Scoring goals or wreaking havoc in the opposition box has never been an issue for FC Barcelona. From Ronaldinho’s days to the present times of Lionel Messi, Barca has always been blessed with astonishing attacking firepower. But, their defence has always been a chink in their armour.
Even back in the trophy-laden days of Pep Guardiola, it was the back line that came in for criticism. Recently as well, the defence has been Barca’s Achilles heel. FOX Sports Asia digs deep and tries to determine exactly why Ernesto Valverde’s men have been leaking so much in this season especially.
One really has to go a long way back to find out one such season in La Liga where two of the main powerhouses, Barcelona and Real Madrid, presented each other with as many opportunities to capitalize on the rivals’ loss of points but eventually failed. To everyone’s utter surprise this season, that has been the case in Spain.
One can argue that Real’s squad does not have the firepower to win the League or even be in the top 3. But that does not apply for Barca as the Catalan club has recruited well this season. Despite being top of the table as of now, the team hasn’t been performing well enough and a lot of it goes down to their defensive frailties.
Barcelona’s defence has been underwhelming post-Carles Puyol era. But even last season, they were performing quite well. With a settled back line of Gerard Pique, Samuel Umtiti, Jordi Alba and Nelson Semedo/Sergi Roberto; they were composed in defence.
Pique-Umtiti were brilliant, cutting off and intercepting the opposition forwards. They even held off Ronaldo and co. at the Santiago Bernabeu from where Barca came back with a clean sheet in their resounding 3-0 win. But, this season that has not been the case at all.
Just to put into context as to how underwhelming Barca have been in defence – they had only conceded four goals at this point last season. This season? They have conceded a total of 14 goals. Barcelona’s defensive errors have cost them points against Girona, Leganes, Valencia and Athletic Bilbao – matches from which they were primed to get the 3 points.
One of the main problems has been the form of Pique. The seniormost and the most experienced member of the Catalan club’s backline, the now-retired Spanish defender’s errors cost Barca dearly against Leganes, who came back to snatch a famous win against the Spanish Champions.
Another problem for them has been the injury to Samuel Umtiti. The Frenchman’s presence has been absolutely vital for the Catalans who win 82.1% matches with him in the side (just 2 defeats in 56 league games). Without him, the number drops to 53.8%.
Umtiti’s absence cost Barcelona two points against Athletic Bilbao, who were just 6 minutes away from a surprising win against Valverde’s side in the Camp Nou. Another problem has been the form of Umtiti’s fellow Frenchman Clement Lenglet. The defender came in from Sevilla for quite a hefty sum of €35 million but has been possibly the most underwhelming of all.
With Pique not in form, Umtiti and Thomas Vermaelen out injured, and Lenglet confused about his role in the backline- Barcelona find themselves with quite a conundrum at the back.
Agreed, they’re still at the top of both their Champions League and La Liga table, but the season is long and hard. These kinds of frailties need to be looked after sooner rather than later to make sure the team doesn’t suffer in the long run. With the Clasico tomorrow, Barcelona cannot afford to be error prone at the back because the likes of Bale and Benzema are highly unlikely to pass up on opportunities from defensive errors.