Barcelona: What Went Wrong This April?

Barcelona's Lionel Messi gestures during a Spanish Super Cup second leg soccer match against Athletic Bilbao at Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain August 17, 2015. REUTERS/Albert Gea/File Photo - RTX2EYIF

REUTERS/Albert Gea

Barcelona started this season with flair and finesse, and were set to win the La Liga title and possibly become the first ever team to win two consecutive Champions League titles. But they currently sit at the top of the table with only a favorable goal difference that separates them from their rivals, Atletico Madrid.

It seems something is going on; maybe morale issues or possibly a surplus of arrogance, or maybe even over usage of their players?

At the beginning of April, Barcelona boasted a nine-point lead over their rivals – Atletico. They were predicted as favorites to win the treble. Almost three weeks later, they were thrashed by Atletico Madrid in the Champions League quarter finals and had lost their domestic lead too.

They suffered losses to Real Madrid, Real Sociedad, Atletico Madrid, and Valencia; dropping a total of twelve points. And with only five matches to go, their only hope of winning the title is to win all their remaining games, while maintaining their impressive goal tally.

We haven’t witnessed such losing streaks from Barcelona FC since the days before Lionel Messi came into the game. The squad before the Messi era was plagued with many problems; including massive egos, resulting in fights between players. But we can be certain that such would not be the case in the present day.

Surely, if Barcelona were to be giving such performances month after month, it would probably see them relegated. But what would have caused this set of anomalous results? Could it mean that Barcelona’s signature tiki taka tactic has finally been decoded?

It was Pep Guardiola who devised such a style of play. His tactics helped Barcelona reach heights that were unforeseen. He completely revolutionized the normal view on football. The tiki taka conquered the world; the tactic involves playing short and quick passes in order to tire out opponents, requiring the players to maintain high levels of ball possession. It has been used by Barcelona as well as the Spanish National team during the dominance period of Spanish football in both the international and club stages.

Real Madrid have always had a high inflow and outflow of managers, which means their tactics are constantly being altered and tinkered with. But, the current Real Madrid boss – Zinedine Zidane – is no stranger to Barcelona’s style of play, as he has experienced it as a player many times before. He may have just managed to crack the code to enable Real Madrid to gain the edge over their rivals.

Barcelona faced Real Madrid on the second of April in a thrilling encounter which was actually Zinedine Zidane’s first match against Barcelona as a manager. The game saw Sergio Ramos sent off after obtaining two yellow cards. Barcelona scored the first goal of the match, shortly before Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema turned it around; ensuring the Catalans lost three points to their fierce rivals.

But the tiki taka has survived for so long, it is virtually a solid block that cannot be opened up, even with the best players and the proper knowledge. It takes more than just understanding the style of play, it takes a combination of raw talent and speed to prevent it. So as long as the Barcelona squad remains quick and vibrant, it is impossible to stop them from practicing their tactics.

Could it be that Luis Enrique has over played his stars? Lionel Messi is arguably the best player in the world and is considered to be a football god already, at the age of 28. But even the best get tired at some point; his injuries are a result of over playing him. Luis Suarez and Neymar are also considered top of the pile talents in the footballing world. But Neymar is only 24 and not at the peak of his career, and with Suarez being 29, it is only a matter of time till the injuries start rolling in – if he continues to play at this intensity.

From the start of the season to right about the third week of April 2015, the Barcelona trio of Messi, Suarez and Neymar have had a combined playing time of almost 16,150 minutes for both club and country. Their time on the pitch is more than that of all the Champions League semifinalist’s front three, trumping over Manchester City by more than 40% and Real Madrid’s by almost 60%.

Barcelona’s front three were relatively healthy, apart from Lionel Messi’s spell on the sidelines due to injury. It seems as though Luis Enrique isn’t resting his players enough, subbing out Messi, Suarez, and Neymar only four times this whole year. The Champions League matches were not only plentiful, but exhaustive for the players. It is also worth mentioning that the trio travel across the world to South America, where they have to represent their national sides. On the note of travelling, they have also had to fly to Japan for the Club World Cup games.

The players, therefore, have endured a lot of stress and fatigue and this may be the reason for their drop in form.

During the past month, the South American trio have managed to score a total of 4 goals only. The month before saw the trio net 21 and in the previous month they had managed 24. Of course, the Barcelona trident have set a high standard to achieve every month. It’s never easy to beat it every time and the physical demand may be too high for even the best players in the world.

Luis Enrique should have managed his squad better and implemented squad rotations more effectively. His continued pressure and constant reliance on his South American front three may be what has caused their downfall.

Enrique has also been the center of attention in the media after he declared his arrogance by stating, “The only team that can beat Barcelona is Barcelona,” days before Barcelona began their horrendous run of form.

But it’s not all bad news for the Catalans, as they are still within touching distance of the La Liga title, and they have plenty of time to rest up and recoup for their remaining matches.

We can only wait and see what else Barcelona has to offer.

Do you think Barcelona have over played their stars?

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