Julen Lopetegui’s Real Madrid have been at the receiving end of some backlash after churning out some mediocre results in Spain and in Europe.
Los Blancos now sit fourth in the league table with just 14 points from eight games. Leaders Sevilla are just two points above and rivals Barcelona are just a solitary point in front.
However, Real Madrid’s poor form has clearly masked how terribly Barcelona are doing in the league.
We take a look at three reasons why the Catalans’ form is even more concerning than their arch-rivals’.
Quality of opponents
The Catalan side enters matchday nine with just 15 points. Madrid have already tested themselves against teams like Athletic Bilbao and Sevilla away from home. They have also played the Madrid derby and an in-form Espanyol at the Bernabeu.
Barcelona, on the other hand, have had an easier run of fixtures. Apart from the home game against Athletic Bilbao, they haven’t faced many tough teams.
One may point out that the Catalans were victorious at Anoeta, a venue that has troubled them for over a decade. However, Real Sociedad have been a shadow of their former selves.
The 1-2 victory at Anoeta was one of the most unconvincing performances by the Blaugrana. And yet, Barcelona are just one point above their eternal rivals.
Barcelona roped in the likes of Arturo Vidal, Clement Lenglet, and the promising Brazilian pair of Malcom and Arthur. Vidal’s experience of playing under Pep Guardiola and the physicality he brings to the side was talked about and rightly so while Lenglet has the experience of playing in La Liga.
Arthur was the best player for Gremio and a key part of their victory in the Copa Libertadores 2017 and Barcelona also signed a promising versatile talent in Malcom. High profile signings from last season – Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho – were also expected to enjoy a full season for the Blaugrana. But Ernesto Valverde has clearly failed to bring the best out of his signings.
In fact, most of these players have not been given enough game time even during the harshest of fixture congestions. The rotation policy is questionable. Ernesto’s reliance on Messi, Busquets, Rakitic and to an extent Suarez – which is reflected by the fact that these players play almost every game and the team suffers in their absence – is definitely something that needs addressing. Simply put, FC Barcelona just can’t afford to be in this position after what was a good transfer window.
In comparison, Madrid just replaced arguably the greatest player in their history with Mariano Diaz, who for all his quality is nowhere near the same level as Cristiano Ronaldo. Los Blancos also signed Thibaut Courtois and Alvaro Odriozola. This was some astute business by the board.
However, Real Madrid were clearly outdone by their rivals in the transfer market.
After a hat-trick of Champions League titles with former Boss Zinedine Zidane, Madrid have set a high bar and Lopetegui is in the midst of an unenviable task. It’s rarely a pretty sight when teams are undergoing transitions in their style of play after managerial changes.
Zidane preferred a more direct approach than Lopetegui. He also made great use of full-backs Marcelo and Daniel Carvajal. He also afforded the likes of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos enough freedom to conjure a goal scoring chance out of nothing.
Lopetegui has shown with both Spain and Madrid that he prefers to focus more on the build-up. Isco was the focal point of his Spain team and he has not been successful in replicating the same with this Madrid side. Transition from a direct approach to more patient, possession-based
Valverde is into his second season as Barcelona manager. Enrique’s system had Messi, Suarez and Neymar as the focal points and was heavily attack oriented. Valverde lost Neymar to PSG but was backed by the board and brought in the likes of Dembele and Coutinho.
As far as style of play goes, he does focus on defensive solidity which was a bit different from what Enrique preached. However, he had a season to get the team to transition to this philosophy and he did it smoothly. Now that the team has adapted to the new system, he should not have any excuse for their poor form.
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