Season in review: Barcelona have a giant problem in Real Madrid, but are their own worst enemy

Story of the season

After ending a three-year dry spell with their La Liga win last season, there was plenty of reason for optimism. Yet none of us quite appreciated just how much a problem the loss of Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba would be. The former is obvious, the latter would’ve been a huge part of their season bearing in mind Alejandro Balde’s injury, and the fact Joao Cancelo has made him look solid defensively.

The arrivals of Joao Felix and Cancelo sparked further optimism with two brilliant wins over Real Betis and Royal Antwerp, but that was about as good as it got. In the crucial moments, Barcelona came up short when the Clasicos and Paris Saint-Germain games were there for the taking. The attempt to play more ambitious, attacking football did not come off, and between injuries and an imbalanced squad, Xavi Hernandez’s inability to find a consistent system were matched by the shortcomings above.

Even during their brief run of form in February and March, the results were better than the play, and the Blaugrana probably overperformed in terms of points, even if they were unfortunate to have a relentless Real Madrid ahead of them. The emergence of Lamine Yamal, Pau Cubarsi and Fermin Lopez did at least add some excitement for fans.

The debacle of his Xavi job over the second half of the season has done untold damage to Barcelona’s reputation and standing in the eyes of the fans and footballing world, but most problematic, convincing players that this is a serious and strategised project seems impossible.


Grade Explanation

Xavi has had many quotes thrown back at him over the past six months, and when he says it is not enough just to win games, his assessment was correct. The style did matter, and the reason this season felt so disastrous on the pitch, was the complete lack of an upward trajectory. Games were won and lost, but for the most part by individuals and hard-running, rather than collective play.

The former manager does deserve credit for his work with Fermin, Lamine Yamal and Cubarsi, because not every manager would have given them so much game time, especially with more expensive alternatives.

Above Xavi, President Joan Laporta and Deco didn’t take any decisions until it was too late. Who knows where to apportion blame, but the Vitor Roque signing was also confusing at best. Barcelona must aim to win La Liga and the Copa del Rey, and compete with Real Madrid. Given their situation, it cannot be the expectation that they win. But the Blaugrana turned this into an ordeal for themselves and their fans.


Standout moment: Their 3-0 win against Atletico Madrid at the Metropolitano. Hector Fort playing well, arguably Lewandowski’s best performance for Barcelona, a match that gave the fans genuine hope.

Key player: Ilkay Gundogan – the German veteran made a number of harrowing mistakes when he was played deeper, but played basically everything, and was their most consistent performer. Impressive stuff given what was happening around him.

Surprise of the season: Lamine Yamal and Pau Cubarsi, how do you feel about sharing? The former was tipped to be a star, but nobody saw him being their most dangerous player so young. Cubarsi wasn’t even starting for Barca Atletic at the beginning of the season, and for a brief period, he more or less fixed their defence along with the move of Andreas Christensen into midfield.


Glass half full

Barcelona’s young core is arguably the best in the world, and if managed properly, will continue to get better. There wasn’t much structure or a clear idea on show this season, and they were ‘only’ 10 points behind Real Madrid, so if Hansi Flick can find one, then maybe Barcelona can challenge. Their squad is short, but if they can fill their three weaknesses – full-back, deeper midfield and left-wing – properly, then they have a legitimately good side.

Glass half empty

Do you trust any of the above to happen? Barcelona have shown an ability to do the basics right of late, and their transfer market seems to depend on major investment arriving and a bumper sponsorship deal. If it’s another summer with no budget to speak of, with Hansi Flick arriving seemingly without much Spanish, the wheels are perfectly capable of going AWOL in October.

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