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Barcelona Can Use Winter Break to Instill More Leadership in The Ranks

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The joy of the holidays is in full swing once again. It is a time to celebrate, to rejoice, and to give thanks for the many blessings received during this past year. For many, however, it is also a time to reflect on the mistakes we’ve made, the hearts we’ve broken, and the pain we have caused, a statement that holds true for none more than FC Barcelona.

Barcelona started their 2014/15 campaign like a high-flying rocket propelling past their Spanish counterparts. Many of us believed that we were witnessing a resurgence, a continuation of the Blaugrana dominance we saw in the Pep Guardiola era. Sadly, our dreams were broken and tears were shed in the face of frustration, anger and failure. The team once described as the best club in the world seems to have lost its spark.

The past two months have been tumultuous for the Catalan side. They’ve been on a roller coaster ride of wins and losses and, in spite of their record-breaking start to the season, the lack of prowess from individual players and as a whole has been harshly criticized.

The defensive back line, an improvement from last year’s disaster thanks to Jeremy Mathieu and Javier Mascherano, has shown a good deal of promise. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of work to be done.

Gerard Pique, the former wonder kid and heir to Carles Puyol’s throne, has seen a consistent decline in form over the past couple of years and has caused Barcelona more concerns than any other player. Time after time, the Spanish international has allowed opponents to slip past him on attacking plays and set pieces, the latter being his most unforgivable sin, especially when considering his 6’4” frame. His utter lack of concentration during matches, which many attribute to his ongoing relationship with the brunette-turned-blonde singer Shakira, has disappointed both the team and fans on one too many occasions.

Yet, he is not solely to blame for the inconsistencies in defense. The Blaugrana’s starting right-back, Dani Alves, can surely share responsibility for many of their blunders.

Just like his Barcelona compatriot, Alves was considered one of football’s best defenders. Very few players could efficiently defend their side of the field and then almost instantly appear at the other end of the pitch to provide a goalscoring cross or, in a majestically created passing play, take a dangerous shot on goal from outside the 18-yard box. Regardless of the role he played in defense or attack, the Brazilian was always an inescapable force for the opposition to contend with.

Alas! How things have changed. For the past two seasons, Dani Alves has been surrounded by rumors of discontent with the club and of his eventual departure from Catalonia. To make matters worse, his recent chain of poor performances has left most fans and critics weary of his presence. That perfect balance between defense and offense, a staple from his best days, has transformed into countless crosses into empty space, a plethora of lost balls, and horrendous dirty tackles. Few would deny that the Brazilian has outstayed his welcome.

Both of these players, though all-stars in their prime, have very little left to offer a magnificent, championship-winning team like FC Barcelona.

On the other hand, what does the team have to offer its players?

When Barcelona’s 2013/14 season ended in disgrace, Tata Martino knew that his time as team manager had reached its apex. The Argentine surprised no one when he resigned from his post immediately following their round 38 loss to Atlético Madrid, a game, that if they had won, would have seen Barca lifting the league title, and possibly saving them from an otherwise embarrassing season. Unfortunately, that was not the case. The club, in the hopes of returning to their winning ways, brought in former Barcelona player and Barca B coach Luis Enrique to manage the team.

His appointment seemed promising despite his lack of accolades or accomplishments with both A.S. Roma and Celta de Vigo, and as the league began, many believed that Enrique was the savior that the Camp Nou had been waiting for. But like all good things, their back-to-back victories were coming to an end.

The warning signs began flashing red for the Catalans at the end of September, the night of their first loss in all competitions. The Champions League first leg against Paris Saint-Germain was billed as the Spanish side’s first true test with their new set of first team players and their new coach. From the start, Barcelona seemed lost and out of place. Their normally magisterial passing was pointless and amounted to very little, their defenders were lost and confused, and Luis Enrique had absolutely no response as they trailed the Parisians 2-1 at the start of the second half, a flaw that would rear its ugly head again in a mere 25 days. Laurent Blanc’s men, on the other hand, were relentless in their attack and even though the former Santos player managed an equalizer for Barca, PSG’s fortitude prevailed in a 3-2 win.

After such a pitiful performance in Paris, a win at the Santiago Bernabéu just three weeks later would’ve made the Champions League loss forgivable. That, however, was not the case. El Clásico proved to be a much more disastrous game than Catalonia had hoped for.

Real Madrid – the eternal rival – the unstoppable force to their immovable object, the arch nemesis in every sense of the word. And on October 25th, los Galácticos proved, once again, why they have toppled Barcelona from the top of the mountain and are currently the best club in the world.

Barcelona made a number of mistakes on the pitch during those heart-breaking 90 minutes, but their worst errors happened before the game even began.

Enrique has been fiddling with the lineup from day one and has made some bold, game-winning decisions, but on that particular evening, it proved to be a fatal flaw. The Barca manager’s starting XI, apart from the first few minutes of the game, was never truly able to connect in the same way that los Blancos did.

Jeremy Mathieu, by far Barcelona’s best defender, right behind Mascherano, was moved from his usual center-back position to the left side, in spite of publicly admitting that he was uncomfortable on that end of the field. Inevitably, the Frenchman struggled to hold his own against the madrista onslaught, though he didn’t fail as miserably as Dani Alves, who allowed Marcelo to completely dominate the entire right side.

The second half of the match saw Barcelona lose further control as the Catalan’s dynamic duo, Xavi and Iniesta, were unable to manage the midfield, which, as any football fan knows, is a death sentence for the Blaugrana’s passing and possession game. The better option would have been the more attack-minded Ivan Rakitić, a player who had proved himself as a valiant and formidable asset.

With the connection between Barca’s defenders and forwards lost, Real Madrid was free to run rampant. Luckily, Barcelona did enough to only walk away with a two goal defeat.

These tactical decisions by Enrique, or lack thereof, would creep up in the following match against Celta de Vigo, and again in their nil-nil draw to Getafe a couple of weeks ago.

This FC Barcelona team doesn’t just need an identity, it needs a true leader on and off the pitch. But who can, or will, step up to the challenge? Believe it or not, there seems to be no obvious candidate. So let’s hope that Barca have made it onto Santa’s nice list because what this team needs more than anything else this holiday season is a real Christmas miracle.

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