Barcelona with its heroic MSN combination has quietly being reduced to a toothless bulldog living on past glory with the team’s current form.
Having lost their last three matches in La Liga and got knocked out of the Champions League, Barcelona’s season is in danger of completely falling apart. Goal runs down the 10 reasons why it has all come unstuck so quickly…
10. MIXED MESSAGES FROM LUIS ENRIQUE: It seems strange to announce that the trip to Anoeta is “the most difficult away match of the season” yet then pick Rafinha and Arda Turan in midfield for the game against Real Sociedad. The Barca boss has also been unable to rotate his MSN attack with any real success and has largely failed to change games with his substitutions when things have been going against his side. He must take a significant share of the blame.
9. BARTOMEU ISN’T A MAN FOR A CRISIS: The Barca president has done little since winning the elections last summer. The club chief has failed to secure a new shirt sponsorship deal for next season, which meant Barca were unable to sign Nolito in January, and consequently has still not tied down Neymar to a new contract. Bartomeu did not ensure that the squad was sufficiently strengthened after last term’s treble triumph.
8. MSN TIRED AND OUT OF FORM: Earlier this season, Luis Enrique described his famed forward line as the best trident in the history of the game and such was their brilliance, it was hard to disagree. However, Neymar has looked out of sorts since the Ballon d’Or and Lionel Messi has been a shadow of his usual self over the past few games.
7. LA MASIA ISN’T HELPING EITHER: Barca B’s erratic season has hindered the first team as well. Luis Enrique has handed debuts to seven youngsters – Juan Camara, Gerard Gumbau, Aitor, Wilfrid Kaptoum, Romera, Carles Alena and Sergi Samper. The latter is easily the most talented of those, but has been largely overlooked and is also now sidelined through injury. In the meantime, the talented Alen Halilovic was allowed to join Sporting Gijon on loan for the season.
6. LITTLE HELP FROM THE BENCH: With the notable exception of Sergi Roberto, Barcelona’s substitutes have not been up to the task for the most part in 2015-16. Luis Enrique does not appear to trust Munir El Haddadi or Sandro when it matters, while Jeremy Mathieu has made mistakes (like against Villarreal recently) and both Thomas Vermaelen and Marc Bartra are out of the first-team picture now, along with Adriano. As already mentioned, Arda and Aleix have also failed to convince.
5. RAFINHA’S INJURY: Luis Enrique is a big admirer of Rafinha, a player he took to Celta on loan and who looked set to feature heavily this season. However, the youngest of the Alcantara brothers was seriously injured against Roma in September and sidelined for six months, meaning he was unable to provide cover for the midfield and attack as planned. Barca lost a very good player and also one who would have provided much-needed depth from the bench.
4. PROBLEMS IN DEFENCE: So secure en route to the treble in 2014-15, Barcelona’s back-line has had plenty of issues in the current campaign. They conceded only 37 goals last season, but have already shipped 51 this term (including four each against Athletic Bilbao, Celta Vigo and Sevilla earlier in the season). And although there has since been improvement, the goals of MSN have papered over the cracks for much of the campaign.
3. NO NOLITO, NO COVER FOR MSN: With Pedro gone and nobody to replace him, Barca set their sights on Nolito in the winter window but were unable to find the funds to sign the Spain striker. That has seen a large burden placed on the shoulders of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, with the sheer volume of games taking their toll on Barca’s fantastic forward line.
2. ARDA & ALEIX STRUGGLE TO ADAPT: Barcelona did sign Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal last summer and the two finally made their debuts when the transfer ban came to an end in January. However, they missed a total of 30 games and have been unable to adapt to the team since finally making their bows at the beginning of the year.
1. XAVI & PEDRO LEAVE WITH TRANSFER BAN ONGOING : Xavi departed after winning the treble and Pedro chose to join Chelsea in August, leaving Barca short of quality options on the bench and unable to replace them straight away, still banned from fielding new players in 2015.