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Is this The Beginning Of The End For Barcelona?

Is this The Beginning Of The End For Barcelona?

A poor start, a failure to bring Neymar back, and an ageing front line – are Barcelona the force they used to be? By almost all measurements, Barcelona have been the most influential team in world football over the past 15 years.

They have spawned arguably the greatest footballer of all time in Lionel Messi, reinvented the game, and won numerous honours and accolades in that time.

Yet things might have started to unravel in recent seasons.
While they may have won the La Liga titles in four of the last five seasons (helped in no small part by the seemingly permanent state of turmoil at Real Madrid, Champions League medals notwithstanding), they don’t seem to have that awe-inspiring aura in Europe anymore.

Related: Valverde Demands More From Griezmann

Take last season’s Champions League semi-final. It would be churlish to take everything away from Liverpool given how they battled from 3-0 down with a skeleton front line, but Barcelona shot themselves in the foot throughout the second leg.

Would that result have happened under Pep Guardiola? Absolutely not. Barcelona were not feared in the second leg, when just a few years ago there would be a sense of dread for any team facing them.

Those problems appear to have transferred over to this season – the Catalan giants have only managed one win from their opening three games, a record almost unheard of at Camp Nou.

What has linked those games is the absence of Messi due to a calf injury, while Luis Suarez only played 37 minutes of their opening day loss to Athletic Bilbao.

Without that dynamic duo, could they be classed as average? Phillipe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele were both brought in to be the third prong in the attack after Neymar’s departure and neither have produced the sort of form necessary, with the former departing for Bayern Munich during the summer.

They’ve struggled in midfield too – it was a virtually impossible task to try and replace both Xavi and Andres Iniesta but Frenkie de Jong is still very young and inexperienced, while Arthur Melo is not quite in the same class.

Defence has never been their strongest suit, and, in fairness to Gerard Pique, he still looks very capable, but by consequence of their midfield and front line not being as effective, the defence will be tested more often.

And, what about Neymar? He was desperate to come back to Barca, the club were very keen to welcome him back, and PSG would have rid themselves of a player who didn’t want to be there. Sounds perfect.

It is understandable why Barca would baulk at the huge costs involved, in addition to the fact they had already signed Antoine Griezmann from Atletico Madrid.

But where Barca were once ruthless in the transfer market (Suarez being the most obvious example) they seemed to just meekly give up on this one.

There will come a time in the not too distant future when Messi, and to a lesser extent Suarez, will not be able to perform at the levels they are doing now. Both are 32-years-old and both are beginning to suffer recurring niggling injuries.

It is an important time now for Barcelona to take stock and assess where they need to go. They are still the favourites for La Liga, but their place as the dominant force of European and world football appears to be coming to an end.

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