So, the season ended in the way it should, and maybe with an uncanny odd icing on the cake. Jose Sanchez’s final whistle at Estadio Jose Zorilla confirmed what Los Cules knew all along: Barcelona had sold La Liga to Atletico Madrid.
Luis Suarez’s 21-goal haul, the last of which was the trophy winner, had condemned nearest challengers Real Madrid’s last-gasp efforts against Villareal, the newly crowned Europa League winners.
It is foolish enough to sell your only true No. 9 to a direct rival for the sake of financial management, but more pathetic not to replace him. Those after-match tears were more of vindication than of joy.
Let us face it, this season was one of Barcelona’s worst ever. The only bright spot was the Copa del Rey triumph in April. It was something of a miracle that the team won it, as they had to make unbelievable comebacks against less-fancied teams. But Barca are tired of winning the Copa; it has been six years since that glorious night in Berlin.
Trophies won in Spain this season.
Barcelona = Copa del Rey
Athletico Madrid = La Liga
Real Madrid = We beat Barcelona twice trophy
— Fuegoleon (@Waffirian_) May 22, 2021
Notably, the performances of the team were shambolic, even with the winning streak at the start of 2021. They faltered when it mattered most. The home loss to Granada is worthy of disbandment of the entire team. And Levante (once again!) rubbed salt to injury to effectively end any hope of a double title.
For me, the greatest single factor for the chaotic performance of Barcelona this season was journeyman defending. Clement Lenglet gave away one point too many with his erratic performances, Samuel Umtiti has never really recovered from his post-World Cup injury, and Gerard Pique should retire in 2022 as he has claimed. Ronald Araujo and Oscar Mingueza are only just getting their bearings in the team; their meteoric rise was blighted by some terrible blunders. Wing backs Jordi Alba and Sergino Dest put in excellent performances, but they came up short at the most crucial moment. Even at that, Alba is no longer in his prime, and Dest needs to be more consistent to nail down the right full-back spot.
Barcelona are going to be a fearful Force next season with Aguero and Messi in their attacking lines, they just need to balance the shape of their defense.
— Duke of Ibadan 🀄 (@_AsiwajuLerry) May 31, 2021
For all his inadequacies, Ronald Koeman deserves some commendation for his efforts over the course of the season. He came to the club at a critical time and with a desire to turn things around for the better. Having quit his national team coaching role, he inherited a miserable Barcelona team led by a disgruntled captain. He experimented with several formations which helped to stabilize things for a while.
He also tried to bring out the best in certain players such as compatriot Frenkie de Jong, teenagers Pedri Gonzalez and Ansu Fati until the latter had a career-ending season. He promoted youth teamers Araujo, Mingueza (who had a Clasico goal), Ilaix Moriba and Konrad de la Fuente. However, some of the more experienced players failed to turn up at crucial moments (Antoine Griezmann, Sergio Busquets). Also, some got injured early in the season (Philippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele) and some simply did not justify their inclusion in the team when they had the chance (Miralem Pjanic, Francisco Trincao). It remains to be seen if he has done enough to see out his contract.
Going forward, Barcelona’s activities are hampered by a humongous debt and doubts over the future of key players. Lionel Messi, club captain par excellence, shrugged off his dissatisfaction with the way the club is run to take home his eighth Pichichi award—his fifth in a row. Already, Sergio Aguero will arrive from Manchester City to placate him and to try to win the elusive Champions’ League together.
Also expected to arrive to bolster an ageing midfield is Georginio Wijnaldum, although for the future more faith should be placed in Riqui Puig. For the rearguard, the imminent arrival of Eric Garcia portends great hope. Presently, it is unsure if Emerson Royal will be brought in on a permanent basis or sold.
⌛ Sergio Aguero
⌛ Memphis Depay
⌛ Gini Wijnaldum
😯 Barcelona are set to land three big names on free transfers for the 2021/22 campaign pic.twitter.com/KcsnM17tKc
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) May 25, 2021
Whatever the case may be, Barcelona needs a younger, agile and more effective backline. Having scored 85 goals, the most of any team in the league, the defence let in a massive 38 goals. Hence, attacking prowess is no longer enough to win trophies. The likes of Umtiti and Lenglet must quit for any improved changes to be seen in the defence.
Finally, the challenge for new president Joan Laporta is selling redundant players sitting on fat salaries and bringing in at least one marquee signing. If Koeman stays, Memphis Depay could come in, but Martin Braithwaite must leave. The ability to tie down Messi to a new contract and to build a competitive project around him for the short term will be vital to what Barcelona hope to achieve in the 2021/22 season.
Furthermore, Barcelona needs to devise new streams of cash influx to survive the financial axe hanging over its head. My advice: renegotiate the salaries of useful high earners in the team, ship off unproductive players for cash, sell the naming rights of the Camp Nou to a corporate sponsor, and sign a marquee player whose merchandise can be sold to rake in significant revenue. It could be the beginning of a new era of dominance.
The time for Laporta and his board to act is now!
How would you rate Barcelona’s season and what recommendations do you have for the club improve? Share them in the comments box below.
Photo Credit: Getty Images