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Report card 2019-20: Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and the Barcelona attack

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A look back at last season

FC Barcelona v Borussia Dortmund: Group F - UEFA Champions League Photo by Maja Hitij/Bongarts/Getty Images

The following “report card” series is an attempt to evaluate the performance of the Barcelona players and staff according to the high standards the club has established for itself.

The goal is to first grade the players individually. From there we will be able to assign an overall grade to the team at that position. Finally, an overall score will be given to the club as a whole with consideration given to the performance of the coaching staff and administration as well.

The motivation here is not to condemn players for a bad season, or to praise others for individual accomplishments. Rather, the goal is for the final judgement to be a collective one since at the end of the season the team trophies are the only ones that matter.

Instead of using an arbitrary system of assigning letter grades, performance will be evaluated using the following criteria.

Exceeds Expectations: At Barca exceeding expectations is the only way to get a passing grade and this category shows you are in good standing.

Room for Improvement: Everyone at the club is here because they have at the very least shown great potential. If you fall in this category it’s because you aren’t quite realizing it, and yet you are still finding ways to contribute. Going forward though, more is expected.

Not Good Enough: This category implies that the performance was below the high standards of the club. It does not mean that there is no hope. Given the financial instability at the club, even players who fall here will need to be given chances to redeem themselves.

Let’s start by taking a look at the attackers.

Exceeds Expectations:

Lionel Messi

Real Valladolid CF v FC Barcelona - La Liga Photo by Mateo Villalba/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

He’s 33 years old and completed one of his most productive seasons winning a fourth straight Pichichi Trophy, and record seventh scoring title of his career. In addition to that he set a La Liga record of 21 assists. Aside from these numbers it’s clear to everyone that the team’s success still rests largely on his shoulders. Every once in a while there are matches where he is not at the top of his game. This is when Barca tends to lose points, something that will need to be remedied going forward. One area of Messi’s game that isn’t acknowledged enough is his durability. Rarely does he get injured which helps in his ability to constantly break records and keep Barca at the top of the table.

Ansu Fati

Barcelona V Levante Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

Few fans saw the emergence of Ansu Fati coming. From the moment he made his debut a few things were clear. One, he didn’t lack for confidence and was willing to step into the spotlight to score critical goals. Two, he understood the Barca philosophy of keeping possession and never giving away the ball cheaply. This is in sharp contrast to Ousmane Dembele. There is a yin and yang to this however. Dembele’s strength is also the fact that he’s not afraid to take chances running at defenders. Attacking 1 v 1 is an area I’d like to see Ansu improve in.

Room for Improvement

Luis Suarez

Deportivo Alaves v FC Barcelona - La Liga Photo by Pedro Salado/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Sixteen goals is not a small output. Suarez’s problem, however is that he will always be judged by his prolific history. This season the injuries were the biggest factor in slowing him down. Going forward it’s likely that we will not be able to rely on him playing 90 minutes game in and game out. Still, when he’s healthy and on the field, whether it’s as a starter or a substitute, he finds ways to score big goals. The importance of his stellar relationship with Messi both on and off the pitch can also not be minimized. Next season the club will need to evolve and get creative on how they use him. If his minutes can be managed you can expect Suarez to be a reliable goal scorer for years to come.

Martin Braithwaite

Sevilla v FC Barcelona - La Liga Santander Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images

He didn’t come cheap, but in the end I think Barca got everything from Braithwaite that they could have hoped for. Whether he stays or not, one thing I liked about his style of play is his speed and ability to stretch opposing defenses. His value was highlighted the most in high paced open games where the opposing team attacked. On the flip side, it was hard for him to contribute tactically when the game turned into a battle of attrition where Barca possessed while the opponent parked the bus. I wouldn’t mind seeing him come back and continue to be a spark off the bench.

Not Good Enough:

Antoine Griezmann

Villarreal CF v FC Barcelona - La Liga Photo by David Aliaga/MB Media/Getty Images

I’m not here to be unfair to Griezmann. I watched him enough at Atletico to know what he is capable of, and the last thing I want is for him to turn into another Coutinho. The club literally can’t afford that. Playing alongside Messi and Suarez means he is naturally the third goal scoring option. Nine goals and three assists in La Liga is not terrible in light of this designation. His challenge will be to compete with those two as the number one goal scorer on the team. This will require digging deep inside of himself to find confidence again, and it will be essential for the coaching staff to set him up for success with tactics that maximize his strengths in front of the goal. He should learn from Suarez who burst onto the scene as a Barcelona player demanding the ball and earning respect with his relentlessness.

Ousmane Dembele

FBL-ESP-LIGA-BARCELONA-LEVANTE Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images

It’s hard to tell a player they weren’t good enough when they barely even played. The truth is Barca needs Dembele. The season before he showed why. He made Barcelona exciting and unpredictable the way it was with Neymar. Every time he touched the ball you held your breath because you knew he was likely to take off. If he can regain his health and his form the coaches will have a unique weapon that can open up games. I would go so far as to say that he’s the biggest wildcard that could mean the difference between winning and losing trophies.

Cumulative Grade for the Barca Attack: Room for Improvement

There was bad luck this season because of injuries leaving the club in a desperate situation during the winter transfer window. Regardless, the performance from the attacking players was inconsistent, and it’s probably the reason they lost the league. Barca’s best defense will always be with an unstoppable offense. That goes beyond the players mentioned here because all 11 players need to play a role in the build up for the offense to be successful. We’ll get to them in upcoming articles. On a positive note we can be grateful that Messi is still Messi, and that we have young talent like Ansu and Dembele whose best years are still to come.