Barcelona’s current troubles stem from their failure to sufficiently strengthen their squad – especially the midfield – in the last three years, something that simply must be addressed this summer.
Despite winning the Liga title with a fair degree of comfort last season, Barca’s decline was evident in their struggles against Celtic, AC Milan and Paris St-Germain in the Champions League, and their deficiencies were then laid horribly bare in the 7-0 aggregate thrashing against Bayern Munich in the semi-final.
Since then, little has changed except key midfielder Xavi has grown a year older and Lionel Messi has dropped below the record-breaking goal-scoring form that effectively won last season’s title.
The Xavi question, in particular, is damaging Barca. At his prime, the little midfielder was a truly sensational player – arguably the greatest in the history of Spanish football – marrying sublime passing skills with the physical capability to cover every blade of grass and completely dictate the pattern of a game.
The passing skills are still there but his levels of energy, palpably, are not. At the age of 34, that’s hardly a surprise, and the time is approaching for Barca to accept that Xavi can no longer play the role of their chief conductor.
In fact, that time may well have already arrived, but the squad possesses no genuine alternatives for the playmaking role.
The most galling aspect for Barca fans is the fact that Spain’s best young game-controlling midfielder – the new Xavi, if you like – should be their player right now.
Thiago Alcantara has enjoyed an outstanding campaign for Bayern Munich since leaving the Nou Camp for Bavaria last summer, having grown frustrated at his failure to earn more regular playing time.
Thiago’s departure was widely and bitterly lamented by fans, who were fully aware that the classy passer would mature into a wonderful player.
And now, with Xavi’s continuing decline and the club’s ongoing failure to replace him clearly harming the team, Barca’s failure to keep Thiago is an even bigger source of frustration.
Xavi’s reduced influence isn’t Barca’s only problem, but all their current weaknesses can be traced back to one root cause: their refusal to move on from the past and stubborn insistence upon thinking we are still in 2011.
Three years ago, Barca were at the peak of their powers as they breezed to a magnificent Champions League final triumph against Manchester United at Wembley Stadium.
But many of their key players are no longer as good as they were then, while other teams have worked out how to combat their tiki-taka style of play and Messi’s ‘false-nine’ position.
Football has moved on, but Barca haven’t. Sir Alex Ferguson’s greatest strength at Manchester United was his ruthlessness in dismantling successful teams and rebuilding again. Barca have done the exact opposite.
The impending departures of Victor Valdes and Carles Puyol means they have to sign a new goalkeeper and central defender. But Barca also need a new central midfielder and a proven centre forward.
And they need to accept that 2011 is in the past.
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