analysis | 2016-04-18
The Barcelona Crisis: Small pieces add up to a big picture
Total crisis: Losses to Real Madrid, Atletico, Real Sociedad and Valencia. What went wrong for Barça since the international break? An analysis of the disastrous bad run of Barcelona.
Three weeks ago, all culés were confident - even overly confident - of winning it all. The treble talk was making rounds. Not winning it all was not an option. Like a treble would be something easy to achieve, something you can even expect. The fans totally forgot that a treble is a historic achievement, only three other clubs in Europe top five leagues beside Barcelona, who won it twice, managed to win the three major titles in one season (Manchester United 1998/99, Internazionale 2009/10 and Bayern Munich 2012/13). So as mentioned before, winning the treble is historically unique, and yet people kept talking about it, like everything else wouldn't count at all.
Now, after disastrous three weeks for Barça, a double would already be a huge achievement. Because it looks like they could lose it all. And suddenly, Barcelonistas keep quiet; the arrogance - usually more of an attitude by Madridistas - is gone. In all their ambitious treble expectations, many went in full Madridista mode: 'We have MSN, who should stop us, what could possibly go wrong?' - Well, now you see it: It can go wrong so quickly. Because after all, it's bloody football. Played by human beings, not robots. That's why you should always stay humble; a basic Barça credo, one of the pillars of Barcelonismo.
The worst possible international break
So, what went wrong for Barça, and how? It looked so well until the international break. There you have it: the bloody international break. The FIFA virus, as they call it in Spain. Since the international break, the team looks completely different. It all began with El Clásico. They sat comfortably 12 points in front of arch rivals Real Madrid - and Barça underestimated the situation, more so after taking the lead through Gerard Piqué's header. They got complacent, they thought "we're fine, we got this", and suddenly they lost a game they should at least draw, because of wrong attitude and tactics in the final 30 minutes.
Against Atlético Madrid in the first tie of the Champions League, the usual happened: Atleti defended extraordinarily, even with 10 men after Torres' sending off, Barça trailed, tried their best, turned the game around but only won by a small margin - a too small margin, as we know now. Being in the Camp Nou for this game, the feeling of the spectators was tangible after the final whistle: 2-1 might not be enough. Nobody was happy, not the fans, not the players. They felt it's going to get ugly at the Vicente Calderón.
The worst possibly Anoeta visit
And it got ugly, not just there, but at the Anoeta as well. Ugly is the perfect word for what happened there at Real Sociedad's stadium. Barça looked like in control, but then again toothless as well - and they conceded a pretty easy goal, just like they did against Atleti in the second leg, when Griezmann scored with a header. In both games, Barcelona looked not just without any ideas how to play against a very rigid, vigilant defense; they didn't look sharp, powerful, full of confidence. They lost something. They looked flat. MSN couldn't connect, Messi couldn't find gaps - and when they occasionally had a chance, they squandered it. The last ditch of will, of real intention, of self-belief to win these games or at least to score a late goal to draw wasn't there.
Fatigue, mental and physical one, plays a huge part. Let's not forget that Barça played seven more games than Atletico this season and 12 more (!) than Real Madrid. They played pretty much every three or four days since the December 30th aside from a single weak break. Yes, they only had a week to rest and prepare for the next opponent in over four months. You need squad depth to overcome a crazy schedule like this. Barça doesn't have reliable backup players. The bench is just not good enough.
MSN is totally out of form - but they have to play
Luis Enrique just couldn't and didn't want to rotate enough. The attacking trident is totally out of form since the international break, where they had to fly to South America for their World Cup qualifying rounds. Rafinha's absence was a huge blow in the rotation plans, since he could play on the left wing. Arda Turan is an attacking midfielder, hence should be the replacement for Andres Iniesta. For Ivan Rakitic - the biggest work horse in the team (bar Luis Suárez) - there is no real replacement, and still Turan replaced him here and there, evidently showing that he's not that kind of player. In El Clásico, Real Madrid finally found space after the Turk came in for Rakitic; because Turan still didn't adapt to Barça's way of playing and because he's not good in tracking back and making the right challenges at the right time, that wasn't among what Simeone demanded of him at Atleti either. There aren't players good enough so that players like Iniesta, Rakitic, Busquets and of course Messi, Neymar and Suarez can be rested, since Lucho clearly doesn't trust Munir and not to mention Sandro - the only two back ups for the front three bar the aforementioned Rafinha.
Fatigue, not enough rotation, no confidence, bad finishing, pressure - and bad luck too, since the opponents seem to score from one of their few chances while Barça wastes a dozen - it all plays it's part. It's like a puzzle: Small pieces add up to a big picture. An unpleasant picture. Against Valencia, one could observe all of mentioned piece of the puzzle in one game.
When it rains, it pours
Finally, against Los Che, Barcelona looked prepared and started strong, wanting to prove a point. They created - and wasted - chances in the first 15 minutes. In a game like this, with all the pressure (since Real Madrid and Atleti keep winning and the points difference fade away) and with your fragile psyche, you simply have to score the opener against a defensive team. You have to win back some confidence, trailing is the worst that can happen to you. Barça knew that, they strongly went for the first goal - but talking about bad luck, Valencia scored a lucky opener pretty much out of nothing, or rather: Rakitic scored it. That's what happens if things go against you. If it rains, it pours. The first goal was a huge blow, Valencia's second, after some terrible defending, was the psychological knockout for the team. Their heads went down. At the beginning of the season, Barcelona turned games around plenty of times, but back then they had confidence and the legs to go for 90+ minutes. Now, confidence and endurance are gone.
The picture doesn't look very pretty, although the league table still looks favorable. Barcelona are still leaders, but at the moment, it looks like a total collapse could happen, if it's not happening already. For the first time in 13 years, Barcelona lost three league games in a row. Atleti and Real Madrid look sharper right now, they are both hunting the wounded king at the top of the table.
"The dynamic isn't good"
Now, the league is Barça's to lose, while it's for Real Madrid and Atleti to win. A difficult position for the Catalans. "We don't have any doubts about ourselves, but the dynamic isn't good and we have to change it," stated Rakitic after the game, adding: "We had a clear chance at the end with Pique's, but it only underlined the bad luck that accompanied us in the game. We are sad for what has happened, but we're experienced and we must be together. Together, we will win."
Indeed, they must stick together and try to turn their luck. A week's rest could do wonders, but the thing is: They have to play again on Wednesday already at Deportivo La Coruña's Riazor. After that, Sporting Gijón is coming to the Camp Nou on Saturday, fighting against relegation. Rest? What rest? Well, "thanks" to their Champions League exit, after Saturday they have only their second full week since late December to prepare (and get their heads straight) before the next game, when Barça visit Real Bétis. While Atleti and Real Madrid play three times a week, Barça can finally regain some much needed energy in the final weeks of La Liga. It could be just in time to turn around their fate.
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WRITTEN BY: Alex Truica
Creator of The Pep Episodes. Has a Bachelor degree in journalism and works as a freelance sports journalist and editor, covering international football.