The clock is ticking for Ernesto Valverde at Barcelona. His team has just come off the back of two dismal results and now the pressure is really on. Regardless of the Catalan’s winless run in their past two games, they remain top of the La Liga and their Champions League group as well, so it does seem like a reach to say the club is in some sort of “crisis”. But based on recent performances and the manner in which Barcelona played in their last outings, it’s safe to say the club is pretty much going through a difficult phase.
A humiliating away loss to 11th place Levante followed shortly by a disappointing home draw against Slavia, it was obvious that the manager has not only lost the fans, but the dressing room as well.
The players were disjointed and out of rhythm, players seemed to get in each other’s way and stray away from their positions. The fans have been tired of their manager for a long time and now it seems, so are the players. At some time in the Nou Camp, boos from the fans echoed around the stadium and in his post-match conference, Valverde accepted the shortcomings of his side and understood why the fans ideally want “more” from the team based on the quality they possess.
It’s the worst Barcelona performance in a long time and it does not look like just a wobble or loss of form. It is an inability to turn it on when it is really needed.
After this game, Barcelona could go into the weekend and smash Celta Vigo 5-0 again and all will be forgiven till they go away from home or play in Europe. It has happened before and will likely happen again.
You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that away form is vital in the league campaign and in Europe, so a team truly as ambitious as Barcelona has to do better in this regard.
If at this point (with nearly three months of competitive football played), when Barcelona have struggled to beat Inter Milan and couldn’t even beat Slavia at home, then what will be their fate be by February next year, if and when they do make it into the last 16? By then, nobody will be afraid of Barcelona or worse still, the Camp Nou which was once upon a time a scary place for even the biggest names in Europe, could end up becoming easy targets if things continue this way.
Losing out in the knockout phase would be disgraceful in every way and Valverde won’t stand a chance against the sack by then. It would actually come as a surprise if Barcelona continue this way and still maintain any ambitions of winning the Champions League. It remains to be seen whether or not Valverde has long left with the Spanish champions, but in the meantime, here’s what he could do to salvage the current crisis.
Sort out his best lineup
Quite frankly, Antoine Griezmann has not worked out.
Tuesday looked like a good chance for him to play at his preferred centre forward role but Messi took that role instead and played as the false nine. The Argentine forward was coming really deep and wasn’t heavily involved in the press as a false nine should. As the player who essentially owns that position, it was obvious that he hadn’t played there in a while.
Griezmann has not enjoyed playing on the left and he didn’t enjoy it on Tuesday night either. Ousmane Dembele’s favourite position is on the left wing, but he featured on the right where Messi plays normally.
The 28-year-old will continue to receive criticism in regards to his performances as long as he does not get the opportunity he needs to prove himself in his preferred position.
Honestly, the team selection up front was wrong and it showed with all the three attackers’ lack of comfort in the positions they all played.
We are in November and Valverde still does not know his team’s best midfield. Barcelona’s midfield over the years has been the team’s most stable position, but that’s not the case anymore. There are so many things Valverde isn’t on top of at the moment and it is hurting the team badly.
Consistency needs to come. Consistency in the lineup and team selection. Although this has not been helped by injuries, there are still other areas that have been changed up too much and it affects the team chemistry as a whole.
Dismiss over-reliance on Lionel Messi
Actual tactical insight to promote collective football is also needed. Barcelona have become reliant on the form of individual players (well, just Messi) and when they don’t turn up, they can’t find a solution. There has to be a pattern in place that they can play with and execute no matter the eleven on that occasion. It is not about having the best players, it is about having the best team.
On the lacklustre night against Slavia, Messi was once again the only real standout player, and the player second to his Whoscored rating of 8.32 wasn’t even an outfield player – Ter Stegen at 7.36. On many occasions, this has been the scenario and while Messi might be genius enough to bail them out on many of these occasions, he isn’t getting any younger and might not be the difference in every game – as Tuesday evening suggested.
Managers can get their game plan wrong from time to time, and realizing that quickly enough and reacting accordingly is what being a great coach is all about. Valverde needs to be more tactically adaptable in games that need him to be, or his team will continue to struggle.
Barcelona, whether they like it or not, are a team on the verge of a crisis and they need to make drastic changes if they don’t want the wounds to cut too deep and become irreparable.