Barcelona have enjoyed a view from the summit of European football for a long time now, but is it all about to change?
Bayern Munchen’s 4-0 drubbing of the Catalans in the UEFA Champions League semifinal lays bare a truth that has been nagging away for some time—that Barca are no longer the force they were.
While a complete overhaul is not the answer to Barcelona’s problems, it is now clear that significant changes must be made at Barca.
Barcelona have not lost like they did last night for some time. In fact, their last 4-0 loss was to Getafe all the way back in May 2007. There will be a number of autopsies and reasons given, but the most common you will see is that this team’s defence just is not good enough.
Barca’s back four was exposed for height and quality.
Both aerial assists were won over a helpless Dani Alves at the back post and set-pieces tormented Barcelona all night.
Height is one problem, but there is more to suggest that the Blaugrana simply neglect this area in their training.
At six-foot-four, Gerard Pique is just as average in the air. In fact, the lanky—and now bald—26-year-old was woeful at the Allianz, at fault in basically all four goals.
The truth is Pique has not looked the same since South Africa 2010 and hardly provided the assured partner young Marc Bartra needed in his baptism of fire.
However, we must ask why Barca have defended so poor.
The reason is that Barca have never been that great at sitting and repelling attacks in the traditional way. The Catalans prefer to take the game to the opposition, both in offence and in defence.
The missing element in Barca’s defensive game is pressing.
It is a wonder why Pep Guardiola’s greatest innovation at Barcelona—intense collective pressing—now seems completely forgotten.
It was never the passing that made it look like Guardiola’s Barca always had the ball, but the fact that when they lost it, they worked incredibly hard to win it back immediately.
Under Vilanova, pressing has been poor to nonexistent. Unsurprisingly, the one time it was performed well, Barcelona defeated AC Milan at home 4-0.
The players’ fitness and hunger may be questioned, but the most plausible answer is that pressing is simply not being given the attention it needs by the club’s technical staff and in training.
The Blaugrana were just too passive, with and without the ball.
Firstly, it must be noted that this season has been anything but ideal for FC Barcelona. Losing your manager for half of it to cancer is more than bad luck.
Any calls for Tito Vilanova’s head are simply unfair, and there is no need for purging of his most important players either.
However, changes must be made.
Defensive personnel simply must be added. It appears the proposed purchase of one centre-back is probably insufficient, no matter how good he is.
In midfield, it is time for Thiago Alcantara to step up. Xavi simply plays too often for a 33-year-old and has struggled for consistent fitness.
The potential signing of Neymar has been criticised, but changes are needed up front as much as in defence.
Collectively, Barca’s forwards—outside Lionel Messi—have not fired at all this season. Not only do the Blaugrana need more scoring threats, but someone willing to take on the opposition in order to create space and chances in the final third.
Most of all, however, Barcelona’s tactical setup needs a rethink. The opposition in Europe is learning and adapting, and quality sides have certainly worked them out.
There is no need for wholesale change, but there is plenty of room for tweaks to the master plan. Bringing back the pressing would be a wise starting point.
What do you think? Does Barca need to break up the band? How can Tito Vilanova solve his problems?
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