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La Liga

How Barcelona conceded the La Liga title to Real Madrid

With a 2-1 defeat at home against OsasunaBarcelona conceded the La Liga title to Real MadridReal Madrid, however, did not need that result to confirm their 34th La Liga title. A 2-1 home win over Villareal meant that the Merengues secured an assailable lead over the defending champions even if Barcelona had beaten Osasuna.

The 2019-20 season is now poised to become a trophyless ones for the Catalan giants who had a similar situation under Gerardo Martino in 2013-14 too. However, if truth be told, Barcelona have only themselves to blame.

In a club where maintaining a certain style of football is prioritised over winning the La Liga title, achieving neither at the end of a season is a far from ideal proposition.

They played an insipid brand of football for much of the 2019-20 season under Ernesto Valverde. The arrival of Quique Setien in January was supposed to breathe a new lease of life in Barcelona's largely underwhelming La Liga campaign. But that didn't happen, though.

However, Barcelona managed to hold the upper hand in one of the most intense La Liga title races in years. Leading Real Madrid by a point with 11 games remaining, the Blaugrana looked up for the challenge when they won their first two games after the La Liga restart to stay top of the table.

But Barcelona's goalless draw at Sevilla allowed Real Madrid to overtake Barcelona. Another 'costly' draw at Celta Vigo allowed Madrid to open up a comfortable four-point lead at the top, and Barcelona were always playing catch up after that.

The disharmony between Barcelona players and management

The most problematic aspect of Barcelona's 2019-20 season has been the disharmony between the players and the management. The Barcelona board, led by Josep Maria Bartomeu, had already soured relations with their players following the Barcagate scandal.

This feeling of animosity then seeped its way to the Blaugrana locker room. On the surface, everything looked normal. But you know all was not right at the Nou Camp when Gerard Pique extensively remonstrated with referee Mateu Lahoz in a game against Real Valladolid.

The veteran Barcelona defender talking himself into referee Jose Maria Sanchez Martinez’s books in the home defeat against Osasuna was another such instance. Pique’s anger and frustration is a microcosm of Barcelona’s collective failure. However, he has also had his reasons to be angry with match officials.

Nevertheless, it has been an utterly forgettable season for Barcelona despite Lionel Messi tallying 20 goals and assists for the first time in a season. If the Blaugrana do not win the Champions League in August, it would be a massive disservice to their inspirational captain who is not getting any younger.

For now, Barcelona fans are in a unique dilemma, something that they are not used to. Since the 2008-09 season, they have been used to celebrating and bragging. But the last few seasons have been difficult despite Barcelona winning the La Liga in 2017-18 and 2018-19.

The Blaugrana faithful are blaming Bartomeu and the Barcelona board on social media. Some have also put the blame on manager Quique Setien while others say that Ernesto Valverde are prematurely shown the door.

However, the fact of the matter is that Barcelona’s problems go deeper. The squad needs a complete overhaul; it has too many players who are on the wrong side of 30.

Barcelona’s goal-scoring struggles and defensive frailties come to the fore

Barcelona have struggled to score goals from open play in the La Liga this season.

For a star-studded club like Barcelona brimming with the likes of Luis SuarezAntoine Griezmann and Lionel Messi, we are not seeing enough goals being scored by the Catalan giants. 

True, Barcelona have scored the most La Liga goals (81) this season. But it is the least they have scored in a La Liga season since scoring 76 in 2007-08.

They put four past Villareal, but their overall play in the other matches looked laboured. Barcelona did not look like a side that attacks with smooth, seamless efficiency. It is easy for teams to just sit back and soak up the pressure, before counter-attacking with a lethal punch. In fact, Napoli could use the same tactic.

Barcelona's talismanic captain Lionel Messi acknowledged as much when he called the Blaugrana a 'weak team' that has struggled on the intensity and enthusiasm fronts.

Osasuna’s victory at the Nou Camp will no doubt have given Napoli plenty of motivation.

Plus, players such as Dries Mertens know the taste of scoring against Barcelona, and he will no doubt be smacking his lips at the prospect of getting his name in the scoresheet once again.

In fact, Napoli's all-time leading goalscorer seemed optimistic in today's UEFA interview.

Barcelona must start scoring more goals from open play. Against Alaves, they will might just be looking to do just that – to score as many goals as possible and get the combinations right.

Another aspect of Barcelona's demise this season was their defensive frailties to go with their goal-scoring struggles. The Blaugrana have conceded 38 times in 37 games this campaign, which translates to roughly a goal per game.

It is the most Barcelona have conceded in a La Liga season since their victorious 2012-13 campaign when they let in 40. But during that season, they scored 34 more goals than they have done so this season.

Barcelona have kept 13 clean sheets this season compared to Real Madrid's tally of 18.

Barcelona take a step forward and two steps backwards

After conceding their La Liga title, it now seems likely that Quique Setien may not continue as Barcelona manager for the UEFA Champions League in August. He knows that his job hangs in the balance, and frankly speaking, the time looks right for both him and the club to part ways.

Of course, it will be unfair for Setien to be sacked before he had a fair chance to prove his mettle. Any coach should at least be given a full season in charge before we assess him.

But the Blaugrana need something to change. Things are not happening under Setien. Barcelona are taking a step forward but two steps backwards.

Lionel Messi, with 23 goals, has once again led from the front but he has not had the adequate support. Luis Suarez (15) has had a stop-start campaign while Antoinne Greizmann (9) should not have shared more of the goal-scoring burden. The Frenchman scored at least ten goals in every La Liga season since scoring seven in 2011-12.

Griezmann's inconsistent season can be gauged from the fact that after scoring a lobbed goal against Villareal, he missed the simplest of chances in the very next game against Espanyol.

Under a new coach, Barcelona might get a fresh impetus. A new manager may change the team’s dynamic and infuse much-needed enthusiasm into the side.

García Pimienta, the Barcelona B manager, could be promoted to the first team helm. But the Blaugrana might be better served by someone who has had experience of managing top-flight title-winning sides.

Can Barcelona salvage their season with a Champions League triumph?

It now remains to be seen how Barcelona navigate their Champions League campaign. If Lionel Messi is to be believed, he reckons the team will lose against Napoli if the Catalan giants continue to play in this vein.

The Blaugrana faithful will certainly hope that Messi and company pull themselves together before the 8th of August when the Neapolitans arrive at the Nou Camp for the Round of 16 second leg.

Can Barcelona still win the Champions League? Drop your comments

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