park, he can play supplier and go towards goal and even track back, building the play from the middle. Neymar and Suarez make a deadly finishing combo.
The Blaugrana really get a lot of breathing space with this setup and can stay true to the tiki-taka pass-and-play philosophy as the midfield is kept crowded. Overall, the formation looks like it might just work for the Catalan giants.
If Barcelona need to be the dominant force that they once were in Europe and Spain, they have some work to do. Many transfers are yet to be done, while the new signings who have had almost no impact on the game must be sold.
The Catalans also need to find the right formation that keeps the team in motion, and continuously changing it has only resulted in confusion and cluelessness on the pitch. Getting a good setup with the players in hand must be top priority.