This season I’m often asked why I primarily focus on the undesirable aspects of this Barça squad. In some ways I understand. The team is first in the league standings of LaLiga Santander, managed to convincingly qualify through a difficult Champions League group, and in the Copa del Rey they have a good chance of making a comeback to go through to the quarter-finals. For most clubs that in itself would be reason enough to blissfully confront the season without a critical eye. But we all know that a club like Barça does not fall into that category.
Truth be told, I do not intentionally seek out the negative traits. Instead, I see realistic reasons for concerns. If last season I wholeheartedly supported Ernesto Valverde’s bet on the controversial 4-4-2 system (with special emphasis on the word system), I can’t for the life of me find any good reason to similarly this season.
Why? Well, in Valverde’s first season, he managed to take over a dressing room in shambles after the traumatic departure of Neymar and the unfortunate start of Ousmane Dembele, who not only had to adjust to a completely new club, team, league and style of play but also come to terms with his inflated price tag. Much more can be said about the other difficulties el Txingurri had to deal with in his debut season at the Catalan club, but needless to say, it was clear that Ernesto was banking on a no-nonsense scheme to get the job done. Something that seemed reasonable in a transitional year, where fighting for all the competitions remained an obligation. The result was an historic (yet for many fans underwhelming) double.
Now in his second season in charge the expectations of both the club and fans alike have changed. Not only is Ernesto’s team expected to compete for all the silverware available but also to do so in typical Barça fashion by playing formidable offensive, calm, collective, one-touch football. I was one of those who believed it could be done. I’ve always seen the Basque manager as a student of Johan Cruyff’s teachings. I was convinced that given his history as a player under Johan, and his knowledge of the club that when given the right resources Ernesto Valverde would manage to impose his true brand of football. I was led to believe this when I was personally present at a exclusive gathering where Valverde, Eusebio and Rubi all openly discussed their admiration for the Cruyff way. They melancholically outlined precisely when, where, why and how the Dutch legend convinced them of his footballing genius.
Sadly, rather than taking of the master’s wisdom, instead the disciple time and time again shows a lack of character and ideas. This season the Barça boss is highly reliant on the efficiency of individual talents and too much under the influence of dressing room politics. That’s the only way I can begin to fathom his decision-making this season. Only that justifies why he would leave an effective, in-form Dembele on the bench and bring on a poorly-performing Coutinho (despite his decent match tonight) against Eibar. Or why he consistently interrupts the adaptation and continuity of the benchwarmers, Barça B team players and newcomers and instead plays favoritism with the popular kids of the class.