The problems are clear as day, and I’m a little uncomfortable with the notion that the tides are shifting against Barcelona and that all the power in European football is now centralised to Germany. Skimming over Real Madrid will leave them furious at this stage, I’m sure. But Madrid never had a grasp over all of Europe at any point in the last decade. To entertain the idea that Barcelona are a spent force would be to completely ignore how good they are as a team and how strong their foundation is.
This summer we may very well see the makings of a new Barcelona side, yet primarily in faces rather than style.
It said as much with reports of Barcelona’s hunt for a new goalkeeper. There’s a reason why Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Vicente Guaita and Pepe Reina, among others, are being linked as the replacement for Victor Valdes. The team still need a goalkeeper good enough to play the ball out from defence rather than going long and surrendering possession; there will be no drastic change in the way Barcelona play the game.
But it’s also incredibly easy to ignore the problems that have existed at Barcelona this season, problems that have hindered their progress and effectiveness in European competition. It’s problems that came to the surface and really made their capture of the La Liga title around December all the more valuable.
Barcelona have had to deal with the illness to Tito Vilanova and Eric Abidal. Carles Puyol’s age has finally caught up with him and no one is there to guide Gerard Pique at centre-back. Not to suggest Pique is a shadow of the player he is alongside Puyol, but the Barcelona captain ensures 100 per cent commitment and focus for the entire game.
Adding to that, Javier Mascherano has been out with injury for quite some time and Alex Song has not done what he was brought in to do, that being to add another body more than capable at centre-back. Barcelona are paying for their frugality in the market, with both Vilanova and Jordi Roura being forced to draft in full-back Adriano into the centre-back position.
To compound those problems, the forwards have simply not been doing the business in front of goal. Lionel Messi scored his 45th and 46th league goal of the season against Real Betis on the weekend. The next top scorer is Cesc Fabregas with 10. This team are currently in desperate need of something else in attack. David Villa is out of sorts and Pedro’s two years in the sun seem so distant that it’s as if they were from another era. For Barcelona, it’s not about creating a Plan B, but rather about having the right personnel to perfectly execute Plan A.
Barcelona’s fall from Bayern Munich’s lofty grasp in the Champions League was made all the more sensational because it was Barcelona. It was a team who had dominated with the most intricate of styles now suddenly being unravelled by a stronger, fitter and better prepared Bayern side. Not even a team led by the best midfielder in the world, the greatest Spanish international and the greatest footballer of all time could overcome the relentless onslaught of the Bundesliga champions.
But is Europe really too small for two superpowers – and I don’t just mean two football teams?
Barcelona know what’s needed of them. To battle against Bayern Munich and all that may come alongside Guardiola, the Catalans will need to match the Bavarians’ ambition in the market. Instead of planning against Javi Martinez and what he may do to prevent you from winning, go out and get him and seriously address the flaws in team.
The upcoming Confederations Cup won’t help either. Barcelona’s Spanish stars have been called away on international duty each summer for what seems like an age and are desperately in need of a rest. But essentially, Barcelona need their manager around throughout the entire campaign. It told how much the players missed Vilanova when the inexperienced Jordi Roura took over at the turn of the year. They lacked decisiveness and seemed to lose their personality on the pitch; another hack to the ridiculous idea that anyone can manage Barcelona.
I’m not convinced we’ll see a seismic shift in the Barcelona approach or their status in world football. It’s not the end of an era, and that can only be a good thing. There will be tweaks and additions, but this style of play that conquered the world under Pep Guardiola is far too ingrained in the makeup of this team for it to change after one disappointing season.