Spanish giants Barcelona are struggling this season. Defeat in their last away game left them eighth in the table. At this point, it was Barca’s worst start to a season in 25 years. On Tuesday, a 2-1 victory over Villarreal at home got Barcelona back to winning ways. Has this papered over the cracks or are the Spanish giants back on track?
Barcelona Worst Start for 25 Years Ended with Return to Winning Ways
Surprise Defeat at Granada
Last weekend, newly promoted Granada stunned reigning La Liga Champions Barcelona. The host, somewhat surprisingly won 2-0, a result that for a short time took them to the top of the table.
Granada were well worth their win. A second-minute opening goal was followed by a second-half penalty. Even the introduction of Lionel Messi at halftime could not improve Barca. The Catalans only managed two shots on target and looked uncomfortable at the back.
Barcelona Back to Winning Ways
A midweek game at home to Villarreal gave Ernesto Valverde’s men the chance to get back to winning ways. Two goals in the opening 15 minutes gave the home side what looked a comfortable lead. However, Santi Cazorla pulled one back for the visitors before halftime.
The score remained the same and got Barcelona back to winning ways as they collected a much needed three points. It was not an easy game and could have gone Villerreal’s way. The visitors had more attempts on goal than their illustrious hosts. Barcelona fans will be happy with the victory but will also be hoping this is not a result that merely papers over the cracks.
Away Form Issues
The famous Nou Camp has always proved to be an advantage for Barcelona. The mere sight of the stadium can give visiting teams and fans shivers. Home form, therefore, has not been a problem with the Nou Camp a near fortress. It is away from their home where problems are arising.
Their last eight away games have produced zero victories. Saturday’s defeat at Granada was preceded by a fortunate goalless draw at Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League. Few will also forget their collapse at Liverpool last season. Barca held a three-goal lead going into the second leg. They lost 4-0.
Unless a formula can be found to gain points away from the Nou Camp, a title challenge could be under serious threat. Not to mention any chance of Champions League success.
Tactics a Problem?
Much has been said about Ernesto Valverde’s tactics. Especially away from home. The manager likes to set up his team not to win but to not lose. This approach is somewhat alien to many Barcelona fans used to seeing their team attack with style and flair.
A reliance on Messi to score and create can backfire, and if the Argentine is not playing, Barca can struggle even more. For example, summer signing Antoine Griezmann has not managed a single shot on target away from home this season. With their defence looking vulnerable, Barca need their attack to be firing, especially away from home.
Barcelona are a team of star players. They have a squad many other clubs could only dream of having. With this in mind, are the tactics and team selections of Ernesto Valverde the problem? At present they appear to be. Struggling away from home and although winning at home, they are conceding more than many would like.
Manager Under Pressure
After Saturday’s defeat, Valverde was obviously dejected. He said: You can lose or you can win, but when you lose, you have to have deserved to win. And today we didn’t deserve to win.” He is a manager under pressure.
Following last seasons exit in the Champions League at Liverpool and an unconvincing end of the season as a whole, Valverde was beginning to feel the pressure. After the poor start to the current campaign, the pressure is mounting to an extent where replacements are being looked at by media and fans alike.
Former players such as Ronald Koeman and Xavi are being linked, as are the likes of Jose Mourinho. However, it appears that Valverde is safe in his position, for now.
Home Form a Plus
With home form not suffering to the extent of their away form, Valverde has this as a plus. With victories at the Nou Camp a regular occurrence, very few home fans are calling for the managers head. As many managers know, once the fans at home turn on you, it can be very difficult to survive. Valverde does not have this problem at present. He also appears at present to have the team, including the influential Lionel Messi on his side.
If Anyone Can, Barca Can
Any team in the world can have a period of inconsistency. Barca are no exception to this. However, as they are one of the biggest clubs in world football, their results and form will be scrutinised that much more.
With a squad consisting of some of the world’s best players, if any team can recover, it’s Barcelona. A victory at Getafe on Saturday will relax most concerned fans, players and the manager. It could also take them to the top of the table. If this happens, many of the concerns of the past weeks could be put to one side as the Catalan giants chase yet another title.