Barcelonas Defensive Scapegoats
However are Barcelonas rightfully acknowledged defensive problems, the heart of their problems? Or are there more problems, more obvious problems that are being glazed over. Since 2015/16 FC Barcelonas xG against has only risen by 0.14, a small 5.32 goals over an expected season. This is not the huge increase I would expect to see, when you view the media reports around the defensive frailties that have occurred in the last five years.
However FC Barcelona have had a much greater drop in xG, seeing a drop of nearly 0.9 since the 2015/16 season. This is a huge 34 goals over a La Liga season, this is a huge number, suggesting Barcelona's expected goals per game has dropped at a rate of almost one goal every game since 2016. Barcelonas problems in possession were highlighted in the first half of their game v Bayern Munich in the Champions League this season.
From of the outset it was clear that Barcelona were not the only side to be struggling defensively with huge spaces left beside the Munich defensive line, space that could have been occupied by Barcelona's opposing full-backs, in the same way that they did to create their first goal. However for long periods of the game the full-backs of Barcelona sat deeper, playing in front of the Bayern defensive line
As you can see in the two images above, one showings a glaring opportunity to get forward and stretch the compact Bayern back four, or take advantage of its compact nature, in this situation the right side is ignored for a switch to the overloaded and compact left side, possession is overturned.
The second example shows a high left back, who is willing to run beyond the defensive line, find space behind the opponent and create a fortunate goal. These two example outline, the opportunity, the effectiveness and the consequence of not attempting to play high and exploit the space behind the opponent.
The use of full-backs by Barcelona continued to be a problem through out the game, their positioning at times was neither effective for possession of the ball, or defensive structure without the ball. This 50/50 positioning between lines, didn't even help the to be effective in transition.
Even when attempting to play through the opponent press (a skill really Barcelona made famous), the full-backs look timid in transitioning from the defensive third to the attacking third quickly. when you compare this to sides like Liverpool who use the full-back effectively in space to break forward and attacking the opponent when a high press is broken.
Barcelona's full-backs wouldn't even push beyond the first line to receive when the opportunity to break out had occurred (shown in the image below). Instead they played safe, received in front of the opponent and then attacked.
In Possession FC Barcelona also lacked the penetrate and ambitious midfield that has been seen for many years. Lateral passes were seemingly played, not to attract pressure and open space behind the opponent like before. But to pass the ball and pass the problem. A seemingly disorganised and dysfunctional attacking system.
The side to side passing, just plays central to the lack of attacking threat, and whilst Bayern played a high defensive line (as many modern teams do) Barcelona were just not able to open the space behind. Better sides would have looked to stretch the width of the defensive line and make runs in behind. Then either playing in the space opened up or playing in the space behind the opponent.
In conclusion, yes Barcelona may not be as defensively strong as they've ever been, however they have never been a defensively organised side who shut teams down week after week. This was a team of continental flare and beauty, that opened teams up time after time, after Time. With the inability to adapt to opponents, use space and run in behind it could be a difficult period for FC Barcelona with out change.