There is no doubt that what Barcelona has achieved over the last 12 years is nothing short of dominant. Considering Barca has had to contend with Real Madrid as a main rival for the many domestic and European trophies won, this makes the victories all the more significant.
Combining the trophies with a style of football which is considered both attractive and representative of how the game should be played, adds further impetus to the notion that the core of Barcelona’s squad, particularly the Starting XI between 2008 and 2011, can lay serious claim to being the best club side ever.
Yes Lionel Messi has been with Barcelona since 2004 and yes many claim he is Barca’s and the world’s best ever, but the Catalans were much more than just Messi. The likes of Carlos Puyol, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Ronaldinho, Thierry Henry, Samuel Eto’o and Dani Alves are some of the names who were part of this great Barca era.
Fast forward to the 2015-16 season and one cannot help but notice the weaknesses creeping into Barca’s squad despite winning the Spanish league title. The ominous signs were there but the cracks were papered by the presence of a lethal trio comprising Messi, Luis Suarez and the freshly minted PSG star Neymar.
The 2016-17 was perhaps Barca’s worst season in terms of performances as Italian champions Juventus dismantled Barcelona 3-0 in Turin in the 1st leg of the quarter-finals of the Champions League. The warning signs were clear in the previous round when PSG hammered Barca 4-0 only to lose 1-6 in Spain due to a mental collapse by the French team’s players accompanied with a few critical decisions which went Barca’s way.
Setting aside the Champions League failure, Barca could not retain the La Liga title despite boasting Messi, Suarez & Neymar, also referred to as MSN. The Copa del Rey triumph as a mere consolation in an otherwise disappointing season. Sunday’s home defeat to Real Madrid in the Supercopa de España further highlighted Barca’s weaknesses.
With Neymar gone, Barca’s even more dependent on Messi. If the Argentine wizard moves and creates, then Barca is can become dangerous. However, when Messi stops, the Catalian side looks rather mediocre and inept. This over reliance on Messi is countered by a very well-balanced Real Madrid starting XI where even Ronaldo’s absence can be overcome.
Last season, when Ronaldo was rested for a number of Real’s away games, the likes of Isco, Alvaro Morata and Marco Asensio stepped up to fill the void. Barca could not afford to rest Messi and, as mentioned above, when the Argentina skipper did not deliver, the Catalans looked rather toothless.
Barca’s problems extend beyond the dependence on Messi. Defensively, the side is in desperate need of help and the signing of at least one quality centre-back would be a much welcome relief. In attack, make no mistake but Neymar’s departure has left a void. Suarez was great during the 2015-16 season but his level dropped during the last campaign and he is not a great creator like Messi or even Neymar. A new forward would greatly help Barca and ease the work-load off of Messi’s shoulders.
However, Barca’s greatest problems are in the middle of the park where the club has failed to replace Xavi (since 2015) and more importantly the great Andres Iniesta has slowed down considerably. Iniesta has not played 30 league games in a single season since the 2013-14 campaign due to injury. To add insult to injury, Sergio Busquets has been in perpetual decline despite not yet turning 30 years old.
One major signing might not be enough as even with Neymar last season, Barca looked rather lethargic and short of ideas when Messi was having an off night. All great things come to an end and it’s clearly the end of a winning cycle so urgent changes must be made so as not to waste the remaining few years of Messi’s legendary career.
It is time for Barca’s management to spend big and sign both Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho and Borussia Dortmund’s Ousmane Dembele. Otherwise, this season might be another wasted one, just like the 2015-16 campaign. Will Barca splash the money and sign a couple of star player? Mind you even signing both does not guarantee success with Real having a great squad, deep bench and exceptional quality in midfield.