3 Academy prospects Paris Saint-Germain didn’t capitalize03 April 2020 / Miguel Coelho
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Barcelona drew 0-0 at the Camp Nou against Slavia Prague and again left many doubts that add to those of their last defeat for La Liga against Levante. When a few weeks ago it seemed that the team was beginning to find its way, once again it appears to have entered a pothole that puts Ernesto Valverde's project under scrutiny.
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Tuesday's meeting was a perfect opportunity to leave the bad game of last weekend behind. Barça returned to Camp Nou, a talisman so far, and measured a Slavia side that despite having proved to be a good team is presumed several steps below a Barca project plotted to fight for all titles. But once again the Catalans were overcome by the situation, they had a bad time in defense during several moments of the game and showed a worrying lack of connection between their most important players in the big moments.
The injury of Luis Suarez last Saturday, added to Jordi Alba’s blow in this game, do not help the team find a starting lineup that can begin to show the necessary automatisms so that the quality of its players is translated into the scoreboard. With many problems every time they move away from their stadium -with defeats against Athletic, Granada and Levante and a draw against Osasuna in 11 league games- at least they were clinging to the Camp Nou with big wins like those achieved against Betis, Valencia, Sevilla or Valladolid. But against Slavia, not even playing against their fans was enough and Barça remained goalless at home for the first time after 45 games. The last time had been against Getafe in February 2018, while in Champions League it has not happened since April 2017 against Juventus.
Besides Ter Stegen, who has saved many points in this first part of the season, Barça shows serious failures in all its lines, starting with a defense in which Piqué is far from his best level and in which Valverde hasn’t found a safe replacement for Jordi Alba. The ‘culé’ coach has shown that he does not trust Junior Firpo, signed from Betis to fulfill that function, and has preferred to move Semedo to the left when the Portuguese has not been comfortable with the changed profile.
The problem in the center of the field is the overpopulation of players, and the only immovable one seems to be Frenkie de Jong. Busquets and Arthur looked like the coach's favorite options to accompany the Dutchman, but Arturo Vidal has been taking ground from the Brazilian, while Rakitic seems more out than in the club and every time he has an opportunity, he shows a logical lack of rhythm. Young people from the academy such as Aleñá or Riqui Puig have disappeared from the rotation when it was presumed that they would acquire a greater role.
In the forward line Leo Messi remains the undisputed leader who continues to pay with goals and assists in almost every game, although if there is something to claim the Argentine is the almost null connection he has shown with the star signing of the season: Antoine Griezmann. Both players seem to avoid each other at times, and the Frenchman demonstrates in each game that the left wing is not his natural habitat. There is no doubt about his effort, but more must be demanded of a player for whom 120 million euros were paid. The responsibility is largely for Valverde, who even in the absence of Suarez decided to move Messi to the center and keep the former Atlético player on the left. Yesterday Dembelé also had his chance, but he did not show himself as a reliable player, and the young Ansu Fati brings more clarity every time he jumps to the pitch.
It is not a matter of promoting a crisis that is far from being a reality, since Barça maintains the leadership of La Liga, although matched with Real Madrid and Real Sociedad, and also marches at the head of its group in the Champions League and will seal its presence in the round of 16 with a win on the next game against Dortmund. But the team must show another face if they want to be able to fight with the best teams in Europe when the moment of truth comes in the second half of the season. There is still time to correct mistakes and find the regularity that the team needs, although there are many who have already lost their patience with Ernesto Valverde and demand a change to the board. The next few weeks will be decisive to know if the team takes a step forward and leaves doubts behind or if the coach's final destination is inexorably out of the club.
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