Barcelona Season Review: Dynasty, Era, Legacy And The Next Chapter

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Dynasty: A powerful group or family that maintains its position for a considerable time.

Era: A long and distinct period of history with a particular feature or characteristic.

Legacy: anything handed down from the past, as from a predecessor.

Chapter: A distinct period or sequence of events, as in history or a person’s life.

The Beautiful Barcelona -An Epic Season Review

A lot has been said. Many wrote about the end of an era, dynasty, legacy, or chapter. After the Champions league exit, condolences were offered, fingers were pointed, and many heads were ready to be rolled. Barcelona fans have always held their heads high, Always supported their team, always held the Blaugrana colors close to their hearts, but constructive self-criticism has always been the impetus for building something big. And in order for a criticism to be constructive it has to be objective and firm.

So what went wrong?

First thing is first, Enough with all this “lets be proud with what we achieved in the past 5 seasons”. Sure we were superior and unplayable at times, but it’s done, Pep left, we stopped being authoritative, a new chapter has begun under Tito, and in a not so brilliant way. We can not criticize Madrid fans for bragging about their 1950-60’s titles and then do the same when we feel susceptible. We have a problem, period. There comes a time to acknowledge problems, face fears and work hard to overcome obstacles. what we all agree about is that big changes are needed. We can’t ignore weaknesses any longer, we can’t buy a midfielder and hope he turns out to be a Mascherano, instead of paying a bit more and getting a Thiago Silva. Saying that it is the end of Barca is not true. But it’s definitely the end of our time as the absolute best. Dynasties end, then a smart team starts to build a new one, on the condition of working hard and effortlessly correcting previous mistakes. When Pep walked away, His Chapter as the most successful manager in the club’s history was folded. But his legacy still stands, Tito will have the honor of managing it.

It’s about time we stop feeling like we’re on seventh heaven when we look at the statistics after a game and see our possession exceeding 60% , our passes over 500, and Xavi’s pass completion rate close to 100%. We used to deceive others with these numbers, now we are deceiving our selves. Bayern obliterated us with a 37% ball possession, and only 200 passes, which yielded more than 10 shots on target. We used to brag about these numbers because even when we lost, our style was always superior to that of our opponent, we used to loose and have a weird feeling of satisfaction because deep down we know that a strong comeback is just days away. All this changed this season, and no matter how much of a cule you are you cannot but admit that a feeling of uncertainty has crept to you every time you watch Barcelona play. We became so satisfied with mere possession that we stopped using it to penetrate; we only used it to protect our self. Of course this has always been the case, but now with the absence of high pressing to accompany possession, our inferior physicality exposed us.  Our superiority diminished. 1 shot on target against Milan and Bayern tells it all. Our style stopped being a revelation, its becoming a defense mechanism.

This season:

Valdes was a hesitant howler. Alba was an attacking midfielder turned left midfielder turned left back, incompatible with an Alves-type right back. Puyol was an aging has been. Pique was an inconsistent performer. Alves was a risk-taking, defensive duties-negligent fullback. Mascherano was an uncomfortable converted center back. Barta was an inexperienced former prospect. Busquets was a severely out of form midfielder. Xavi was an almost-always-besieged engine. Iniesta was a wondering confused maestro. Song was an unneeded, center back failed experiment. Thiago was a waste of talent, scarce chances casualty. Pedro was an intermittent headless chicken Alexis was a hard working, buried Messi-victim. Villa was an outcome of rejection, injury, and dissatisfaction. Tello was an unconfident, decision-making deficient.  Fabregas was an undecided support-lacking player. Montoya was a once worthy Alves heir. Adriano was a puzzled fringe player. Jonathan D.S was Giovani’s brother (enough said). Abidal was a survivor first footballer second. Tito was an ailing, charisma-lacking, fearful second man turned manager. So, when Messi was unavailable (regardless the reason) whom of the above stood up?

Managing what you inherit is different from building on it. Guardiola inherited a  gigantic squad from Rijkaard, while Tito inherited a predictable, one-dimensional team.

Tito failed this season, but he is not a failure (One seasons is not enough to judge). Guardiola’s claims that all his work was based on Tito’s thoughts is an indicator of how good Tito is. Although its only modesty, I believe pep is as much brilliant as he is modest. Guardiola’s main trait was that he is an amazing anticipator, he studies opponents very well then implements his strategy based on their weaknesses and strengths. Something that Tito was deprived from this season. Imagine a person dealing with cancer, pain, treatment, media, travelling abroad, family, and then he has to practice his job (which is a full time job that requires more than the divinely assigned 24 hours) that’s why this season is not a fair assessment for  his abilities.

Part of this season’s problem is psychological. Guardiola was a great motivator, he knew how to instill a mentality in his players where each and every one of them believes that he can make a difference. Now it seems as if they forgot that they can do it without Messi. Players got so hooked up on Messi that they forgot that they too have great qualities. Maybe Guardiola anticipated all that is happening now and he decided to leave while on top before seeing all what he worked for destroyed by the same star he helped flourish, Messi.

A team’s attack should not be built around one player, even if he is the absolute best. This seasons it became obvious that Messi has been hiding most of our flaws the past two seasons. His constant dropping deep left opposition’s defense unoccupied. Our team’s only set up was to provide space for Messi to exploit, at the expense of other players qualities, leaving us one-dimensional when he was absent, out of form, or heavily marked.

Guardiola should be partially blamed for beginning the Messidependencia, although he did it for the right reasons, continuing with it under Tito only got us into trouble. This season, Messi was our top scorer in all competitions with 58 goals, followed by Villa with 16, then Fabregas with 14. In our 2008/09 season and before our over-reliance on Messi, a season which was historic in every aspect, Messi ended up having 38 goals, Etoo 36, and Henry 26. What does this say? We have been celebrating individual excellence way more than collective achievements, which is not normal in a club like Barcelona.

Our most successful season was when we had Eto, Henry, and Messi upfront. Three strikers with different qualities. All three were capable of scoring and when one was not in form the other 2 performed. Now our front three are Lionel Messi, the other two only work to accommodate him. Even with the same 3 (Pedro, Messi, Villa) Guardiola won the CL against Man Utd with all 3 scoring, because he simply played to the capabilities of all 3, unlike now.

As long as Messi is here he will only play in the middle thus weakening our front three rendering us vulnerable at the back. Ibra was bought , he scored 5 from 5, Messi got upset, texts pep in the bus after an away game:” I think I am not important for the team any more, I want to play in the middle”. Pep –  knowing Messi’s qualities, as well as the consequences of upsetting him – ends up playing him back in the middle, and Ibra relegated to the bench. For this team to rise again Messi’s role has to change.

Messi should not be played as the lone striker upfront, even if he is capable of scoring 60+ goals per season (ineffective since almost half of these goals are coming against weaker teams or when a game is already won) because, as a system, we loose to much of his and other players effectiveness when he plays there. Messi should be either on the right side where he can link with Alves to devastating effect and cut to the left (his preferred move) or behind a poacher who is also capable of working his ass off trying to retrieve the ball (Cavani or Rooney type of player).

Our system should be manipulated or shifted to 3-4-3 (Cruyff played it and Guardiola tried it in his last season) with Busquets acting as a libero in front of the back three (Beckenbauer type), dropping back to defense when we don’t have the ball, and acting as the base of our diamond midfield of four.

Pep’s greatest innovation, intense collective pressing, now seems completely forgotten. Under Guardiola our defense was not prone to counterattacks like today because the opposition rarely had time to pick a good pass. This season we did not pressure opposing teams in to making mistakes. Almost all teams ended up having enough time to build attacks and hurt us. Guardiola used to say that the ball should be recovered as much closer to opposition goal as can be, and when our system depends on getting the ball to Messi in danger positions then we need Messi to always be free, fresh and in penalty area positions, hence not pressing when we don’t have the ball which is devastating to a system such as the tiki-taka. (verticality without upfront pressing is a guaranteed recipe for failure)

The difference between Pep and Tito’s systems is upfront pressing, our defense was weak with Guardiola and it is still weak with Vilanova, and it will remain weak even if we signed Hummels, Vermaelen, Agger, Kompany and Silva. Verticality leaves spaces for opposition to exploit, so if we don’t press hard and high up the pitch to regain possession, then our defensive weaknesses will be exposed. Pep did not solve our defensive difficulties, he simply covered them, he even won the CL final with a make shift defense, while this season and with our strongest backline we suffered a lot, because our pressing was absent (due to several reasons) thus leaving our defense vulnerable to quick counter attacks.

Another one of the differences between Pep and Tito’s systems are Alba and Fabregas. Alba is Alves’ equivalent (on the left), and a defense cannot function properly with two extremely attacking full backs, leaving us with only 2 defenders (easy to expose),  which lead to Busquets (who is relatively slow) trying relentlessly to cover for their forward runs. Abidal used to play as a left back with Guardiola and not a full back, his few bursts forward were carefully studied, his defensive contribution was great thus leading to a balanced defense when Alves goes forward. As for Fabregas, he played as a CF with Spain, a Cm and LM with barca, and as an ACM with arsenal, he already has the positioning sense of every position from the middle of the field and up, he should be Iniesta’s successor and nothing more. Tito and Del Bosque mismanaged him by playing him as a utility player.

Tiki-taka or possession football is the easiest to watch and enjoy, but it is the hardest to play and practice. Counter attacking football (4-2-3-1) is the easiest to play and get good results with, but is the least entertaining. That’s why Mourinho is ordinary, while Pep is extra ordinary. Mourinho is a title-chaser, numbers-lover, while Pep is a football protagonist.

Guardiola’s Barcelona will go down in history as one of the greats, if not the greatest of all. Along with Michel’s Ajax, 1970’s Brazil, Sacchi’s Milan, Quinta del Buitre’s Madrid, and 1980’s Liverpool, this team has built a Dynasty. A dynasty that is proving to have a finite lifetime. This team simply dominated its era. An era that ended last year, upon Pep’s stepping down.

This team will be remembered because it managed to achieve and entertain. 14 titles in 4 years is alone a near impossible task. Achieving this feat while playing a divine style of football is what sets this team apart. Holland’s 1974 and 1978 along with Brazil’s 1982 simply illustrate why Guardiola’s Barcelona is one step above all the rest. There is a slight deference between great teams and dynasty teams.

Simply said, it is a dual between 3 categories. Entertainers, winners, and entertaining winners. To further simplify: Cruyff’s Holland, 2012’s Chelsea and 2004’s Greece, and Guardiola’s Barcelona.

For neutrals, as much as football is about entertaining, it is about winning as well. Winning while entertaining is the hardest thing; we did it for 4 seasons. Now things have changed. If we dominate opponents, create but not take our chances whilst playing a stylish brand of attacking football yet losing to a stubborn, resolute defensive display, does this still call for celebration? Not anymore. It’s clearly becoming a matter of pragmatic winners versus romantic losers. We’ve been blessed with a team that knows how to win while playing a mind numbing style of football, and because maintaining your position when you’re at the pinnacle is much harder than reaching it, our legacy started to erode this season and no matter how proud we are with our players one can not deny the downward spiral this team is taking.

On 18 may 1994, a certain Milan side defeated Barcelona 4-0 marking the end of Cruyff’s “dream team”. 19 years, 11 months, and 4 days later Bayern Munich schooled Barcelona in a 4-0 win, which ironically ends “Dream team 2.0”

Details have gone against Barcelona, too; we have been desperately unlucky. Our coach suffered cancer, and so has Eric Abidal. Three center backs were absent. Fatigue gripped. Sergio Busquets was injured. So was Messi. Messi’s father had initiated that he was not ready, said the former director Josep María Minguella. Barcelona has become so dependent upon him that in his virtual absence, there was nothing. Where’s the Thierry Henry or Samuel Eto’o.

Barcelona has not finished as a great team, but it’s monopoly over the summit of world football has certainly ended. While it’s only natural, every great team reached a point where it faced a dip in performance; Bela Guttman’s Benfica, Sacchi’s Milan, Madrid’s Galacticos, and Cruyff’s Dream team are only some of the teams that ceased to dominate at some point, but a team that has bright young stars such as Messi, Thiago, Pique, Alba, Fabregas, Deulofeu, Sergi Roberto, and Pedro certainly has the thrust to rise again. Little tweaks are required.

Real Madrid beat us twice in 1 week, Milan bettered us in San Siro, PSG shackled us in both legs, and Bayern destroyed us in both legs of the semi-final. For the first time since the 2008/2009 season – Milan’s return leg and Mallorca’s Match aside – we looked like an ordinary team for a whole season, and the reason behind this fact is simple: teams no longer fear us; Our possession riddle has been solved.

Proactive used to win; Spain winning the final against Germany. Bayern’s team is almost the same as the one that lost with 4 goals 3 years ago to almost our same team. Louis Van Gaal’s arrival, and changed Bayern’s approach and we saw the result years later.

The end of Barca talk is a nonsense, our league success is a witness of our abilities to work well and overcome difficulties, but the failure is due to certain mistakes some of which are done by the Board, not everything should be weighed against financial winnings.

Pep evolved his system around his players, making them the center of everything in the club. with the help of his staff and the club directors, he managed to build a successful project that lasted for 4 years. Now I sense that this has changed. the current regime is focused on all matters but football. Tainting Laporta’s image, sponsorship, financial gain, decreasing debt, you name it. Being a Barca faithful is not enough to run the club. One has to carry the club, players, fans, and values in his heart in order to succeed. In some way or the other The club directors managed to turn Barca into a Real Madrid Replica, a cheap one. Even Barca B, which should be our reserve tank, is not managed as it should be. Pep promoted a number of players such as Busquets, and Pedro. He trusted them, they gave their hearts on the field in return, the team benefited, and we prospered. What is happening now? Where are Cuenca, Tello, and Thiago? how many players are to be promoted this year? how many of them are we going to either loan, or sell with a buy back clause? and how many of them are we going to burn on the bench? why didn’t Tito rotate his squad properly and give Montoya and Bartra a proper chance? Tito seems as if he was on auto-pilot the four seasons he spent next to pep on the dugout. The chain has been broken, the system of promoting bright players and then giving them chances to further develop is not working any more. What Pep started is not continued by his pupil. we might as well keep the players in the B team, under incompetent Eusebio’s charge so that we will end up having duplicates of Negredo, Mata, Javi Garcia, and most recently Pablo Sarabia, and Jese Rodriguez.

The antidote to Barca’s possession football has been found. changes must be made. one cannot claim that everything is fine and that ONLY minor tweaks should be made. NO. Every tactical innovation worked for a while then had to be changed to adapt to certain changes. this is evolution, it has to be respected and worked upon.

One has to wonder, are our majestic tactics still applicable? can we still play them with superiority? when we had a younger, fitter Abidal on the left and Alves on the right our defense was balanced. with an attacking Alba and Alves can we still count on a balanced defense? with Puyol now 35 and injury-struck and Pique severely out of form is our defense still reliable? with Xavi now 33, can he still be the heart of our midfield and play 50+ games in one season? with Messi playing in the center, then dropping deep to receive the ball, and Villa not having the legs to pressure up front can our front three still press high to regain possession? are Thiago, Barta, Alexis, Pedro, and Fabregas capable of filling the shoes of the above mentioned in order for the same tactics to keep on functioning? or do we need a change in strategy?

When someone is constantly being told he is the best, he will certainly reach a point where he will believe what is being said and written. when a team reads the constant praise heaped on them, they will certainly reach a point where they will believe they are untouchable. when a player is dating a superstar singer, and another spends all his time with a divorced gorgeous lady, while another spends half his time on twitter posting pictures of himself then they will reach a point where they will find football a secondary thing. And when there is no one in the team to lead by example and motivate – like pep used to do – then one thing is certain; problems will occur. and one of these problems is the absence of hunger. maybe that is one of the reasons pep decided to leave.

In my opinion, Tito’s appointment was a mistake, his reinstating while in New York receiving treatment was also a mistake, lets hope his continuing for next season will not be strike three. Toni Freixa claimed that Tito is winning all comparisons with Guardiola. Pep never lost by three goals in his 4 seasons. Pep always had a solution. Pep always came back stronger after a defeat. Pep never lost 3 times against Real Madrid in one season. Pep always rotated his players to avoid fatigue. Should I keep going?

Laporta trusted Cruyff, we will strip him of his honorary position. Laporta support Guardiola, we will claim that Tito is way better than him. Laporta spent large sums of money, we will set a budget of 40-50 million per season. Laporta opposed sponsorship, we will sign with Qatar foundation. we will do the exact opposite of what Laporta and his regime did so that we look like the savors of this club.

Xavi has talked about this season’s results being an impostor, that the identity must remain. This is a test of that resolve; if Barcelona is convinced that the basic philosophy is correct, they must back it, really believe in it, enhance it, build on it, and apply major tweaks to adjust it. It is easy to believe when you are winning; what matters is how you react in defeat, and this season was a defeat.

This defeat does not mean the defeat of a philosophy, necessarily. It may mean quite the opposite: that Barcelona failed to implement that philosophy successfully this season. They did not have the competitive edge that (also) defined them, the speed and intensity, the hunger. They did not have the variety either. As one Spanish writer put it succinctly: no one plays like Barcelona played, least of all Barcelona. Mistakes have been made. Some of them so simple as to be startling: was it really that hard to identify and sign a center back?

So who should be bought?

Was Neymar purchased because our team needs his attributes? or because of a certain marketing strategy and shirt sales boosting plan?

  • Currently  23 players (2GK 1 – 9DF 4 – 7CM 3 – 5SS 3)
  • 6 players will be promoted (Muniesa – Deulofeu – S.Roberto – Rafinha – Planas – Oier)
  • 4 players will return from loan (Afellay – fontas – Keirrison – Cuenca)
  • Total Player count à 33 players
  • In order to decrease the number of players to 22-24 (Tito’s desire), 2 players for each position, 10 players must be offloaded (loan or transfer) not taking into account the prospective incoming players.
  • Budget 40-50 million Euros

Some of the names linked to Barcelona

Vicente Guaita – Andre Ter Stegen – Diego Alves – Thibau Courtois

Mats Hummels – Aymen Abdelnour – Marquinhos – Thomas Vermaelen – David Luiz – Thiago Silva – Daniel Agger

Edinson Cavani – Gareth bale – Sergio Aguero.

Who Should be Loaned out : Muniesa – Planas – Rafinha – Cuenca –

Who Should be sold: Afellay – Fontas – Keirrison – Villa – Jonathan D.S – Song – Abidal – Valdes – Oier

With 13 sold or loaned, 20 players remain, leaving us in need of 4 world-class signings. And an approximate 20 million increase in the transfer budget.

1 GK = Pinto – Signing

1 DL = Alba – Adriano

1 DR = Alves – Montoya

1 DC = Pique – Bartra – Puyol – Mascherano – Signing

3 MC = Busquets – Sergi Roberto – Thiago – Xavi – Iniesta – Fabregas

3 SS = Messi – Pedro – Tello – Alexis – Signing – Signing

Of the mentioned transfer targets, Courtois is not a viable option because he was brought as a long term replacement for Petr Cech, and with his outstanding performances in the past couple of seasons, Chelsea will most likely refuse to give him up. David Luiz is proving game after game that he is a vital member of his team’s future, and Benitez’s successor (supposedly Mourinho) will have a say in the issue, making him a near impossible acquisition. Thiago Silva was bought by Leonardo for a hefty sum, and with the huge project PSG are building he will not be allowed to leave after only one season. Edinson Cavani, Gareth Bale, and Sergio Aguero’s  massive price tag will prove to be a stumbling rock .

Now, before considering names for the 4 positions, Tito, Roura, Altimira, and de la Fuente should sit down and carefully analyze the past season. Then, clearly decide what is required from the upcoming season? And most importantly what is the strategy to be implemented? Which tactics are to be applied? What is required from each and every position? What is the main defensive approach? Is possession football to be continued? How are we going to defend against counter attacks? Is upfront pressing still a part of our plan? (it was a major cog in Guardiola’s tactics, didn’t seem as much important in Tito’s) and many other important queries..

In assessing the profile of our to-be-signed defender we should take in to consideration the need for pace to defend against fast strikers(Ronaldo) which is needed because we defend using a high line. Height to defend against set pieces (a major weakness). Good sense of positioning and Interception skills.

Gk-reflex, ball playing skills (comfortable with ball at feet), confident, interception of crosses and set pieces, good timing

2 SS- poacher, fast, can play the three forward positions, agile, versatile, can press high

Figuring out what we want from our players and how, will help in building up the profile of the 4 prospective signings.

Dinesh V @dineshintwit

Co-founder of Soccersouls. Living a start-up life 24/7 Follow @dineshintwit

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