preview | 2017-02-18
Match Preview - La Liga Round 23 - Barcelona vs Leganés
Barça needs to find life after the debacle vs PSG as Leganés visits the Camp Nou
Barcelona return to La Liga action on Sunday evening when they host Leganés and while most fans will tune in to the game their thoughts are still very much on what happened in Paris on Tuesday night when Barça’s hopes of a sixth Champions League title were ripped to shreds by a ruthless Paris St Germain.
Tuesday nights display in the French capital was undoubtedly one of the worst in recent memory as the team were outplayed and outcoached by their opponents which led to a brutal 4-0 defeat which was followed by the inevitable social media outrage that we Culés do better than anyone. Everyone from the manager, the defence, the midfield and the forwards has been blamed so let’s take a look at what really went wrong as Luis Enrique’s side were picked apart by PSG.
Firstly, the much maligned midfield that supposedly doesn’t exist in the eyes of many fans. While many will criticise it, don’t be fooled for a second. Sergio Busquets and Andrés Iniesta are two from the very top shelf of midfielders and not just in this era either. Both have won multiple trophies for club and country and were right at the heart of that success so it is a little hard for me to believe that the Barcelona midfield is a weakness. That said, there are issues in that area. We still have no idea who Luis Enrique prefers alongside Busquets and Iniesta in midfield with Ivan Rakitic, André Gomes, Denis Suárez, Rafinha, Arda Turan, Sergi Roberto and Javier Mascherano all tested there and Aleix Vidal even got a brief run out in midfield during one game. That sort of turnover is not helpful before we even begin to look at the ridiculous expectations that are put on the midfield players in the current system. The constant chopping and changing doesn’t allow partnerships to build and just like it is often said that you can’t keep changing defenders it is similar in a midfield.
The system Barcelona use in midfield is quite straightforward with three central midfielders, one of whom is expected to sit deeper than the other two as the defensive midfielder. There’s no real rocket science to that but the midfield’s biggest issue is a lack of support from the players ahead of them. When Barcelona lose the ball their natural reaction is to cut off the pass lanes that the opposition will look to pass the ball through to their own attackers but unfortunately Barcelona’s attackers need to do their part in this by putting pressure on the passer and it just isn’t happening. This means the opposition's defensive players are getting an age to pick out a pass through Barcelona’s midfield under no pressure which leaves the midfield too high up the pitch and the defence completely exposed.
The other issue with the midfield not being supported by the forwards is how stretched out they are across the park. Neymar will on occasion join the defensive effort down the left but the right side has essentially been abandoned which has led to Ivan Rakitic becoming one of the fan bases favourite scapegoats when he’s essentially playing two positions in right midfield and centre midfield. Every other team in world football that plays with three midfielders have wide players who track back which means the three man midfield only has to really cover the width of the penalty area and even narrower at times. With no support from the wings the Barcelona midfield is being forced to stretch further across the pitch which is leaving acres either side of Busquets and teams are able to stroll right through the heart of the midfield. These problems have been evident throughout the season and not just in the PSG game which is concerning as there’s a gentleman on the bench earning a lot of money to identify things like this and to date it appears he has done little about it. It’s not clear whether it’s a case of Luis Enrique being too stubborn to change his tactics or whether players aren’t following the game plan he is setting out for them but to be honest neither reflects well on him. If players are continually going against his instruction and he isn’t doing anything about it then he has clearly lost control of the team and similarly if he is unable to identify what is going wrong with the tactics he is asking the team to play then perhaps a change is required.
Another major criticism of the team after Tuesday’s debacle has been that they can’t defend. As a team, in a way this is true as there are issues further up the pitch that are causing issues for the defence but in terms of personnel Barca’s central defence hasn’t been as strong since the day Carlos Puyol retired as it is now. Samuel Umtiti and Gerard Piqué look like an elite pairing in the middle and while Jordi Alba’s form has dipped over the last 18 months or so he is still in the top tier of left backs throughout world football which only leaves right back. There are huge problems at right back, a Dani Alves sized problem in fact. This writer had mixed feelings on Alves throughout his Barcelona career as his final ball could be poor on occasion or as I have previously put it “Alves had a personal vendetta against left backs and his mission was to take all their heads off by drilling crosses straight at them game after game.” He drove me crazy at times but never has the phrase “you don’t realise how much you miss someone until they’re gone” been so appropriate. Dani was a sensational footballer and his link up play has been badly missed in this team. His driving runs and overlaps beyond Lionel Messi caused all sorts of issues for teams and now that we don’t have them it is easy to see how important they were. Alves sadly departed in the summer to Juventus and we haven’t replaced him at all.
There was a feeling that Sergi Roberto could take over the vacant slot at right back but unfortunately he is not the answer. Sergi has spent a lifetime training to play midfield and it shows in his play as a right back. Every time the ball is played into him he takes a touch and plays it on to a teammate. He is everything you want in a defensive midfielder but for a team like Barcelona they need a different kind of player at fullback. A lot of the teams width comes from the full backs and Sergi isn’t naturally the kind of player who will carry the ball down the field before crossing it into the box. Sadly there are a large number of fans who want to write him off which in terms of a future at right back is probably fair enough but my own personal opinion is that he is a potential successor to Busquets and a run of games in his natural position would show how talented he really is.
Naturally, we can look at Tuesday’s game and play the blame game which is very easy as the goals PSG scored were full of individual errors. Neymar was down injured for the first goal and Barcelona had an opportunity to kick the ball out but didn’t do so before losing it and PSG rightly took advantage by breaking up the field and winning the free kick that led to the opening goal. Also on that free kick, the wall was hugely disappointing. Angel di Maria’s shot wasn’t high enough to have cleared the players heads but the wall collapsed like Moses parted the Red Sea and the ball went into the side of goal that Marc-Andre ter Stegen wasn’t responsible for. Messi was hugely disappointing in losing possession for the second goal, Alba was too easily beat for the third and the defence was literally all over the place for the fourth goal. Individual errors can be unfortunate but there have been too many this season and the team have looked disjointed for most of this campaign which again is an issue the coach has failed to address.
Luis Enrique has come under a lot of pressure this season and at times he has split the fanbase. Many Culés have been against him for a long time citing the movement away from the Johan Cruyff / Pep Guardiola style of play as the reason. While I can understand that many fans put huge emphasis on how Barcelona play the game, football is a competition between two teams and ultimately winning is the most important thing and Lucho won five of the six main trophies available to him in his first two seasons. I don’t buy into this nonsense that results don’t matter as long as you play well and control the game. Playing good football is nice but if it’s one or the other it has to be wins and trophies every single time.
There are a lot of Culés with short memories and some of the criticism Luis Enrique has endured, much of which was directed straight to him via Twitter, was disgusting. This is a man who has won 15 trophies as a player and manager for Barcelona and we have fans wishing cycling accidents on him as well as racially abusing him. On a personal level I find it despicable and I am embarrassed to be part of a fanbase that has people like that among its number. It would be interesting to see what these same experts had to say when we won the treble or even last season when we won 4-0 at the Bernabeu and Lucho was praised for the master stroke he pulled in playing Sergi Roberto in Lionel Messi’s position which allowed Barcelona to completely dominate the midfield in one of the team's best performances under the Asturian. There’s little doubt that we are coming to the end of his reign at the club and even his biggest defenders now seem to be of the opinion that it is time to move on but when he does move on he should be treated with the respect a man who has dedicated over a decade of his life to the club deserves and not in the disgusting manner our own are treating him at the moment.
This weekend we will take on Leganés and we will win and win well. Even if respect has been lost between the team and the management, professional pride will kick in and a lot of players suffered arguably the worst defeat of their careers on Tuesday and when you hit rock bottom, which this feels like, there’s only one way to go.
Leganés will be without Rubén Pérez who is suspended and Jon Ander Serantes, Robert Ibáñez, Mamadou Koné and David Timor who are all injured for the trip to Barcelona. Barça aren’t without their own selection problems and will be without Sergio Busquets who is suspended as well as Arda Turan, Aleix Vidal and Javier Mascherano who are injured.
Iglesias Villanueva will referee the game on Sunday evening. In Barça’s last five with him in charge they have won three, drew one and lost one. In those games he has booked nine Barcelona players and awarded them one penalty. Villanueva has only refereed two Leganés games which ended in a win and a draw for them. In those games he booked five Leganés players.
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WRITTEN BY: Gerry Johnston
Gerry Johnston is a 31 year old Civil Servant from County Antrim, Ireland. Gerry has been writing about football for various websites since Euro 2012 and he has been a Barcelona fan since the mid 90s.