Barcelona, despite Bayern now attempting to take the crown, have easily been the most dominant team of the last decade. However, any serious viewer of world football can attest to having always been amazed that Barcelona have tasted success while fielding defensive players that seem moments away from being exposed as anything less than top-tier. But, it seems that the back-line of Barcelona is starting to be exposed…and it may cost the Catalan giants their best shot at a title this season. Let’s take a look at Barcelona’s growing defensive deficiency and the issues facing the club.
First, we take a peek at the goalkeeper. Valdes is capable of making some impressive saves and his move away from Barcelona this season will probably see him moving to a big club and receiving a fat paycheck. However, Valdes has always seemed to be anything but reliable. His passing is not at the same level of his teammates and he could find himself looking exposed when playing against some of the greater caliber teams in the Champions League. For anyone familiar with goalkeeping and Barcelona, Valdes making a departure actually opened up the possibility for big improvement between the sticks. The rumor is that Marc-Andre ter Stegen is already signed, meaning that a 21 year old keeper with a mountain of talent already on display could quickly improve the situation in this area of the pitch.
Second, the central defenders. Pique is a Champions League winner and a starting World Cup winner, yet he (like Valdes) has always felt overrated and prone to some defensive lapses. In today’s loss against Valencia, Pique was directly responsible for several mistakes that led to huge chances and goals. Despite his height, he has always seemed to struggle against strong attackers and has also never looked proficient against lots of pace. I have always been impressed with his scoring touch, but Pique could be improved upon. His partner, Mascherano, starts for international giants Argentina and seems to be an easy first choice every single time that Barca take the pitch. However, Mascherano has never been a defender and his play suggests that he still plays like a defensive midfielder. His size is an obvious liability from set-pieces and his style has always been dominated by taking the high-risk choice over the smart defensive move (a move typical of a defensive mid that has players behind him in case the risk does not pay off). In La Liga, there have been several obviously mistimed tackles by Mascherano where the Argentine has been the beneficiary of ref-bias towards Barcelona. For a club with such large resources (put on display by the Neymar purchase), it is amazing that they are content with a defensive-midfielder on the back-line when they could easily purchase a worthwhile defender.
Last, the wing-backs. For seasons, Dani Alves has streaked up the right wing and provided an attacking outlet that has wreaked havoc with opposing defenses. Now, however, Barcelona are in need of defenders that need to stay closer to home. With both wide defenders constantly pushing all the way up and in the opposition penalty box at the same time, the back-line of Barcelona has always seemed like two defenders with Sergio Busquets sitting in front of them as they face attacks from the opponent. While Jordi Alba has impressed since his move to Barca, this is form of attacking that is starting to cost the Catalans. Can Barcelona maintain their attacking prowess while still having Alves and Alba stay a bit closer to home or maybe only having one push forward at a time?
Now Atletico Madrid has overtaken Barcelona at the top of the table. Considering the form of the two Madrid teams and the way that Barcelona are starting to play, it seems that Barcelona might have fallen off the top of the heap for good. Will they be able to fix the defensive woes and return to the form that had become synonymous with Messi and Co.? If not, we might truly be seeing a massive changing of the guard in Spain that has been slowly taking place in the Champions League landscape…with Barcelona ending up suffering the most.