The loss to Valencia at Camp Nou on Sunday night (1-2) proved that the Blaugrana are in free fall and the possibility of winning the La Liga for a second straight time now is in serious jeopardy.
About a month ago, the Spanish giant had managed to qualify to the quarter-finals in the Champions League, while, at the same time, they were dominating their opponents in the Spanish league.
Consequently, they had an 11 and 12-point advantage from Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid, respectively, while they were considered the favourites to claim the Champions League for a second time in a row. However, things have been completely different for the Spaniards in April.
After seeing their 39-game undefeated streak come to an end, they have failed to win in their last four La Liga matches, claiming only one point out of possible 12, while they were also eliminated by Atletico Madrid in Europe (despite their 2-1 victory at home), thanks to a 2-0 loss to the “Rojiblancos”, at “Vicente Calderon”.
Consequently, with five matches remaining in the championship, the situation has become very difficult for coach Luis Enrique and his players.
The “Blaugrana” need to remain undefeated in order not only to win the title, but also claim the Copa del Rey, as they will face Sevilla in the Spanish Cup’s Final.
That said, why has the squad played so badly in the past 40 days?
First of all, it’s obvious that most players are extremely tired and unable to play at the same high standards. More specifically, key players, like Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic, make many mistakes and negatively affect the side’s balance on both ends of the floor, as their presence in the midfield line is of utmost importance.
In addition, the main problem is that the entire offensive line (Lionel Messi, Neymar, Luis Suarez) is in free fall lately.
The fact that they have missed very few games this season has certainly had a negative effect on Barcelona’s front three, which has been simply unstoppable this season, having scored 109 goals in total (Suarez 45, Messi 37, Neymar 27).
But, they haven’t been properly rested during the season and that’s why they have made mediocre performances lately.
Concerning Luis Suarez, the Uruguayan player seems to be the only one that can still make the difference, although it’s certain that he cannot keep playing at an elite level, if we take into account that he has started in 39 games in the Spanish league and Europe (30 and nine, respectively) and hasn’t missed a minute.
For his part, Neymar plays far below his average standards and his mediocre performances have significantly affected him, both mentally and physically.
The most impressive thing, though, is that the Brazilian striker has been transformed from the greatest player on the planet in the beginning of the season to a player that can’t get the job done.
For example, Neymar scored 18 goals in the first three months of the season (September, October and November), whereas in the past three ones (February, March and April) he has scored just six times.
Regarding Messi, the Argentinian superstar has failed to be the club’s leader in the past six straight games.
Although he had scored 24 goals and dished nine assists in 19 games in 2016, he didn’t score and dish an assist for five consecutive games, for the first time since 2010, breaking his goal-less streak in Barcelona’s defeat against Valencia (1-2).
Moreover, he also failed to score for 515 minutes, which is the third worst record in his career, with his previous ones being in 2007 (816 minutes) and 2008 (757 minutes), respectively.
Another key factor that has led to Barcelona’s downfall is that the team’s bench hasn’t offered decent solutions, both defensively and offensively.
Especially Arda Turan, despite his early promise, has showed his unsuitability to playing in Barca’s midfield line, while Aleix Vidal is now third-choice right-back.
Neither of the two has become the extra quality that this squad needed last summer, with Luis Enrique having no other option, but to consecutively use the same players and that’s why the team has been in deep crisis lately.
“99.9 per cent… no, 100 per cent. As the manager I am ultimately responsible, so it’s on me. 100 per cent,” said the Catalan manager, who didn’t make any substitutes in the loss to Valencia on Sunday night.
“I didn’t make any changes because it would have been unjust to the 11 on the field,” the Barca boss would claim. “They were all at a very high level.”
At the end, although the team made a decent performance against Valencia, compared to their previous five ones, they now need to play much better, if they want to retain their title.
With the team facing Deportivo La Coruna (away), Sporting Gijon (home), Real Betis (away), Espanyol (home) and Granada (away), respectively, in its last five league games, they have to claim all possible points in order to earn the title, (as they are currently tied with Atletico Madrid in first place, with Real Madrid only a point behind them).
Otherwise, they will end the season in the most disappointing way.