What’s wrong with Barcelona?
COMING off a La Liga-winning season, Barcelona are off to their worst start since Lionel Messi’s debut season nine years ago. A 1-1 draw at Real Sociedad was described as a “miracle” by Barca boss Luis Enrique, in what he singled out as the worst performance in his three seasons in charge.
Barca are already six points behind Real Madrid ahead of their meeting in El Clasico on December 3.
Messi rescued Barca from a fifth consecutive defeat at San Sebastian, but the November 27 draw was the first time Barca have dropped points in the league this season when the Argentine played 90 minutes.
Messi’s presence was sorely missed in defeats to Celta Vigo and Alaves and draws with Malaga and Atletico Madrid.
However, he is far from the only key man to have sat out part of the season.
Andres Iniesta has been out for over a month, whilst Spanish teammates Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba were also sidelined for a number of weeks.
Sergio Busquets, an often underrated pillar of Barca’s success, is also in the midst of his most protracted slump since breaking into the first team under Pep Guardiola in 2008.
It is no coincidence that Busquets’ struggles have come for the first prolonged period without retired legend Xavi or Iniesta by his side.
His influence in terms of touches and passes has waned since Enrique took charge and favoured a more direct style to feed a superstar front of Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar.
Without the ball, Busquets is now being exposed by the lack of support around him, as Ivan Rakitic has been forced wider on the right to protect the inexperienced Sergi Roberto, who replaced the departed Dani Alves at right-back.
The gap between Barca and Madrid can also be explained by the differing challenges they are facing.
The Catalans have already made tricky trips to Sevilla, Sociedad, Athletic Bilbao, Celta Vigo and, despite their current struggles, Valencia, as well as Atletico Madrid at home.
Real’s 31-game unbeaten run will be put firmly to the test at the Camp Nou on December 3, but other challenges await for the European champions with four away trips in five games just as the Champions League returns in February.
Barca splurged over 120 million euros (US$127 million) in the summer window to bolster their squad.
But so far, none of their six recruits have established themselves in Enrique’s preferred starting XI.
A year ago, while Messi was sidelined for two months by knee ligament damage, Neymar and Suarez not only ensured Barca didn’t lose ground, but were able to accelerate past Madrid at the top of the table.
Twelve months on, Barca’s Messidependence ia back: He’s scored 10 of Barca’s last 14 goals.
Suarez has scored just once in his last five outings, whilst Neymar hasn’t scored from open play in La Liga since September. –
Barcelona forward Luis Suarez reacts with disappointment after Real Sociedad scored a goal on November 27. The teams drew 1-1.