Falling From Prestige?
FC Barcelona has been the epitome of European football for as long as anyone can remember. When its long-time star Lionel Messi left for PSG in the summer transfer window, Barça was bound for a decline in success, but nobody thought it would be this drastic.
The January transfer window this year demonstrated how desperate Barcelona is to get back to glory. Xavi went out and signed Manchester City winger Ferran Torres, former Arsenal captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and Wolves striker Adama Traoré on loan. It has now been four seasons since the mighty FC Barcelona has won La Liga. Barça has not won the Champions League since 2015, while they have watched their rivals, Real Madrid hoist the trophy three times in that period. The Barcelona crest without a doubt weighs on a player, but ever since Messi started to show his age, nobody has been able to take his place.
After winning the Champions League last season, FC Barcelona Femení is starting to become the most dominant club in all of European football. The men, on the other hand, are moving in the opposite direction. On November 6, 2021, Barcelona announced its choice to put former club legend Xavi in as its new manager. Barça this season has been eliminated from the Copa del Rey in the round of 16, lost to Real Madrid in the Supercopa de España, and was eliminated in the Champions League group stage for the first time in 22 years. It is just the fourth time in Barcelona's history that it has not made it past the group stage of one of the most illustrious tournaments in all of Europe.
It was the earliest that Barcelona has been eliminated from the Copa del Rey since 1994-1995 when it was defeated by Atlético Madrid over two legs in the final 16. It is also just the second time in the history of Barcelona that the club has failed to make it to the final of the Supercopa de España.
After Barça was defeated by Athletic Club in the round of 16 of the Copa del Rey, manager Xavi Hernandez, stated, "We were beaten by intensity, we have to win the duels, the second plays...Athletic was excellent, well organized. I think Athletic played a great match. It was difficult for us to make progress. We tried. They defended with great intensity. They were superior in the duels. I saw a very strong Athletic. We fought until the end...These have been hard days, but there is nothing left to do but work and believe in the project. We have to recover from the defeat in the Super Cup and this one. But we have to think about La Liga and the Europa League."
Much of the story of Barcelona's season has been squeaking out draws, and not being able to turn that one point into three in the blink of an eye like many elite teams in Europe have the tendency to do. FC Barcelona has totaled nine draws so far this season out of its 23 matches played. There are only two teams this year in La Liga that have accumulated more draws than Barça has. They are tied for second in the top-flight in Spain for most draws with Villarreal, Granada, and Valencia. In the last two seasons only, Barcelona has not drawn more than seven contests, and that is for the entire season.
Finding goals at crucial points in matches continues to be an issue for Xavi and the rest of the coaching staff. Signing three forward players before the January transfer window closed may help, but Barcelona is already out of almost every competition and it is only February. No Champions League, no Copa del Rey, and realistically the 26 time La Liga winners have an extremely low chance of catching Real Madrid who is 15 points ahead of them in the table. This week, Barcelona drew Napoli at the Camp Nou, and the only reason it did was due to a controversial handball that ended up resulting in a penalty.
A lot of critics say this team will eventually figure it out because it is Barcelona, but despite its performance a few weeks ago against Atlético, this team seems to be going nowhere anytime soon. Seeing Barça on your upcoming schedule anymore just doesn't have the same effect mentally as it once did a few years back.
Messi has come and gone, and prime Iniesta, Cesc Fàbregas, and Ronaldinho are not walking through the door anytime soon.
What once was a nightmare of a team to play against has turned into anything but that this season. The goal-scoring threat just isn't there anymore like Real Madrid has right now. Finding answers is not going to be easy, but they better hurry up before Barcelona changes from a Champions League lock to a Europa League regular.