Barcelona head into the 2nd leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 clash chasing a 4-0 deficit having succumbed to defeat against PSG in the first leg.
This is by no means a vintage Barcelona season, and below are some of the reasons why the Spanish League holders are struggling this term.
It is ridiculous that a team of Barcelona’s stature have struggled to find a reliable partner for Gerard Pique since the departure of Carles Puyol. It is very damning that of all the options on the roster, the best fit for the position is Javier Mascherano, whose favourite position remains in midfield.
Samuel Umtiti has been lukewarm since signing for the club, performing admirably in some games and disappointing in others. The decision to hire Jeremy Mathieu continues to confound fans and pundits, as he perpetually delivers sub-par performances.
The centre-back position is a huge part of any team’s spine, and Barcelona will continue to struggle till they get it right.
Absence of the high press
For a very long time, Barcelona’s best defender was the high press, with the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Pedro Rodriguez harassing opposition defenders high up the pitch.
This produced the dual effect of winning the ball close to the opponent’s goal and also ensuring the opposing defenders have a hard time of playing the ball out from the back.
The Catalans’ defensive strategy these days lacks identity; they’ve abandoned their high press system, but still play a high defensive line. This allows opposition defenders and deep lying playmakers sufficient time to spot attackers running in behind Barcelona’s defensive line.
Barcelona will either need to get their high pressing game back or retract their defensive line in a bid to solidify their defence.
Lack of Width
The 3-5-2 system has regained prominence in Europe, with many teams looking to make the pitch as wide as possible in a bid to create gaps in the middle of the park.
But even before wingbacks became a major part of the modern game, the dominant Barcelona team at the turn of the century utilised their full backs to devastating effect.
The loss of Dani Alves to Juventus has taken away the dynamism from Barcelona’s wing play. The current contenders for the right back position lack the know-how, and the positioning to play the role the Blaugrana way.
When Barcelona signed Luis Suarez; the Barcelona attack became the most feared forward line in world football. But what they gained in firepower, they lost in balance, as the team’s forwards often fail to track back in times of dire need.
Ivan Rakitic/Andre Gomes have to pull away from the centre of the pitch to cover overlapping runs that should usually be covered by the wing forwards. This creates an imbalance in midfield as Sergio Busquets is left to protect the defence.
Also, with Rakitic being more of a box to box midfielder than a proper playmaker, more and more teams are pressing Busquets and preventing him from playing vertical passes to the danger men high up the pitch.
Poor squad options
Except for Ivan Rakitic and Luis Suarez, the remainder of Luis Enrique’s signings for Barcelona have been either very average or poor for the club.
The consequence of this is that the reigning Spanish champions are having to depend mostly on the first XI, with little hope of changing the outcome of a game from the bench.
This is a very peculiar situation as even clubs with much smaller revenues possess more viable options on the bench these days.
To worsen the situation, it seems like the famous La Masia conveyor belt of talent has hit a bit of famine. The likes of Marc Bartra, Martin Montoya, Sandro Ramirez and Sergi Roberto have failed to make a lasting impression since their debuts for the senior side.
With the likes of Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique and Andres Iniesta reaching the twilight of their respective careers, Barca need to start thinking about the future.