Nowadays, it is very easy to make lazy comments and label a player a “flop”, “too old” and any other label you can think of. Many of the players currently at Barcelona at some point were given those names, and the fanbase almost blames the team problems on them. Let alone the signings that do not fit with the team, the ones already in the team are not performing as expected and in reality that drops the level of the whole team down.
Most of us fans, pundits, journalists highlight the need for a new head coach, labelling the current manager as “clueless” and unable to bring the right ideas that the team needs. The summer of 2020 too did not produce the long-awaited defensive improvement. The team can’t focus on creating chemistry between each other in the attacking half because the foundation is missing.
For around ten years Barcelona successfully established extraordinary press high up the field and attempted to recover the ball immediately after losing it. The last few seasons, however, they have changed and tried to adopt a different approach. In situations where they have to protect a result most notably in the Champions League or sustain constant pressure from the opponent, they have ultimately failed to come up winners.
This season the defensive line is unchanged. Some will say that mistakes happen and they just had a couple of bad games, but Barcelona’s performances in 2020 as a whole have been awful. Lost 11 games out of 45 played. To put that in perspective, they lost 16 out of 145 under Ernesto Valverde.
Not all were defensive errors, but it felt like the defence will let the team down in the critical moments of the season. And so far this is exactly what we are getting. Dropping points against Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Cadiz, Valencia all because of unforced errors in the defence. It is easy to say that without those defensive mistakes the table would look way better; however, they are present in Barcelona’s game for quite some time now, and most people associated with the club would like to look in other directions.
Jordi Alba – individual performance analysis
Jordi Alba is the perfect option on the left side of the back four when you have possession monsters all around the field like Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets all in their prime. However, when the team changes a little bit, and more is required in defence from the full-backs, Jordi Alba is proven to make mistakes out of nothing.
Liverpool’s first goal comes from an attempt to head the ball back to his teammate from Jordi Alba, who is completely unaware of his positioning on the pitch and where Sadio Mane is. Failure to deal with that ball and late recovery runs from midfield leads to 1:0 early on.
This year against Dinamo Kyiv there once again he couldn’t deal with a ball in his area, loses the control of the space behind, the overlapping run is not tracked and clear chance follows for Dinamo that Ter Stegen needs to save. On another day, that is a goal.
Another part of his game that is vital for Barcelona is his runs forward, but when he needs to come back and defend his space, more often than not he does not, and somebody else needs to cover that space. In that case against Real Sociedad, the covering duties are given to Mingueza, and he is one-on-one with Isak with nobody around to help, while Jordi Alba jogs back in a training pace. Mingueza misjudges the flight of the ball, Isak is through on goal and Pedri comes back to save a clear goalscoring opportunity.
Clement Lenglet – Individual performance analysis
He seems to be losing concentration, and the type of mistakes that he makes are just basic. Once again, the situation is very much under control with the backline is good shape and position. The ball gets played to McKennie and Lenglet loses his composure, goes to win the ball and he has to run back facing his own goal. He loses the focus and forgets that the moment he leaves his position, there is a massive gap in behind. He gets distracted by the run of Cristiano Ronaldo, and Ronald Araujo tracks the same run also. Juventus felt comfortable going forward precisely because of that. They did not have to make decisions with the ball, but wait for the gamble of Barcelona defenders and the spaces were going to appear. Comical goal to concede at any level, let alone Champions League football.
When he is paired with Pique, we get the feeling that he has a little bit more confidence in him. However, most of the times, they are not on the same page in the way they want to defend.
Although the situation is relatively easy to deal with and support is coming from Sergio Busquets, Pique decides that he needs to jump in and win the ball back from Benzema. However, Lenglet points out the danger space in behind, but Pique already has made his mind up. He jumps in and leaves a huge gap behind from which Real Madrid scores early in the game.
In that same game, Lenglet gifts a penalty to Real Madrid with his horrific positioning from set-pieces and has no idea where is Sergio Ramos. Lenglet misjudges the flight of the ball and fouls Ramos for a penalty. Two goals for Real Madrid coming from absolutely nothing but poor decision making, no communication and panic reactions from both centre backs.
Gerard Pique – individual performance analysis
Maybe it is uncomfortable to talk negatively about Pique, but the fact is, he has not been up to the required standards for some time now. Another situation in recent years where there is no need for intervention and a simple situation that requires one-on-one defending and composure Pique lost his head and again, a comical penalty is conceded out of nothing. 2:0 Roma and we all know how that ended.
Just as a side note – Roma’s first goal is also out of a long ball and this time Umtiti has no idea how to react or prevent the danger and just battles with Dzeko while the ball is bouncing around him.
Usually, the positioning of the defenders and anticipation are the most important things in crossing situations. Liverpool second goal comes from a cross. Lenglet’s positioning is too low and in an area that he is not affecting the play in any way. 2:0.
Seconds later on the other side of the pitch, the cross comes in, and this time Pique is in a position that takes him out of the play. He can’t challenge the incoming cross, nor can he make it harder for Wijnaldum to head the ball. Origi and Wijnaldum are both between the two centre backs for Barcelona, but Pique is busy looking at the ball. Everybody is just watching and reacting. 3:0 from an identical situation and two goals conceded in 122 seconds in extremely “cheap” manner. This illustrates what I meant by Pique and Lenglet are usually on different pages on how to defend different situations throughout the game. There is no chemistry between them, seemingly they work as individuals and almost certainly once or twice per game there is a mistake of that sort.
The structure of the team does not necessarily allow changes to the formation of play or the way the team defends. Formation with three defenders will allow Pique and Lenglet to have a bit more support, plus Jordi Alba can occupy the wingback spot which would make him look a bit more interested in his defensive duties because there will be more support in that area.
Any coach will struggle to successfully put his philosophy on the field when the team keeps on getting compromised defensively, and no result feels safe anymore. There is a lot of talk about Manchester United’s lack of quality central defenders, and the situation is similar in Barcelona with a lack of depth and quality in that position. However, the difference is that Manchester United has choices of pure defensive midfielders and the squad to play with a double pivot in most games that the opposition has the ability to hurt them, they will surrender the ball, sit back deep and narrow, and counter-attack at will.
Barcelona does not have the personnel to do that, nor the fanbase has the patience to see anything different than dominant football. However, the foundation for the dominant football is missing because the team doesn’t work as a unit defensively. Most mistakes seem like there is a lack of focus and truly basic errors that aren’t serving as motivation to bounce back but creating panic and anxiety in the players sending them chaotically and without any precise idea to look for a goal themselves. There isn’t confidence in some of the players, and every goal conceded demoralizes them further, especially when there are individual errors.
Rewards not equal to performances
All of this should’ve been addressed on the transfer market, but once again neglected. New elections are coming, and the promises and expectations are for new stars. That is just some of the major games that turned Barcelona’s fortunes around in many people’s eyes. However, even after defeats and mistakes so evident, the club decides to reward those players with new contracts, regardless of their mediocre performance.
Those decisions suggest to the fanbase and the followers of Barcelona that the club will tolerate average performances and even more they will give out new contracts depending on off the field factors and relationships rather than performance. Performance-wise those defenders should not be anywhere close to the first team of Barcelona, which should tell you all you need to know about the club at this moment.