FC Barcelona have stalled at a key moment of the season. The performances haven’t been the best and the results have failed to cover over the cracks in recent weeks. Individuals can’t carry the team and the collective issues are being exposed. Ernesto Valverde must find a solution before things become any worse. Right now, he’s got three big issues to resolve.
Ter Stegen isn’t enough. The German stopper has made 14 saves in four Champions League matches, averaging 3.5 per match. Not what you’d expect from a Champions League favourite. The fact Barça have only conceded two goals thanks to the keeper’s efforts. He saved the team against Dortmund and Inter.
The press isn’t working as a unit and, as such, opponents are reaching Barça’s penalty area with ease. Due to the lack of organisation and the failed press, it creates a lot of space for the opposition to exploit. Valverde has to fix this.
Barça have stuck to the same centre back pairing without any rotations. If the team is predictable, it doesn’t create healthy competition and keep players on their toes.
Pique and Lenglet have played all four matches in Europe and both have missed a game each in the league due to suspensions. Umtiti appeared once again Eibar, Todibo played against Sevilla and a few minutes against Getafe, whilst Araujo was sent off not long into his debut. He’s since returned to Barça B.
The lack of confidence in the alternatives is also true at full backs. Sergi Roberto is now in midfield so Semedo and Jordi Alba are ever-presents either side of the centre backs. Junior Firpo has largely disappeared after scoring against Getafe, although his performance was littered with errors, whilst Wague remains unused.
Barça have lost their style. The midfielders are who imprint the identity of the team and now there’s no sign of that group which would suffocate their opponents in possession.
De Jong can’t do any more. The Dutch star has arrived with plenty of illusion, desire and courage. He’s the only Barça player who has run more than 10km in each of the team’s Champions League fixtures. His attitude is impeccable but he’s still yet to find his best role in the team. He’s made the fourth-most successful forward passes in LaLiga (385).
One of that iconic midfield, Sergio Busquets, is no longer a certain starter. Valverde has rotated him more than ever before in an attempt to keep him fresh. He’s only completed five of the 11 matches in LaLiga and hasn’t finished any of the opening four in Europe. There are signs that de Jong and Busquets are forming a solid partnership though.
All of the other midfield options are equally as irregular. Arthur has his bright moments but Valverde has already told him that he must work harder in defence. Arturo Vidal tends to play further forward, up alongside the main striker, which leaves the midfield a little light. Rakitic knows his time is up whilst Aleña has disappeared from the spotlight after being substituted at half-time in the LaLiga opener against Athletic Club.
Aleña or Riqui Puig could inject a bit more ‘Barça DNA’ to the side if Valverde so wishes. But, for now, it appears he’ll stick with what he knows best.
Barça have spent 345 million (and it could rise to 425 in add-ons) in deals for Dembélé, Coutinho and Griezmann and none of them have worked out so far. The club hasn’t been able to cover the loss of Neymar and Coutinho has been sent out on loan to Bayern Munich. Dembele has already been injured twice in his third season with Barça whilst Griezmann hasn’t found his place in the team.
With Suarez out, Valverde put Griezmann through the middle and he scored two goals against Betis. When Suarez and Messi are available, he’s pushed out to the left. Against Sevilla, he was moved over to the right as Messi played down the middle instead. His incredible attitude means he doesn’t complain or argue about playing in unfamiliar roles. The team comes first.
Luis Suárez still doesn’t have a natural replacement and his fitness issues are becoming more of a concern. Messi is finding himself isolated and if he has an off day, like against Slavia, the team can’t score. Everything depends on the Argentine.
The only positive has been the arrival of Ansu Fati. Against Slavia, he produced more in 25 minutes than Dembele in 65. He’s got that spark, takes on his opponent and can score goals. Carles Perez is another bright prospect but you can’t expect the youngsters to carry the team.