Another Step Backwards! Barça lack ideas against Shakhtar in Champions League

Another Step Backwards! Barça lack ideas against Shakhtar in Champions League

Justifying for Barcelona’s poor performance in the 2023–2024 season.

La Liga was won by Barcelona in the 2022–2023 season. It wasn’t even close, really. La Blaugrana defeated Real Madrid, their bitter rivals, on a regular basis during the season, reclaiming the title from the 2021–2022 La Liga and Champions League winners. Led by striker Robert Lewandowski, they achieved this behind a defense that gave up fewer goals than any other team in European football.


But in the 2023–2024 season, Barcelona hasn’t been as successful. They are now two points behind Real Madrid and four points behind leaders Girona in third place in La Liga. And they recently suffered a 1-0 loss to Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League, a competition they have struggled with over the years. This loss followed a scare with Real Sociedad and an devastating defeat to Madrid.


Although it’s crucial to avoid getting carried away by a few bad games, Barcelona hasn’t played as well as they could have started the 2023–2024 campaign. Let us examine the rationale behind this, attempting to provide some encouraging insights along the way.


Regression on defense

This was easily predicted before the season began, and many LaLiga supporters were actually speculating about whether regression would affect the defense during the 2022–2023 championship run. It is more than reasonable to argue that Barcelona’s level of defensive dominance was unsustainable, even though it would be utterly unfair to assume that their 2022–2023 defensive performance was the result of pure luck.

Barça obviously had excellent defensive players. Among the best goalies in the world is Marc-André ter Stegen. Alejandro Baldé was Europe’s best left back the previous season. Ronald Araújo, Jules Koundé, and fantastic free signing On paper, Andreas Christensen completed a defense that was loaded with talent. And Sergio Busquets of Barça was reading the game in front of them.


It was impossible for La Blaugrana to continue conceding just 20 goals in 38 LaLiga games, not even in light of their caliber. That is less than one goal per game on average!


Therefore, statistically speaking, Barcelona’s defense will be a little worse this season. Furthermore, Barça gave up some defensive stability by bringing in João Cancelo to take the place of a center back at right back. Ignore any analysis of Cancelo’s specific defensive shortcomings. Defense will always be somewhat compromised when an attacking fullback replaces a top center back. And there’s the much larger issue of the legendary Busquets’ loss, of course.


Barcelona has less leeway to make mistakes in those close games when they lose a historically outstanding defensive performance. In all honesty, Barça have kept some of that, judging from the way ter Stegen supported them in their most recent 1-0 victory over La Real, a game in which they were significantly outplayed for the majority of the ninety minutes.


They were virtually unbeatable in defense last season, but that hasn’t been the case in every game. Barcelona’s defense is strong, but they are no longer unbeatable. In 2023–2024, they needed to be ready for that reality.

Absence in the midfield

More concerning than the defensive deterioration from “legendary” to “good” is the quantity of midfield player absences. The void left by Busquets’ departure is, quite frankly, impossible for Oriol Romeu to fill. However, with an elite 6 now costing as much as a top 9, Barça lacked an affordable, short-term replacement to hold down the position. (Just ask Real Madrid; when all is said and done, they very well could spend a total of 100 million euros on Aurélien Tchouaméni.)and it’s evidently already been well worth the money).


In case the loss of Busquets wasn’t enough, Barcelona has experienced injuries to their two best players overall in the middle of the park. Pedri’s injury problems are still hurting the team. Operating at the highest possible creative and technical level, he is the biggest differentiator in their XI.


Then there is the unavoidable loss of Frenkie de Jong, LaLiga’s best midfield player this year. Taking into account his Barcelona teammates, Toni Kroos, Dani Parejo, Mikel Merino, Aleix García, and Sergi Darder, and others, FDJ was regarded as the 2022–2023 team’s best player overall at any midfield position.


It’s because de Jong handles everything. He creates opportunities, wins possession, tracks back, engages in close battles, and carries the ball. Every bit the player Barcelona believed they were getting from Ajax a few seasons ago, De Jong is an all-around workhorse. If losing Busquets is painful, imagine how much more so losing de Jong for a few months. Barça will also be unable to replace him.


In terms of their consistency in possession, inventiveness in the closing third, resilience in defense, and fundamental identity as a team, Barcelona has been severely harmed by these absences.


Same issues with the attack

While it is impossible to assign blame for the first two problems, Barcelona’s decision-makers are at fault for this one. With the caliber of their attack the previous season, they already saw the warning signs, as it took a few heroic performances from Raphinha and Robert Lewandowski to win the game. Even so, they weren’t always sure things would work out. Although Raphinha was a player with “moments” that made his price seem exorbitant, Lewandowski had numerous games in the second half of the season in which he ghosted or made too many glaring technical errors.

Barcelona also lost Ousmane Dembélé, their most dynamic winger. One could argue that he was their only real winger when looking at things holistically. Lamine Yamal has, in some respects, taken his place on La Blaugrana, but it’s not the best idea to put too much trust in a 16-year-old.

João Félix is more of a support striker than a winger, but his deft ball handling has been useful as a creative force. He doesn’t provide breadth. Barcelona is essentially down to Raphinha and Yamal. With his difficult choices, shoot-first attitude, and mediocre finishing, Ferran Torres remains a huge disappointment. Despite his talent as a football player, Torres might not be good enough to play every day for Barcelona.

That’s the main problem at hand. Nobody else has the ability to break the game except Yamal. Furthermore, Yamal isn’t yet consistent enough at his age to have a significant the result of most games at the end. Other than Lewandowski, who is, to be honest, more of a true 9 than the kind of dynamic force Barcelona needs to compete with the best teams in the Champions League, the club does not have a superstar forward.


A Félix, Lewandowski, and Yamal front three is a formidable combination. However, the questions arise when you discuss adding more players to the mix. And even those three by themselves are insufficient to match the offensive firepower of teams like Manchester City or Bayern Munich.


Barcelona’s offensive is strong. Their attack isn’t very strong. Moreover, if they wish to succeed in the Champions League, more big names are needed. Real Madrid still has two true superstars in Jude Bellingham and Vinícius Júnior who have the ability to change a game in an instant, as Barça supporters have seen firsthand. This is despite their struggles without Karim Benzema. Lewandowski is arguably the only one Barça has, and even some Culers will argue against him.


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