While Barcelona’s results this season have been poor, they haven’t best illustrated the demise of a club struggling to see the way forward. Draws against Granada and Cadiz have left the Catalans slumped in seventh place in the La Liga table after five fixtures, but these are two teams Barca lost to last season. Instead, it is the manner of the performances produced that have Ronald Koeman fighting for his job.
Against Cadiz on Thursday night, just as was the case against Granada on Monday, Barcelona were lifeless. They mustered just two shots on target and never really looked like scoring. Their attack was toothless and creative edge dulled. Of the Barca players who started only Yusuf Demir, who was withdrawn at half time, had fewer touches of the ball than centre forward Luuk de Jong.
For a club that has long provided a platform for some of the game’s most devastating attackers, this is a sorry state of affairs. It is therefore unsurprising that Koeman is under intense pressure, with recent reports speculating Roberto Martinez could replace the Dutchman if a managerial change is made. Among the Barca fanbase and the Catalan commentariat, support for Koeman is dwindling.
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Much has been made of Barcelona’s off-the-pitch problems in recent months, with their perilous financial situation threatening the very existence of the club. These troubles are now manifesting in the performances being produced on the pitch. With Lionel Messi gone, Barca’s fundamental structural problems as a team are being brutally exposed.
Not for nearly 20 years have Barca been in such bad shape on the pitch. The Catalans have finished in La Liga’s top three for each of the last 18 seasons, but this Barcelona team might struggle to merely keep their spot in the top four this season. There is certainly nothing in the start Koeman’s side have made to the campaign to suggest they will match Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid.
In the early 2000s, Barca experienced a painful generational transition that saw them finish a lowly sixth in the 2002/03 season. This current transition, however, is on another scale. Not only have Barcelona lost their greatest ever player, they have lost the identity that distinguished them from every other team.
Koeman has been dealt a difficult hand, but his lack of ambition has sedated a team that should still be capable of much better. The Dutchman has more than once refuted the suggestion that Barcelona could challenge for the Spanish title this season and this has led to a certain directionless in the dressing room.
Barca are currently playing without a purpose. Standards have dropped not just as a result of the players that have left the club, but in the way Koeman is seemingly willing to accept mediocrity. Several young players have been brought through, improving Barcelona’s chances of long-term recovery, but Koeman isn’t doing nearly enough to forge them into a winning team.
The high-press that once made Barcelona the most difficult opposition team to play against has completely gone. At times, Koeman’s side are passive in the way they allow teams to play their own game - see how Bayern Munich completely dictated things at the Camp Nou only last week. Barca are no longer proactive. Instead, they are reactive.
Cadiz found it far too easy to sit deep and prevent Barcelona from getting in behind. Illustrating this, it took until stoppage time of the first half for a Barca player to be called offside. There is no width to their play and no passing patterns either. The return of Ansu Fati and Pedri from injury might help in both regards, but the Camp Nou club should be beyond relying on two teenagers to bail them out.
There might be bigger issues dragging Barcelona down, ones that will take years to resolve, but replacing Koeman might at least give the club a chance to instil some principles for the future. Of course, this would depend on finding the right man to take over, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Dutchman is the wrong man to be in charge. He is not helping things.
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