Barcelona is one of the greatest teams in the world. They are five time European cup holders, 26 times La liga winners, three time Club World Cup winners, two time treble winners, one of only two teams that won all six trophies in one season and many, many more. Some of the greatest ever players were part of the team: Maradona, Ronaldinho, Stoichkov, Xavi, Iniesta, Puyol, Messi etc.. But the 2016-2017 season in the Champions league was a turning point for them.
The 2016-2017 Season
Firstly they produced one of the greatest comebacks in tournament’s history. After they lost 4-0 at “Parc de Princes” they made “La Remontada” three weeks later. In a stunning game at “Nou Camp”, the Catalonian giants won 6-1 and with an aggregate score of 6-5 they went through to the quarter finals. And that’s probably the last bit of joy Barcelona supporters had in Europe ever since. They lost the quarter final against Juventus after 0-3 loss in Turin and 0-0 at home.
The 2017-2018 Season
The following summer brought us probably the biggest transfer saga ever. PSG activated Neymar’s buy-out clause of 222m €. Luis Enrique left the club in May after his contract expired and after an argument with club president Josep Maria Bartomeu. He decided not to renew it.
Then Ernesto Velverde took over the club. Everything was looking good. Barcelona beat Chelsea 4-1 on aggregate to reach the quarterfinals and faced Roma. They had a great display in the first game and cameaway with a 4-1 win at “Camp Nou.” However, the second leg was terrible. Roma won 3-0 at “Olimpico” and eliminated the Catalonian Giants from the tournament.
The 2018-2019 Season
Fast forward a year, Champions league 2018/2019. Barcelona cruised through the group stage. They beat Lyon in the round of 16, eliminated Manchester United at the quarter finals, and arranged themselves a meeting with another five time European champion (Liverpool). In a breathtaking game at “Camp Nou,” Barcelona won 3-0. Then a week later, the nightmare from Rome returned. Barcelona showed the same weaknesses and got ran over at Anfield. Liverpool defeated Barcelona 4-0.
The 2019-2020 Season
The 2019-2020 season started with new hope for Barca. They faced no problems winning their group. They won against Napoli in the round of 16. After all the uncertainty around the Corona crisis, UEFA decided to renew the Champions League with a closed eight team tournament in Portugal.
However the draw pitted two 5 time European champions against each other: Bayern Munich and Barcelona. There Barcelona suffered the ultimate humiliation, an 8-2 loss against the Bavarian Giants.
“It was a horrible performance and it leaves us with a terrible feeling. We have hit rock bottom. We feel embarrassed. You can’t compete as we have done tonight. This is very hard to take. And it’s not the first time, it’s not the second time, or the third time. The club need changes and I’m not talking about the coach or any one player. The club needs profound change. We have hit rock bottom. We have to reflect and do what is best for the club. I will be the first to offer to go if we need new blood.” –Pique said after the game.
The 2020-2021 Season
People would’ve thought that Barcelona learned their lessons. New season, new hope. Only this time, Barcelona’s problems were visible in the group stages. Their last game against Juventus would determine who was going to advance as group winner and get a theoretically an easier draw.
They were in charge and only thing that could take their first spot was a loss by more than two goals. Additionally, they were playing at their home ground. Barcelona lost 3-0 and finished second in the group and drew group H winners PSG.
There was no derby. After Messi gave Barcelona the lead everything went PSG’s way. Kylian Mbappe scored a hat-trick, Moise Kean added one, and the French champions have one foot in the quarter-finals.
Of course, football has taught us that nothing is impossible. Barcelona is capable of coming back from this score as we saw in the beginning of this article. Above all, this Barcelona team is not looking scary now. Teams go out on the pitch against them with the thought of winning. That wasn’t the case five years ago. Let’s do a quick recap of the reasons for that fall.
Barcelona couldn’t fill the gap left by Neymar. They spent 400m € for his replacements: Dembele, Coutinho, Griezman. None of them looks like stepping in Neymar’s boots and leading the team. It’s not a coincidence that there are rumors about Neymar returning to Barcelona every transfer window. They couldn’t replace the leaders in the team after their retirements.
Puyol, Xavi, Iniesta were the backbone of Barcelona’s greatest team. It’s a tough task to replace them, but Barcelona is paying mad money for average players, and letting players like Suarez go to their rivals without having a replacement. The swap between Miralem Pjanic and Arthur is one of the strangest deals in modern football.
Lack of Leaders
This Barcelona team lacks leadership. They have probably the greatest football player in the history, but that is blessing and a curse at the same time. When Messi is on his game he is unplayable and Barca can defeat every team. But when Messi is not at his best, people around him can’t help. They are hiding, trying to pass the responsibility to him. There is no other player in this team that can pull them up, especially after Suarez’s leaving.
In the recent months, there is a word around that Barcelona have financial problems. This is due to the Corona crisis, lack of fans in the stadiums, European failure, and ridiculous transfers and wages. It all helped the team to be on the verge of financial collapse. All those failures play their part in team’s communications. The culmination was a heated exchange between Pique and Griezman during the loss against PSG.
Transfers Over La Masia
Barca’s success through the years was built on the talents that came through La Masia. In the recent years, there are only few young players that made their way into the first team from the academy. Maybe going back to their roots is key for Barcelona’s renaissance. But will they have the balls for that? Because this rebuilding will probably mean couple of years without a trophy. But who knows? Maybe the next prodigy will come from La Masia.
As I said he’s a blessing and a curse. His contract is expiring at the end of the season. Will Barca convince him to sign an extension or will he leave? Do they have a plan for the era post Messi? Will he be able to work his magic in the second leg against PSG? Can he drag this Barcelona team to their sixth Champions league? This will be the best way to say goodbye, but it doesn’t look very likely.