[OP-ED]: Requiem for FC Barcelona’s midfield
Despite being over 50, I can say I have never seen a team play a more beautiful soccer style than FC Barcelona in the 2010-2011 season. Managed by Pep Guardiola, that squad took to perfection a horizontal passing game that was named by the late sports announcer Andrés Montes as “tiki-taka”. As an ice hockey team, Barça put its opponents in their defensive zone, incorporating men little by little, passing and passing and passing again the ball. When the other squad less expected it, the blow was delivered on a Xavi assist, a magic action by Iniesta, a cross by Alves or a hard shot by Messi…
FC Barcelona’s opponents could not resist it. In the Champions League quarterfinals, the Brazilian Legion of Ukrania’s Shakhtar Donetsk could not avoid surrendering five goals at Camp Nou. In the following round the Catalan club won the first stage at Madrid against Real, 0-2, putting the semifinal away. In the championship match, Barça destroyed Manchester United, winning with ease, 3-1. Barcelona’s forwards Pedro, Messi and Villa scored one goal a piece.
Above all things that team had great balance. It included a genius like Messi, perfectly flanked by Pedro and Villa. It had the best conductor in Xavi, who ran things in a solid group that included Iniesta, defensive Busquets and the win runs made by right halfback Dani Alves. Without a doubt, Barça’s orchestra played the best symphony in the world thanks to a superb midfield.
Six years have gone by. FC Barcelona has not found someone to perform Xavi’s role. The Spanish National Team has not either. With time, Xavi will be remembered as one of the best midfielders to ever play the game. Without his brain, the Catalan club decided to add talent up front, signing two very expensive starts: Brazilian Neymar and Uruguayan Luis Suárez. As the manager in the new project, Barça chose another homemade product: Luis Enrique.
The solution worked in the short term. Two years ago, FC Barcelona won again the Champions Leaugue, defeating Juventus in the final contest, 3-1. Suárez and Neymar scored decisive second half goals. Anyway, since that season, the team changed its style drastically. The midfield dominance turned into a vertical passing game that could benefit the two new forwards and teammate Leo Messi: the best of all.
The situation has got worse little by little, reaching limits not expected a short time ago. The club has spent a lot of money to fill Xavi’s and Alves’ spots, but results have been very negative. New signings have not worked. Croatian Rakitic, who started well, is completely lost. Iniesta and Busquets are out of their best shape. The problem goes deeper and relies on losing a midfield that is not any more into the World’s best. In fact, it has disappeared completely.
A soccer team is built from the bottom. Without a solid midfield it is impossible to go anywhere. That is why FC Barcelona is experiencing currently very hard times, trusting only in the luck of its tree sensational forwards. The PSG dominance (4-0) we witnessed this week in the Champions League was foreseeable if we take in consideration shaky late performances by Barça in Spain in the last games. The team won or draw, but was dominated by weakest squads like Betis. For this reason, we should not be surprised by what happened in Paris, where young, fast and hungry men, like Matuidi, Verratti, Rabiot and Belgian right half back Meunier when he was moving forward, just took over midfield erasing FC Barcelona players merciless.
It is sad to admit, but we can conclude The City of Light hosted in the first game of the round of 16 of the Champions League the requiem for Barça’s midfield. The funeral melody was not performed this time in Notre Dame’s Cathedral. It was played in soccer stadium Parc des Princes: the house of Paris Saint-Germain.