Atletico Madrid v Barcelona: Ever wondered what a club treading water looks like? It’s Barca
With Barcelona set to face Atletico Madrid in the Spanish capital on Saturday Pete Sharland looks at the Catalan club and how they are the perfect example of a club who is merely treading water. Everywhere you look there are people simply waiting, nothing more.
Lionel Messi (links) und Antonie Griezmann spielen gemeinsam für den FC Barcelona
The presidential model that is used by Barcelona and Real Madrid (among others) has always been interesting. Watching potential leaders of these two super-clubs talk to the media and make campaign promises can be a bit surreal at times. It can also create some unique situations. Take the current moment Barcelona find themselves in. the new president won’t be elected until January and the old president has already resigned after intense protests from the club’s supporters.
For the next few months, and the majority of the January transfer window, the decisions will be made by acting president Carlos Tusquets. He will be working alongside the sporting director Ramon Planes and manager Ronald Koeman. All three men weren’t in their roles five months ago and they might be out of those roles in nine months time depending on who wins the election at the end of January.
Then you have the players. How do players like Ousmane Dembele, Philippe Coutinho or Antoine Griezmann fit in? The current board might be tempted to sell one of them in January to raise funds, but what if the new board saw them as a key component?
El presidente de la Comisión Gestora del FC Barcelona Carles Tusquets
Image credit: Twitter
Then there’s the big guy, well the little big guy, Lionel Messi. His contract is due to expire next season and there is no chance there is any movement on this until January. Then, five months before Messi’s contract is due to expire, will we finally get some sort of clue as to Messi’s plans. Even then, we may not know, some reports have suggested that Argentine won’t immediately commit to a president even if he aligns with his views, such as Victor Font for example. That means a new board might have five months (and no window) to show Messi enough to commit to a new contract. In an exclusive Eurosport Spain report that after Pep Guardiola signed a new two-year deal Manchester City will now turn their attention to bringing Messi in. The club were reportedly the front-runners for Messi in the summer and they plan to offer him a contract in January when he can begin talking to other clubs.
If you look across the club there are countless examples of people whose future is unknown, that all rest on the elections. It’s a bizarre situation and you can see it borne out on the pitch. Barcelona have been wildly inconsistent this season, losing to Getafe and drawing at ten-man Alaves, yet also beating Juventus away and hammering a more than decent Villarreal team. At times they look electric going forward, at others they look like total strangers. The best defensive player has been teenager Sergino Dest, a surprise and late arrival in the window.
The recent Clasico was the perfect example. In the first half Barcelona regularly opened Real Madrid up, but they couldn’t take their chances. They then gifted Real a goal through some shambolic defending. Barcelona left themselves far too exposed in the second half and were hit by two Real goals, albeit the penalty was courtesy of a questionable VAR call. Barcelona were all over the place, there was no coherent plan.
It is a stark contrast to Saturday’s opponents Atletico Madrid. This time last year we were all questioning Diego Simeone. Had his methods become outdated? Had they let too much experience leave? What were they doing in the transfer market? Yet Enrique Cerezo, who has been in charge of Atletico since 2003, kept faith in Simeone and sporting director Andrea Berta, that they knew what they were doing.
This season Atletico sit third in the league, three points off league leaders Real Sociedad but with two games in hand. There’s a pretty good argument to be made that they have been the best team in Spain. They’re a point ahead of city rivals Real Madrid with a game in hand and six ahead of Barca having played the same number of matches.
Diego Simeone, der Atlético seit Januar 2012 trainiert, ist bekannt für sein emotionales Coaching
Image credit: Getty Images
Simeone’s 4-4-2 remains but he’s made subtle tweaks. Luis Suarez, effectively forced out by the Barca board and Koeman who remember may not be here next season, has added a new dimension to their team. Suarez won’t be able to play on Saturday after testing positive for Coronavirus but he’s brought the best out of Joao Felix, and given an example for Marcos Llorente, who has been moved to playing as a centre-forward. Koke is playing more centrally and is back in the Spain squad, things are working like a smooth well-oiled machine. Only Real Sociedad's Mikel Oyarzabal (6) has more La Liga goals than Felix (5) and Suarez (5) this season. Atletico remain the best defensive team in Spain, only two players have scored past Jan Oblak this season and one of those was Jorge Molina for Granada when his team were already 5-0 down.
Barcelona’s staggering mis-management over the past few years is not new, and it has been discussed widely. But coming up against a well-run club like Atletico only throws it further into focus. Atletico keep selling players to be able to afford the signings they make, there’s a clear strategy. At Barcelona it’s not even clear if there is a strategy. Players are sold and signed without any rhyme or reason.
Ultimately Barcelona are stuck in a state of stasis, one that won’t lift until the elections take place in January. Then the new president can begin undoing the mess that has been left to them. For now, they’re just a zombie club. Albeit a zombie club that have possibly the greatest player to ever live.