Somehow, Barcelona look Worse Off after Positive Summer
Perhaps the most baffling thing this season is the fact that Barcelona are top of the Spanish first division and also leading their Champions League group. Yes, mighty Barcelona staying top of a league they’ve won in five of the past seven seasons, and topping their European group, which they’ve done every season since 2007/08 is weird. And the fact that it seems weird just about highlights the kind of season they’ve had so far.
In the summer, Barcelona added Frenkie de Jong, Antoine Griezmann, and Junior to their ranks, as they sought to defend their crown in Spain and make up for consecutive collapses in Europe. On paper, those were no-brainer signings, and it seemed nigh-on impossible to improve the squad even more (yes, Neymar, we know). Yet, Barcelona have managed to look worse off despite all this.
It’s not just that Barcelona have less than they did this time last season, both in the league and the Champions League. It’s that they look ordinary, bothering on stale. It’s that the moment they concede the first goal at Levante last weekend, there looked to be one winner. It’s that in two games against Slavia Prague, one had them hanging on for a win, and the other was a flattering point. It’s that they could easily have one point from four Champions League games this season, and it would be well-deserved.
Los Cules’ dependence on Lionel Messi seems to have peaked to an Argentina-like level, so much so that the moment Levante snuffed out their skipper and talisman, nothing else was on. Perhaps that’s why Messi – like many others in the squad – wanted the return of Neymar, another flair player who could create something out of very little. Griezmann was signed instead, and has looked uncomfortable spending much of his time on the left.
These areas – Barcelona looking ordinary, no real tactical structure beyond ‘play to Messi’, Griezmann far from comfortable – also mean manager Ernesto Valverde should definitely bear some – if not the brunt – of the blame. There were calls for the former Athletic Bilbao boss to be sacked at the end of last season, which saw a Champions League semi-final collapse at Anfield and a Spanish Cup final loss to Valencia. But Barca kept faith in the manager, and that currently looks like a mistake.
One of Valverde’s biggest issues is how tactically flawed and predictable Barcelona are. And if a team’s tactical shortcomings can be pinpointed and still remain obvious for two seasons, then that doesn’t bode well for the gaffer. There is also the problem of Valverde handling new signings, perhaps it’s down to his time with Bilbao, where a Basque-only policy didn’t give room for that many new faces, or the fact that Barcelona are a bigger side, who’ll quite regularly refresh the squad. Of the new signings made since Valverde arrived at the Nou Camp, Clement Lenglet is just about the standout name, while the likes of Frenkie de Jong and Arthur have had more good moments than bad.
Griezmann looks uncomfortable in the position he plays, while Junior seems to have already become very much a fringe player, not even playing when Jordi Alba was unavailable at Levante, with Nelson Semedo (another new signing who hasn’t set the world alight) deputising instead. There’s evidence in the intermittent form of Ousmane Dembele, the poor displays of the currently loaned out Philippe Coutinho, and the way Malcom was shipped off after one underwhelming season.
Barcelona’s funk can’t be denied. Gerard Pique has come out to say something has to change, as have Sergio Busquets and Alba. Something does have to change. And it doesn’t look like it will be the manager’s plan. Perhaps the manager, then?
Kunle Ajao126 Posts
Kunle Ajao is a football writer and columnist for spotkick. Having made a toss of himself trying to actually play the game, he knew better and got a pen instead of boots. Spends a bit of his time with the game, and thinks he's a bit like Sid Lowe. He's not