Poor recruitment, Luis Enrique's departure and loss of 'Barcelona DNA' - what's behind Barca's malaise?

Charlie Eccleshare
The Telegraph
Barcelona players leave the field after Tuesday's humiliation against Juventus - AFP
Barcelona players leave the field after Tuesday's humiliation against Juventus - AFP

Barcelona's 3-0 humbling at the hands of Juventus on Tuesday night came as little surprise. In their previous European away trip they had been battered 4-0 by PSG, and in total have lost seven away games so far season. 

Luis Enrique's side find themselves on the brink of Champions League elimination, and are three points behind Real Madrid in La Liga having played a game more. 

So, what's behind the malaise? How have Barca become a pale imitation of the all-conquering side of two years ago?

No case for the defence

The obvious place to start is Barcelona's defence, which was justifiably described as "shambolic" on BT Sport. Juventus looked like scoring every time they went forward, and could have scored more than the three they managed. 

As was the case against PSG, Barca had conceded three goals with less than an hour played, and their almost comical lack of cohesion was underlined by a woefully inept attempt to play Gonzalo Higuain offside in the second half. 

After the 4-0 defeat in Paris, Enrique changed to a 3-4-3 system, which initially brought about an improvement, but at Juve, Barcelona looked just as vulnerable. Jeremy Mathieu in particular struggled against Higuain, Paulo Dybala and Juan Cuadrado's movement and looked very much like a square peg in a round hole before being mercifully hooked at half-time. 

<span>Jeremy Mathieu (L) was tormented by Juan Cuadrado (R) on Tuesday</span>
Jeremy Mathieu (L) was tormented by Juan Cuadrado (R) on Tuesday

Absence of threat from full-backs

A major part of Barcelona's success under Pep Guardiola and then Enrique was the ability of the full-backs to get forward and join in with the attacks. 

Dani Alves and Jordi Alba have been the most potent attacking weapons Barca have had down the flanks in that period, with both defenders often playing as almost auxiliary wingers. 

Alves in particular used to create so much space for Lionel Messi et al. by running deliberately offside and allowing the Barca forwards to run into the space that he had created by forcing opposition defenders to step up. 

<span>Dani Alves was outstanding for Juventus against his former club Barcelona on Tuesday night</span>
Dani Alves was outstanding for Juventus against his former club Barcelona on Tuesday night

Barca though decided to sell Alves last summer to Juventus, for whom he excelled last night with a typically buccaneering performance. Alba meanwhile has largely found himself sidelined by Enrique since the switch to 3-4-3, meaning the team's only natural full-back in Turin was Sergi Roberto, with Mathieu resembling Bambi on ice on the other side for the first 45 minutes. 

Roberto is neat and tidy on the ball, but offers nothing like the threat of Alves, which allows opposition teams to sit deep and squeeze the space that Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez are trying to work in. 

The end of the Enrique era

Enrique announced last month that he would be leaving at the end of the season, and it's hard to shake off the feeling that this is a team coming to the end of its natural cycle. 

Players like Marc Andre ter Stegen, Mathieu and ArdaTuran will likely be allowed to leave in the summer, and there's a sense that the new manager will be tasked with restoring some of the 'Barcelona DNA' that much of the Catalan media feel has been lost under Enrique. 

Even Messi, Neymar and Suarez look as if they are going through the motions a little and are lacking the fevered drive that fired them to the Champions League title in 2015. And while Messi and Suarez continue to score with exceptional regularity, Neymar has managed just 15 goals this season, which by his standards is a very disappointing return. His mindless red card against Malaga, followed by sarcastically clapping the fourth official, also spoke of a player not entirely in the right frame of mind. 

<span>Luis Enrique will leave Barcelona at the end of the season</span>
Luis Enrique will leave Barcelona at the end of the season

In midfield, though it feels like heresy to say it, Andres Iniesta looks as if at 32 his powers are finally starting to wane. Iniesta was overwhelmed at times by Juve's relentless press last night, and it was almost painful to watch him under-hitting passes and failing to influence the game in the manner we have become so accustomed to. 

Sergio Busquets meanwhile has been a model of consistency throughout most of his career, but he is having his worst season in a Barcelona shirt, and looks in need of rejuvenation under a new manager. 

Overall, the way Barcelona were outfought by Juventus throughout the match and across the pitch suggested this was a team struggling for motivation and even belief. 

La Masia supply line running dry

Feeding into the malaise at Barcelona and the unease at the loss of the club's DNA has been the limited success of Barcelona's academy graduates under Enrique. Guardiola's team was full of La Masia alumni, but the only such player who has become anything like a regular under Enrique is Roberto. 

Part of what made that Guardiola side so special was that its core was made up of players who had been schooled in the 'Barcelona way' from a very young age, which made it much easier for them to adapt to his methods and facilitated a cohesion in the way the team played. From a public relations perspective it fed into Barca's superiority complex and identity. 

The absence of young stars coming through in the last couple of years though has changed this and forced Enrique to make more and more signings, turning Barcelona from 'mes que un club' to just like every other club. 

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Poor recruitment

Barca's lack of youth success has been compounded by a number of signings that have failed to meet the standards expected of one of Europe's leading clubs. 

The likes of Aleix Vidal,  Denis Suarez, Turan and Andre Gomes have been signed for considerable sums of money but failed to establish themselves as automatic starters. Gomes in particular has had a spectacularly disappointing first season at the Nou Camp after joining for £41.7m last summer, and looked way out of depth at the Juventus Stadium after coming on as a half-time substitute yesterday. 


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