What’s next for Barca in La Liga?
by Nathan Auty
After a humiliating Champions League group stage elimination last week at the hands of a Bayern Munich team that had nothing to play for, the question on the lips of everybody concerning Barcelona is “where do we go from here?”
It has been a torrid time for the Blaugranas over the past 18 months, one which has involved:
- mass resignations from the hierarchy
- the arrest of a former president
- a tumultuous presidential election
- financial strife and associated player contract disputes
- the departure of midfield greats Xavi and Andres Iniesta coming to the end of their time
- Leo Messi saga – the team’s talismanic hero of the last 18 years forced into a shock exit
- a managerial merry-go-round
- faltering results on the pitch
- and now the first group stage elimination for 18 years
The last time the team were dispatched in the group stage of Europe’s elite premier competition coincided with the first season Messi made his bow (2003-04 season) – and the competition has become aligned with the fortunes of him and his greatest on-pitch rival Cristiano Ronaldo ever since.
This summer’s departure of Barca’s inspiration to Paris SG brought an end to an era, having already seen fellow legends Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta move on, but the club did not expect a new start without their three stars to have such a negative impact on fortunes on the pitch.
However, the struggles started well before Messi’s heartbreaking end to his time at Camp Nou, with financial difficulty severely impacting the ability to improve the squad culminating in a humiliating quarter final European exit to the same German conquerors of midweek in 2019/20 (losing a one-off tie by 2-8) and then a round of 16 loss to Messi’s new club in the last campaign – a real kick in the teeth.
Falling behind in the La Liga standings also meant the team has had to watch each of the Madrid clubs win the championship title for the last two years, which has been followed by the ending of a disastrous reign of former European Cup-winning player, the Dutchman Ronald Koeman, after 14 months in charge.
Koeman’s final game was the 1-0 defeat by Rayo Vallecano in La Liga at the end of October, the team’s fourth defeat in six matches in all competitions.
The club hierarchy, led by returning president Joan Laporta, made the move to reunite legendary midfielder Xavi Hernendez with the Camp Nou in a bid to try to revive the successful times of the 2000’s and 2010’s of which he played a huge part.
But the new boss will need time to get to grips with the team’s flailing fortunes that have seen them start the season in poor form. He started with the intention of making his team difficult to beat and improving confidence – this showed in victories over city neighbours Espanyol (1-0) and away to Villareal (3-1).
However, the goalless draw at home to Benfica in the Champions League matchday five fixture that they needed to win has now proven costly and the loss in Munich followed a first La Liga defeat for Xavi when Real Betis sneaked a 1-0 win at Camp Nou.
It is clear that things will take time and the new boss knows he has to get the team improving quickly. Speaking after the Champions League exit, which now puts Barca into the Europa League for the first time ever since its evolution from the UEFA Cup, he spoke of the start of a new phase.
“I said the same to the players, today a new phase must begin, we need to bounce back because Barcelona does not deserve to be where we are now. I say to the fans that we will work hard, that I love this club, I care about it and that we will work hard to bring Barcelona back where it belongs.”
That new phase of changing the team’s fortunes and building up the confidence of a misfiring team that lie way down in seventh place, 16 points behind runaway leaders Real Madrid, begins on Sunday with a trip to Osasuna of Pamplona.
Jagoba Arrasatte’s men started the season strongly, but their form dropped rapidly and they are now on a seven games winless streak in La Liga and have slipped to 10th place, winning only one home fixture so far. They drew 1-1 against perennial strugglers Elche in their last home match.
So both teams have suffered from recent poor form, and Barca only have one away win in La Liga this season, but the better quality of their lineup means they are the 5/6 favourites in the sports betting odds to win this fixture, with their opponents clear 16/5 outsiders and the draw at 13/5.
Barca won both meetings last season and will be looking to Memphis Depay to fire them to another victory this weekend – he has scored eight goals so far this season and is 4/1 to open the scoring here. The odds on Barca to win 2-0 are 17/2, and rise to 236/1 for Depay to score both goals.
The Dutch striker is a key player in Xavi’s “new phase” for the team and it is likely that they will set up their play to cater for his goal scoring ability in a match that provides a good opportunity to get back to winning ways and restore some positivity around Camp Nou.
Sunday’s fixture kicks off at 16:15 CET at El Sadar Stadium.