Barcelona’s draw at the Estadio Anoeta late in November put them six points behind league leaders Real Madrid going into the first league Clasico of the season. They managed to nick a point against Madrid as the Clasico ended 1-1 but putting results aside, the performances on the pitch have fallen far below the high standards we have come to expect from FC Barcelona.
Below are five things that will help Barcelona return to form.
Luis Suarez needs to find his form
Luis Suarez has scored just 4 goals in his last 11 games for both club and country, wth the most recent of those goals coming in the Clasico.
The Uruguayan striker was in red hot form for the Catalans last season, scoring 40 goals in 35 appearances as Barcelona captured the league title. On his day, Luiz Suarez is arguably the best striker in the world.
Leo Messi has been carrying Barcelona for the past couple of weeks, with 11 goals in his last eight club games. With the reduced threat from Suarez and Neymar, opposition managers know they can shut down Barcelona if they can keep Messi at bay.
It was Luis Suarez who shouldered the goal-scoring burden last term. If Barcelona are to participate in the title race, they need Suarez to return to form sooner rather than later.
Key players must return from injury
Even on the best of days, Barcelona’s back line is susceptible to the odd slip-up. The injuries to key players such as Jordi Alba and Gerard Pique as well as backup options like Jeremy Mathieu has made the defence even more porous.
The loss of Andres Iniesta has also dramatically affected the team’s fluency in attack. The typically seamless link between the midfield and attack has looked tedious in recent games.
Andres Iniesta is ingrained with Barcelona DNA, and his ability to control the ball in tight spaces is integral to how the team plays. Andre Gomes has so far struggled to fill the boots of the Spanish maestro. With Iniesta back to full fitness, Barca’s midfield is expected to see some dramatic improvements.
Improve Squad Quality
Barcelona has a squad of about 14 players, who are amongst the best in the world in their respective positions. However, there is a vast gulf in quality between the first team players, and the fringe players.
Real Madrid can call on squad players like Isco, James Rodriguez, and Alvaro Morata to contribute when required, while Barcelona relies on the likes of Sergi Roberto, Paco Alacer when they need their squad players to step up when their key players are injured/suspended.
Paco Alacer is yet to find the back of the net since his big-money move from Valencia, Andre Gomes looks out of sorts, and Arda Turan lacks consistency at the moment. These players are supposed to be the direct replacements for Luis Suarez, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi.
If Barcelona are to bounce back from their recent slump, they either have to keep their first team players fit and in form, or find a way to get the best out of their fringe players.
Sergio Busquets must return to key player status
It has uncountably been said that Sergio Busquets is the most underrated Barcelona player in the last decade. The deep-lying playmaker was a key cog in Barcelona’s midfield the last term, starting attacking moves and snuffing out threats.
Since Luis Enrique took the reins at Barcelona in the 2014/15 season, he has altered the style of play to a more direct style, looking to get the ball to his dynamic attacking trio as quickly as possible. This has seen Busquets’ influence on the team wane.
Sergio Busquets had better passing, interception and tackles per 90 under the failed Tata Martino regime than he has had this season, highlighting how maligned the World Cup winner has become under the Luis Enrique.
If Barcelona are to regain the control they are used to having in games, then Luis Enrique needs to find a way to integrate Sergio Busquets.
Find a plan B
Almost every elite team in the world needs a Plan B, and often a Plan C when things are not going their way, and when the opposition set-up is nullifying their Plan A. The exception to this rule was Barcelona, as their Plan A was so good, it was almost unstoppable.
This iteration of Barcelona have abandoned the Cryuff/Guardiola model, in favour of a more direct playing style. Their principle for most of the last decade was to move the ball around till the gaps appeared. Now the style is to get the ball to the MSN as early as possible.
This reduced regard for possession climaxed in their league game against Real Sociedad. It was the first time since 2008 that a team had finished with more possession than Barcelona and taken points from the match.
The new playing style has paid its dividends, but more and more people are learning to defend against it. They have already lost to Manchester City, Celta Vigo and Alaves, this season, and it’s only the first week of December.
The hallmark of most great teams is the constant evolution. If this iteration of Barcelona are to stay relevant, they will need to evolve their playing strategy as the opposition evolves.