The Catalans' struggles this season worsened on Tuesday evening as they slumped to a 1-1 draw with Eibar in the absence of captain Lionel Messi, leaving them still some way adrift of Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid. It was a classic 2020- Barcelona way to finish the year. It was a tough year for the Catalans. The 8-2 humiliation against, Losing La Liga, Super Copa and Copa Del Ray and a terrible start to the La Liga campaign of 2020-21. They sit at 6th position in the league table with just 25 points.
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At the end of the match against Eibar, Ronald Koeman said that they are far from winning the league and as it seems they won’t get their hand on the trophy this year also.
“I'm realistic, winning the title is complicated. Nothing is impossible, but we have to recognize the distance.”
He acknowledged their rivals strong performance this year and openly talked about Barcelona’s deficit.
“Atletico look very good to me. They're very strong and they don't concede many goals.”
Despite their draw against Eibar, they have to take away some positives from the game. It’s very important they enter 2021 with a new motivation. It’s safe to say that if they want to win the league, they have to defeat every team they face from here on and hope Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid drop a few points on the way. They will still play Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid in the latter half of the season. Without Messi and Gerard Pique, Barcelona were left wanting all over the pitch. With Messi hitting his form early in 2021, we would be looking at a completely different team.
But before jumping to any conclusions we have to understand why Barcelona can still win the league and what they must do to win the La liga?
Barcelona is a Team in Transition
Barcelona was criticized for their lack of intent and youth in their ranks from the last 3 years. Even though they won the league under Ernesto Valverde, their weaknesses and lack of youthfulness got exposed at the biggest stage of the game – UCL. This year Ronald Koeman is brave enough to bring the average age of the squad down. They played a very young and very new looking backline. With the absence of Gerard Pique, Lenglet is the only experienced defender. Oscar Mingueza, Ronald Araujo, Sergino Dest, and Junior Firpo are relatively new guys. They haven’t played together in Barcelona B or played under the leadership of Gerard Pique. Give them time. They will shine. Especially Oscar Mingueza looks like someone who belongs to the Barcelona color. Junior Firpo was involved in almost every attack against Eiber. He is yet to receive the game time he was promised before bringing him in from Real Betis. With Jordi Alba out, he might flourish to be the player we all saw and enjoyed at Betis.
De Jong and Pjanic are proving to be more effective together. But Koeman’s strange approach of using De Jong in the Centre Back position is proving to be a hindrance to his growth. De Jong is a generational talent. His quality is beyond any question. But Satien played him outside his preferred position and Koeman is not even utilizing his capability on the pitch. Pjanic and De Jong are two of the most attacking but defensively astute player Barcelona have. It would be interesting to see how he uses these two as the season progresses towards a more critical period.
Dembele must stay without Injury
The biggest positive from the match against Eibar was Ousmane Dembele. Returning from injury and giving almost a man of the match performance is easier said than done. But Dembele was promising. Every time he had the ball, he looked like a threat. Without his injury, he would easily walk into the starting eleven. But his career seems to be plagued by injuries. But agaisnt Eibar he looked sharp. He scored a beautiful goal and created a few chances. He almost gave Barcelona the lead after receiving a peach of a diagonal ball from Pedri on his left boot. But indecisiveness in front of the goal cost him dearly. It’s evident that the lack of decisiveness in front of the goal is because of the less playing time. If he stays fit he would even cost Griezmann and Braithwaite their place on the team. Barcelona's form will depend a lot on Dembele this season.
Messi must have to hit the top of his form
I know Messi is 33 and Messi looks tired. But in his recent interview, he looks passionate, believe me. He rejuvenated his hunger to win with the team despite all the transfer drama in the summer. But he is yet to hit the top of his form. He scored 7 goals and assisted only once in La Liga. This is not Leo Messi's standard. It’s important he hits his cylinders at full throttle early in 2021. Barcelona depends a lot on him. It was evident when they played Eibar. Messi even worked on his defensive attributes and now contributing more and more to his defensive positioning. He was criticized for his defensive shortcoming against Bayern Munich in the champions league humiliation. Since then he seems to be more involved in defensive transitions. But what if the defensive duties costing his strength going forward? Koeman must find a way to incorporate Messi in the system with lesser defensive attributes if he wants to enjoy the attacking prowess of Leo Messi. Something Valverde understood very well.
Pedri must be protected at any cost
Sometimes you look at a player and think wow! This man belongs here. At times it seems Pedri is playing for Barcelona for years. He owns the pitch when he plays. Everyone went mad when he played a backheel assist to Leo Messi. But almost everyone criticized him for his performance in El Clasicco defeat. We have to remember he is just an 18-year-old teenager. He played agaisnt the reigning champion Real Madrid and he was up against the legends like Sergio Ramos, Casimiro and, Varane. But after that match, he never looked back. He played with authority ever since. His bond with Messi is blooming and he is virtually everywhere on the pitch. His first touch is impeccable and his is positioning is excellent. He can play on either wing and play as a midfielder also. With the double pivot of Koeman’s system, he fits the role of attacking midfielder and plays behind Messi and Griezmann. He is some talent Barcelona will be looking forward to. He is a gift of La Masia and he must be protected at any cost. Because he is a player of the future.
Koeman must resolve the conflicts
Riqui Puig is just 21 years old and he wants to play. He wants to prove himself and does not want to go away on loan. But seems like Ronald Koeman is hell bound on not giving him enough chances. In the Post Lockdown phase of La Liga, Barcelona enjoyed the brilliance of Riqui Puig for a very short period of time. He was the brightest prospect of Barcelona in that period. Much like what we are saying about Pedri now. But with Koeman, Puig is almost outcasted. He gets game time under 5 minutes. But the kid is also adamant to prove himself. Every time he gets the ball he runs like he has to prove a point. Much like Pedri, Puig is a player for the future. He is so highly rated by ex-players like Iniesta and Xavi. Barcelona and Koeman must dissolve the altercations between Koeman and Puig and move forward with a plan that protects both Koeman and Puig.
Griezmann and Pjanic both publicly spoke about their game time. We have to remember Griezmann is a World Cup winner and he was the main man for Atletico Madrid for a very long time. It’s the same with Pjanic, who was the focal point of Juventus midfield. They were brought in, to have an instant impact. They are actually performing well but are still subbed out from the games in the middle and still doesn’t enter the starting line-up right away. When they were in Atletico or Juventus, they never had to face such a situation. It’s very new to them and it’s also an injustice for their career. They are in their prime years and they were promised to build a new team around them. But Barcelona is yet to stand on its promise.
The Positives of FC Barcelona
Despite their league standing Barcelona are actually ahead of some very important statistics. They must take these as positives and move forward.
- - Most Goals scored in the league - 29
- - Most Shots attempted in the league - 250
- - Most shots on target - 106
- - Most passes completed -10063
- - Most Key Passes -174
- - Most passing accuracy -88%
- - Woodwork hit – 7 times (4th rank)
It clearly indicates they are doing good in their attack. It’s their defense that is leaking gaols. If you look closely at the goals conceded, you’ll see individuals’ errors that lead to the goals more than often. They are struggling to hold their shape in defensive transition. With the absence of Jordi Alba, Gerard Pique, and Sergi Roberto it’s understandable.