New Year, New problems, New hope?

Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel Messi walks to shoot a corner kick during the UEFA Champions League football match FC Barcelona vs Celtic FC at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on September 13, 2016. / AFP / JOSEP LAGO        (Photo credit should read JOSEP LAGO/AFP/Getty Images)
Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel Messi walks to shoot a corner kick during the UEFA Champions League football match FC Barcelona vs Celtic FC at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on September 13, 2016. / AFP / JOSEP LAGO (Photo credit should read JOSEP LAGO/AFP/Getty Images)

The wonderful thing about the beginning of a New Year is that it offers one a very real chance to reflect on past events and work towards improving oneself, both in character and behaviour. In fact, the start of a new year has proved to be so synonymous with self-reflection and betterment that the first question on everyone’s lips post the customary midnight firework display is always one and the same: “What are your resolutions for this year?”. In other words, through what means  are you aiming to advance yourself in terms of both characteristics and personality.

Luis Enrique, in my opinion, is a man who wouldn’t really believe in the this obsession with new year’s resolutions. A hardened, motivated warrior of a man obsessed with fitness and hard work, he would likely scoff at the idea of resolutions and instead reply with a sarcastic remark along the lines of “becoming a good manager”.

Two games into January, however, and Lucho will definitely be feeling the kind of pressure he hasn’t experienced since perhaps the same time two years ago. FC Barcelona, after losing to Ahtletic Bilbao in the first leg of their Copa del Rey round of sixteen, snatched a draw from the jaws of defeat courtesy of another piece of brilliance from Lionel Messi’s priceless left foot. They are now five points adrift of leaders Real Madrid, who have a game in hand, and now third in the table, behind a quietly brilliant Sevilla side. Even Luis Enrique, ever the pragmatist, must have wondered how his fortunes could have changed so suddenly in simply a year.

Let’s rewind to January 2016: Barca had just won the club world cup, were on top of the League and looking to run away with it. Luis Suarez was in the best goalscoring form of his life, while Neymar was arguably the greatest player in the world from September to November, creating, scoring and mesmerizing to an extent he hadn’t done previously in Europe. The icing on the cake had to be the struggles of the noisy neighbours in white, who had been demolished 4-0 in El Clasico, disqualified from the Copa and even sacked Rafa Benitez.

Time, then, has proved that it can cause immense change, but what is the real reason for this change? How can we start winning again? Do we have a chance at any trophy this season, let alone the treble, which seems like an increasingly distant dream?

This complete role reversal for Spain’s two biggest clubs comes for a variety of reasons, and as I detest player and coach comparisons let’s focus simply on our issues, as a team, which Lucho is also hopefully doing as I type.

The immediate and most striking concern is Luisito’s extreme drop in form and the general lack of finishing ability this season. Last year’s golden boot winner and arguably best player, Suarez simply isn’t a factor for the majority of games anymore. Apart from the drop in his scoring rate, it’s become standard for the Uruguayan to be invisible for large stretches of games. Compared to his phenomenal form last year and how he was instrumental in Barca winning the league, this has really hurt the team and coach.

Additionally, Neymar Jr. has had a very underwhelming 2016 to say the least, easily being the least instrumental member of the MSN. Whether it was fatigue or his reduced role in the front three upon Messi’s return from injury in late 2015, he has been struggling to stamp his authority on games. Fortunately for cules everywhere, Neymar seems somewhat resurgent as of late, willing to track back extensively and shouldering a large portion of the creative burden as the rest of the team has been underwhelming in that department.

Coming up to the last member of our normally ‘illegal’ front three, it is impossible to criticize Lionel Messi; it really is. He has moments where he appears to be a normal footballer, by his own astronomical standards, but he always comes though in a way where you’re left to wonder what you’ve done to deserve to witness his uniquely magical ability. As much as he’s been a bit off-color, he’s proved his worth in these last two matches alone, pulling Barca out of two very sticky situations with two sublime free-kicks. He has been our saviour on multiple occasions this season and the team without him is simply not the same. Not even close.

Moving back into midfield, an area of the pitch where in the past no team could dream of matching Barca, it’s frankly an even more worrying prospect for Lucho. Andres Iniesta’s injury in late 2015 meant that all of the creativity and control he brings to the team was ismply non-existent, meaning Sergio Busquets suffered as an extension. This made it increasingly difficult to get the ball up to  the ‘MSN’ triumvirate, for them to do their magic. Ivan Rakitic is as able a midfielder as any but simply doesn’t provide the same spark as El Illusionista, and with reports of him being pursued by Manchester City surfacing one shudders to think what is going through the coach’s head at this moment. Our replacement midfielders are all young and not yet ready to take on a first-team place, while Arda Turan has never looked comfortable in a midfield role and probably never will.

The defence has been the most curious case of all three departments, by far The reason for this, in my humble opinion, is that at times during games it looks quite solid and impenetrable, but then concedes a goal from seemingly nowhere. Gerard Pique has been a rock at the back and continues to make a strong case for becoming a club captain, while Samuel Umtiti has been an absolute revelation. On the other hand, Sergi Roberto and Jordi Alba (especially) have been quite poor. The former has his solid moments but has recently had a tendency to get caught out frequently. Additionally, the combination of him and Rakitic on the left doesn’t provide the sufficient creative spark that a wildcard like Dani Alves provided in ample quantity, which was quite useful in breaking down the most resolute of teams. Jordi Alba, while being one of my favourite players upon his signing, has become highly unreliable in his positioning, which in turn stretches the whole defence and was demonstrated time and time again in against Athletic Bilbao last week. Lucas Digne has shown signs of promise but Alba is still Lucho’s number one choice and is becoming a liability for the team.

At this point, if you’re not experiencing some feeling of general dread and despair then I can confidently say you’re a Madridista. Our prospects seem bleak and our problems plentiful. Are there any reasons for optimism, and if so, how deeply are they hidden amongst all our difficulties?

First and foremost, we absolutely have to give Luis Enrqiue credit for doing so much with this team, and give him the chance to prove that he can turn this around. He’s already done it once, if we consider his debut season with the club. A disastrous start to January followed by a period of scintillating football and dominance that simply blew all other teams away. Luis Enrique won us the treble that season after being on the brink of a sacking, and if anyone can turn this team around it’s him, with his iron fists of determination. He isn’t Pep Guardiola or Jose Mourinho, but he doesn’t need to be. He’s shown us that on multiple occasions.The individual problems seem impossible to overcome all at once, but sometimes the simplest changes and adjustments can cause the greatest differences in both performance and motivation.

Speaking of motivation, the team, with the exception of certain genii, has been accused of a lack of it. Having won five trophies in two seasons, you wouldn’t totally blame them, but the referees in Spain have definitely given the team a reason to come together and fight in every game. The first two games Barcelona have played this year have been atrocious in terms of the refereeing, even by Spain’s abysmally low standards. The game in Bilbao, in particular, was ridiculously riddled with blatantly incorrect decisions to the point that I could’t watch the game to its end, having to switch to something else in order to calm myself down. The term ‘Uefalona’ is thrown about very frequently even to this day, but I can comfortably say that after the Bilbao game the refereeing has been biased (to say the least) against Barcelona, with the consequent Villareal game adding fuel to the fire. We’re all very well aware of the events in question so there’s no point in mentioning them specifically, but despite the lost game and the lost points, the team has a reason to treat every match with a higher level of importance and give each game their maximum. The way Gerard Pique openly called out La Liga president (and infamous Real Madrid fan) Javier Tebas shows that the team isn’t taking the injustices coming their way lightly, and are willing to fight tooth and nail for results and, consequently, trophies,

If that still isn’t enough to give you hope, then I have one last ace up my sleeve which may change your mind. I’ve already mentioned him, but it’s impossible not to include him in any conversation about hope. Lionel Messi, ladies and gents, the Messiah and our saviour on so many occasions throughout the years. He’s already saved us twice this year, he has the ability to change any match on its head and we can only hope that he continues to inspire the team back to winning ways. We should be eternally grateful that he plays for us, and we are as spoilt a fanbase as can be, but if any man can lead us to trophies it’s the little man with the greatest footballing footprint. In Leo we trust, and as long as he stays injury free and the team is committed and motivated to follow his example and get back to winning ways, there’s no reason we can’t start getting the results we all crave.

Let’s cease the comparisons to our Madrid rivals and for one second just focus on our club. We have the talent. We have a coach whose done it before. We even have undoubtedly the best player of his generation. It takes no effort to criticize and complain in the face of disappointment and relative failure.I can’t  necessary explain how each problem I’ve mentioned will be solved, but I never planned on it. That’s for the team to figure out, and they have shown that they deserve our trust and the chance to fix the problems they suffer from. We, as a fanbase, have to give the whole club another chance and continue to give them as many chances as they need to get the results we know they can.They’ve demonstrated that they deserve that, every single on of them, and we don’t need to compare ourselves to any club, Spanish or otherwise, to validate our success or failure. As cheesy as it sounds, we are the best club in the world on our day, whether we win or we don’t, so let’s get behind the team and celebrate and support them! As far as new year’s resolutions go, that’s as good as any, and one Luis Enrique might actually appreciate.

The wonderful thing about the beginning of a New Year is that it offers us a very real chance to reflect on past events and work towards improving ourselves, both in character and behaviour. In fact, the start of a new year has proved to be so synonymous with self-reflection and betterment that the first question on everyone’s lips post the customary midnight fireworks is always the same: “What are your resolutions for this year?”. In other words, through what means are you aiming to advance yourself in terms of both characteristics and personality.

Luis Enrique, in my opinion, is a man who wouldn’t really indulge in this obsession with new year’s resolutions. A hardened, motivated warrior like himself would likely scoff at the idea of resolutions and instead reply with a sarcastic remark along the lines of “becoming a good manager”.

Two games into January, however, and Lucho will definitely be feeling the kind of pressure he hasn’t experienced since perhaps the same time two years ago. FC Barcelona, after losing to Ahtletic Bilbao in the first leg of their Copa del Rey round of sixteen, snatched a draw from the jaws of defeat courtesy of another piece of brilliance from Lionel Messi’s priceless left foot. They are now five points adrift of leaders Real Madrid, who have a game in hand and are now third in the table, behind a quietly brilliant Sevilla side. Even Luis Enrique, ever the pragmatist, must have wondered how his fortunes could have changed so suddenly in simply a year.

Let’s rewind to January 2016: Barca had just won the club world cup, was on top of the League and looking to run away with it. Luis Suarez was in the best goalscoring form of his life, while Neymar was arguably the greatest player in the world from September to November – creating, scoring and mesmerizing to an extent he hadn’t done previously in Europe. The icing on the cake had to be the struggles of our noisy neighbours in white, who had been demolished 4-0 in El Clasico, been disqualified from the Copa and even sacked Rafa Benitez.

Time, then, has proved that it can lead to immense change, but what is the real reason for this change? How can we start winning again? Do we have a chance at any trophy this season, let alone the treble, which seems like an increasingly distant dream?

This complete role reversal for two of Spain’s biggest clubs has emerged for a variety of reasons, and since I detest player and coach comparisons, I’ll focus simply on our issues as a team, which Lucho is also hopefully doing as I type.

The immediate and most striking concern is Luisito’s extreme drop in form and the general lack of finishing ability this season. Although Suarez was last year’s golden boot winner and arguably best player, he simply isn’t a factor for the majority of games anymore. Apart from the drop in his scoring rate, it’s become standard for the Uruguayan to be invisible for large stretches of games. Compared to his phenomenal form last year and how he was instrumental in Barca winning the league, this has really hurt the team and coach.

Additionally, Neymar Jr. has had a very underwhelming 2016 to say the least, easily being the least instrumental member of the MSN. Whether it was fatigue or his reduced role in the front three upon Messi’s return from injury in late 2015, he has been struggling to stamp his authority on games. Fortunately for cules everywhere, Neymar seems somewhat resurgent as of late, willing to track back extensively and shouldering a large portion of the creative burden as the rest of the team has been underwhelming in that department.

Coming up to the last member of our normally ‘illegal’ front three, it is impossible to criticize Lionel Messi; it really is. He has moments where he appears to be a normal footballer, by his own astronomical standards, but he always comes though in a way where you’re left to wonder what you’ve done to deserve to witness his uniquely magical ability. As much as he’s been a bit off-color, he’s proved his worth in these last two matches alone, pulling Barca out of two very sticky situations with two sublime free-kicks. He has been our saviour on multiple occasions this season and the team without him is simply not the same. Not even close.

Moving back into midfield, an area of the pitch where in the past no team could dream of matching Barca, it’s frankly an even more worrying prospect for Lucho. Andres Iniesta’s injury in late 2015 meant that all of the creativity and control he brings to the team was ismply non-existent, meaning Sergio Busquets suffered as an extension. This made it increasingly difficult to get the ball up to the ‘MSN’ triumvirate, for them to do their magic. Ivan Rakitic is as able a midfielder as any but simply doesn’t provide the same spark as El Illusionista, and with reports of him being pursued by Manchester City surfacing I shudder to think what is going through our coach’s head at this moment. Our replacement midfielders are all young and not yet ready to take on a first-team place, while Arda Turan has never looked comfortable in a midfield role and probably never will.

The defence has been the most curious case of all three departments, by far The reason for this, in my humble opinion, is that at times during games it looks quite solid and impenetrable, but then concedes a goal from seemingly nowhere. Gerard Pique has been a rock at the back and continues to make a strong case for becoming a club captain, while Samuel Umtiti has been an absolute revelation. On the other hand, Sergi Roberto and Jordi Alba (especially) have been quite poor. The former has his solid moments but has recently had a tendency to get caught out frequently. Additionally, the combination of him and Rakitic on the left doesn’t provide the sufficient creative spark that a wildcard like Dani Alves provided in ample quantity, which was quite useful in breaking down the most resolute of teams. Jordi Alba, while being one of my favourite players upon his signing, has become highly unreliable in his positioning, which in turn stretches the whole defence and was demonstrated time and time again in against Athletic Bilbao last week. Lucas Digne has shown signs of promise but Alba is still Lucho’s number one choice and is becoming a liability for the team.

At this point, if you’re not experiencing some feeling of general dread and despair then I can confidently say you’re a Madridista. Our prospects seem bleak and our problems plentiful. Are there any reasons for optimism, and if so, how deeply are they hidden amongst all our difficulties?

First and foremost, we absolutely have to give Luis Enrique credit for doing so much with this team, and give him the chance to prove that he can turn this around. He’s already done it once, if we consider his debut season with the club. A disastrous start to January followed by a period of scintillating football and dominance that simply blew all other teams away. Luis Enrique won us the treble that season after being on the brink of a sacking, and if anyone can turn this team around it’s him, with his iron fists of determination. He isn’t Pep Guardiola or Jose Mourinho, but he doesn’t need to be. He’s shown us that on multiple occasions.The individual problems seem impossible to overcome all at once, but sometimes the simplest changes and adjustments can cause the greatest differences in both performance and motivation.

Speaking of motivation, the team, with the exception of certain genii, has been accused of a lack of it. Having won five trophies in two seasons, you wouldn’t totally blame them, but the referees in Spain have definitely given the team a reason to come together and fight in every game. The first two games Barcelona have played this year have been atrocious in terms of the refereeing, even by Spain’s abysmally low standards. The game in Bilbao, in particular, was ridiculously riddled with blatantly incorrect decisions to the point that I could’t watch the game to its end, having to switch to something else in order to calm myself down. The term ‘Uefalona’ is thrown about very frequently even to this day, but I can comfortably say that after the Bilbao game the refereeing has beenbiased against Barcelona, with the consequent Villareal game adding fuel to the fire. We’re all very well aware of the events in question so there’s no point in mentioning them specifically, but despite the lost game and the lost points, the team has a reason to treat every match with a higher level of importance and give each game their maximum. The way Gerard Pique openly called out La Liga president (and infamous Real Madrid fan) Javier Tebas shows that the team isn’t taking the injustices coming their way lightly, and are willing to fight tooth and nail for results and, consequently, trophies.

If that still isn’t enough to give you hope, then I have one last ace up my sleeve which may change your mind. I’ve already mentioned him, but it’s impossible not to include him in any conversation about hope. Lionel Messi, the Messiah and our saviour on so many occasions throughout the years. He’s already saved us twice this year, he has the ability to change any match on its head and we can only hope that he continues to inspire the team back to winning ways. We should be eternally grateful that he plays for us, and we are as spoilt a fanbase as can be, but if any man can lead us to trophies it’s the little man with the greatest footballing footprint. In Leo we trust, and as long as he stays injury free and the team is committed and motivated to follow his example and get back to winning ways, there’s no reason we can’t start getting the results we all crave.

Let’s cease the comparisons to our Madrid rivals and for one second just focus on our club. We have the talent. We have a coach whose done it before. We have undoubtedly the best player of his generation. It takes no effort to criticize and complain in the face of disappointment and relative failure.I can’t necessary explain how each problem I’ve mentioned will be solved, but I never planned on it. That’s for the team to figure out, and they have shown that they deserve our trust and the chance to fix the problems they suffer from. We, as a fanbase, have to give the whole club at least another chance and even continue to provide them with as many chances as they need to get the results we know they can.They’ve demonstrated that they deserve that, every single on of them, and we don’t need to compare ourselves to any club, Spanish or otherwise, to validate our success or failure. As cheesy as it sounds, we are the best club in the world on our day, whether we win or we don’t, so let’s get behind the team and celebrate and support them! As far as new year’s resolutions go, that’s as good as any, and one Luis Enrique might actually appreciate.

You Might Also Like

  • Grega Kavčič

    juck