While ‘crisis’ might be too serious a description, Barça have gone three games without winning – so what is causing a late winter slump for the league leaders?
It was only ten days ago when FC Barcelona absolutely obliterated Sevilla FC at home, bringing home a rapturous 6-1 win and sending a message to the opposition: under regular conditions, they’re a big challenge for anyone to take on.
Three days later, along came Valencia to the Camp Nou. And they merrily gave Barça a run for their money with an excellent game, a masterful Dani Parejo performance and a 0-2 that the Culés had to bounce back from in the second half. They did and managed to save a point (2-2) thanks to Leo Messi, but even that extra effort took a toll on the number ten.
He got injured. And Barcelonismo went straight into panic mode.
A few days later, Barça managed to draw against Real Madrid (1-1) in a Copa del Rey game which had gone off rails in the first half after Lucas Vasquez scored in the sixth minute. Messi played the second half and he was obviously far from being physically fit. And then, last Saturday, once again with Messi playing the ninety minutes but still fully recovered, Barça couldn’t overpower Athletic Club at San Mamés (0-0). In fact, ‘los Leones’ were the ones to enjoy the best chance, but a Ter Stegen impossible save denied them from glory.
So… are Barça in trouble?
The most obvious answer is no, at least if we look at the results. They might have faced fierce opposition in the last fortnight, but they haven’t lost. In fact, their Sevilla defeat on the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarterfinal and the one delivered one round earlier by Levante are the only ones in 2019; the last time they lost a LaLiga game was back in November against Real Betis (3-4).
A lack of trust in the support cast
Leaving the scores aside, it’s true that there are little things here and there that need improvement, and Valverde surely knows that. For example, the reliability of his defense: if Txingurri really trusted his men at the back, he wouldn’t be playing Gerard Pique absolutely in every LaLiga game (he’s the only field player, to date, to have played all the minutes in the 23 fixtures) and might rotate a bit there. His sidekick Samuel Umtiti’s knee injury has been more serious than expected: it’s been already four months with the French center-back on the sidelines.
As for Jeison Murillo, well… He is expected to have more or less the same chances as he used to have at Valencia under Marcelino (spoiler tag: few or none).
There are a few decisions here and there that don’t make sense. For example, bringing in Kevin-Prince Boateng to freshen up the attacking front and then keep on starting (and playing ninety minutes) a veteran such as Luis Suarez. It’s true that the Uruguayan forward has a key role in the squad, as second-in-command to Leo Messi, but Valverde should know better: a tired Suarez is far less impactful than a rested Suarez, as we’ve seen in earlier seasons.
More stuff to solve: the Coutinho Problem ™. It used to be all about Ousmane Dembelé and his crazy life off the pitch (oversleeping and being late to trainings, for example), but the player managed to turn things around and become Barça’s trump card… until he got injured.
Then, all eyes were set on Philippe Coutinho, another $140 million plus investment. However, he isn’t delivering the goods and both fans and the player himself can perceive the frustration coming out of this whole affair.
Although far from being in an ideal situation, the distance in LaLiga is still six points over Real and the league champions are capable of beating Los Blancos in Copa del Rey. Therefore, Barça fans eagerly await the upcoming double showdown versus Olympique Lyon as the perfect chance to see their team glowing and performing accordingly once again.
But, as always, most of the outcome will depend on a particular individual who has scored 29 goals and assisted 17 times this season. Because everybody knows that any imaginable goal, such as conquering the much-desired ‘Triplete’, depends mostly on Leo Messi being healthy and retaining his magic touch.