Barcelona have prided themselves on dominating possession, playing beautiful football and having a healthy mix of academy products, and big money stars. Yet, in last night’s 2-0 loss to Madrid, they had less possession than their rivals and were dominated in every sense of the word.
Even their world famous La Masia academy system is failing to produce talent good enough. And yet, despite these recent short comings, the club have made some extremely bizarre transfer decisions, while Madrid are now the ones picking up the young, talented Spaniards. The signings of Andre Gomes, Denis Suarez and Paco Alcacer last season have done nothing to improve their ageing squad.
Poor market strategy
Instead of fixing the problem this summer, they have made even more peculiar decisions in the market. Gerard Deulofeu has returned to the club, despite struggling for form and consistency at Everton. They tried to buy world class midfielder Marco Verratti from PSG. Instead, they ended up losing Brazilian superstar Neymar to the same club. Not only that, in a squad, and midfield that is in desperate need of freshening up, they have signed 29-year-old Tottenham Hotspur flop Paulinho for €40million. Any attempts to sign Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool have so far been rebuffed.
To say the club are in a bit of a mess is an understatement. Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez were a shadow of their normal selves last night, appearing as if they were two horses carrying a pile of dead-weight behind them. Meanwhile, Real Madrid were playing the ball around them with ease, looking like they could score with every attack – all without their main man Cristiano Ronaldo. They have a wonderful mix of established, world class talent who are still at the top of their game, with support from talented youth to come in and show what they can do.
The power shift
The change of direction from both clubs, in such a short space of time is astounding.
Barcelona often seem to go into lulls after periods of dominant success. It was the case during former manager Frank Rijkaard’s last season at the club. However, back then, the Catalonian giants had a certain Pep Guardiola to replace him, with the talents of Lionel Messi, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and more just about to enter their prime.
Guardiola still had a major role to play in refreshing the team, however. Big decisions like letting superstars such as Ronaldinho and Deco leave the club were taken, with Guardiola believing they had come to the end of their tenures and didn’t have the right attitude to knuckle down once more and buy into his ways.
Whether or not Ernesto Valverde will impose the same will is yet to be seen, although the early signs don’t look good. He is an extremely talented manager, however taking over at Barcelona is a step above. What Valverde and Barcelona are in desperate need of is help from the board and club President Josep Bartomeu. There are strong calls for the President to resign however that is extremely unlikely.
Time to enter the market
What they must do then, is spend in the last few weeks of the window. And spend big.
Barcelona’s trio of central midfielders Busquets, Ivan Rakitic and Iniesta have been wonderful servants to the club, however Busquets & Iniesta are starting to show the signs of age. Signing a world class midfielder, in the ilk of a Verratti that fits the Barcelona DNA is critical for the team and identity of the club. Dani Ceballos would have been ideal, and available for a staggeringly cheap €13million. Instead, Madrid acted first.
The club must be ruthless in getting rid of players who simply aren’t fit to wear the shirt. Gomes, Denis Suarez, Arda Turan among others must go. And, perhaps most importantly, a replacement for Neymar. The Brazilian was supposed to be the heir to Messi’s throne. The partnership he struck up with Messi and Suarez was arguably the greatest we’d ever seen.
M and S are already missing their N
Losing him to Paris was a monumental body blow to Barcelona, and in both games against Madrid since his departure, it was evident Messi and Suarez were missing their friend. They would often turn back inside, not trusting whoever was out on the left wing, and thus losing the ball. They may be two of the greatest to have ever lived, but they need more help than they are getting.
It is unlikely we’ll ever see a team as good as the ones Barcelona have had in the last ten years. It is unlikely a club as big as Barcelona will ever has so many academy products in their starting line up. However, if they wish to get back on top, they must take a leaf out of Madrid’s book. Signing players good enough to don the shirt is paramount. La Masia must start producing and be a trusted source of world-class talent again.
If not, it could be a very sticky few years for Barcelona, while their arch rivals dominate both Spain and Europe.
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