With the season winding down, it feels good to be able to say Barcelona has the best defense in La Liga.
What a difference a year makes. The Barca of old could be counted on to surrender or a cheap goal, or two, on a counter-attack or set-piece. This team, regardless of who you play on the backline, continues to be effective at keeping the ball out of the goal.
Unfortunately, it goes in both directions.
Barcelona’s attack is not working.
They can’t play from the back.
They can’t get anything going in the midfield.
They can’t find solutions in the final third.
And, of course, it’s all connected.
The irony of being coached by perhaps the best midfielder of all time, but not being able to develop a structure or pattern of play to build a functional attacking sequence.
Now, let’s stop, and state the obvious. Barca’s two best midfielders are out injured, and their best outlet on the wing is hard to replace too.
To some extent, we have to give grace to Xavi. Most managers would struggle to maintain the level of their team under these circumstances.
But it’s been months, and many games, that the manager has had to come up with a response, and what we’ve seen so far raises concerns for the future. Especially as far as the forwards, and even midfielders, are concerned. Beyond the players, it also asks uncomfortable questions about Xavi.
First, the players.
Pedri officially has an injury history. He is a magician, and the team is at its best when he plays. But clearly, it would be a fool’s errand to become dependent on him.
Frenkie is usually healthy. If it’s not obvious by now, it should be clear that he is truly the untouchable player on this roster. Do not even think of selling this man unless you really want to risk an implosion next season.
Gavi may be more of an enforcer than a creator. With Pedri and Frenkie out, I’m sorry Xavi, but Pablo Torre is the logical replacement if you want the system to have a chance of continuing to function. Without a run of games, we’ll never know what we have in him. Garbage time minutes prove nothing. With a 15-point lead in the league (now down to 11), you’d think this was an opportunity to take a risk on him.
But that’s the thing, what is Xavi’s system?
What we’ve seen lately is more of a genius complex, than someone who truly has laid down ideas that his players understand.
Alejandro Balde as a left winger? Even when you have two high-profile, and expensive, forwards on the bench who are freezing away?
This calls into question what Barcelona is instructed to do on the ball.
When players are injured, it’s next man up, and let’s keep the system going, if you had one in the first place.
At the highest level, that’s what makes Manchester City so durable. Pep Guardiola doesn’t wait for injuries. He rotates day by day based on form.
Any person on that roster can do the job, because the system works, and it comes first.
This does not excuse the lackluster performances from the forwards.
For the future, Ousmane Dembele is a player you simply have to take a risk on, especially if he’s on a reasonable contract. He is the only forward who has proven capable of being consistently dangerous when he’s on the field.
Raphinha continues to not take advantage of his chances.
Only Xavi can speak to how he rates Ansu Fati and Ferran Torres.
Bending over backwards to play a midfielder where they should be, and now a full-back, isn’t going to do wonders for their confidence.
As much as I love his industry, Ronald Araujo really shouldn’t have to gallivant down the field taking on defenders because his team-mates won’t.
So going forward, what will the manager do?
Win La Liga? Certainly.
But when it happens, the celebration will be muted if it drags on, and the performances continue to be poor.
Because fans and management are already thinking about next season. And that’s because we have nothing else to hang onto. Don’t forget Barca has been knocked out of every cup, and will be watching the Champions League, Europa League, and Copa del Rey from home.
So what will Xavi ask for this summer?
What is he truly trying to build?
Luckily, the defense is solid, and that will give them a fighting chance.
But in Europe, even the defense has been exposed, and the team has looked a level below the elite.
It’s not about spending money like Manchester City. It’s about making good decisions based on a vision.
I was shocked to see Ez Abde go out on loan last summer. This was a player who proved himself, and could really be helpful to the team in this 4-3-3 formation, and the lack of ability to go 1 v 1.
So be smart and rate your players wisely.
If you are going to spend money, Barcelona is living on the knife’s edge financially, and must get it right.
As of now, get serious and don’t take La Liga for granted.
Don’t just win the league, take advantage of every game to gather information about what you have for the future, and identify exactly what it is you need.
Next season will be here before we know it, and once it arrives, it will be unforgiving if Barcelona can’t learn to attack again.