FC Barcelona: 5 Reasons They Can't Perform on the Road
A fun fact: Barcelona conceded their first goal at home in La Liga on Matchday 18. Before that, the Catalan defense had kept every opponent at bay in the Camp Nou.
Despite this surreal statistic, Barcelona are 10 points behind Real Madrid. The reason? An utterly atrocious record away from the comfortable confines of the Camp Nou.
As of this Sunday, Barcelona have dropped two points at the Camp Nou and 16 points away from it. Their away record reads four wins, five draws and two defeats. That is a success rate of less than 50 percent when playing away from their own fans.
To put things into perspective, even Rayo Vallecano have a better away record than the Spanish defending champions.
Here's taking a look at the possible reasons for Barcelona's underwhelming away record.
When you compete in at least three different tournaments, a particularly nasty side effect is a bumper-to-bumper fixture list.
This is the first week since October that Barcelona will not be playing a midweek match. Combined with the strain of traveling to exotic locations for the Club World Cup and a tiny squad of only 21 to 22 players, we can see that excess fatigue is inevitable.
And when you consider that Barcelona under Pep Guardiola has been competing on multiple fronts for three seasons now, the problem becomes even more stark.
Now that the Copa del Rey is over till May, Barcelona can expect to have more rest between matches. Indeed, their next midweek match is now all the way on March 7th, which is going to be played in the Camp Nou.
Hopefully the extra rest means that Barcelona will be back to firing on all cylinders as they were against Valencia.
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January has been hard on Barcelona.
After losing David Villa to a broken tibia late in December, they also had to face minor injuries to Pedro, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets.
Missing one key player for a run of games is bad enough. But when so many important players are out of action, it is natural that the side loses a lot of cohesion.
Without Busquets, it is extremely difficult for Barcelona to retain their normal dominance of the midfield. Without Iniesta, the Barcelona attack lacks a lot of flair. Without Villa and Pedro, the burden of goalscoring has to fall to Alexis Sanchez and, of course, Lionel Messi.
Such key absences haven't helped in Barcelona's struggles on the road. Fortunately, except for Villa, the other players are back into the side, and their return will certainly spark a resurgence in form.
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Another undesirable effect of injuries, other than having important players out of action, is the constant need to play different players in the starting XI.
Pep Guardiola has had to constantly rotate players from Barcelona B to make up for the lack of numbers in the first team squad. Players like Cristian Tello and Jonathan dos Santos have benefited from this rotation, but the team has mostly suffered.
A major issue with rotation is the lack of cohesion in attack and midfield. We saw this happen in Barcelona's defeat against Osasuna. Barcelona were unable to make the most of their time on the ball, leading to many wasted passes and poor decision-making in the final third. They were also unable to stamp their authority on the midfield exchanges. This offered Osasuna too many openings, which they took full advantage of.
While the team's rotation is certainly necessary because of the tiny squad that Guardiola has at his disposal, it brings with it a fair share of problems.
Lack of Sharpness
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This is certainly partly down to Barcelona's rotation. However, even with most of the first team available, Barcelona have looked extremely uncoordinated away from home.
There is a definite lack of sharpness in the team's play that, while difficult to pinpoint, is certainly visible in their performances. The factors for this are manifold.
There is still uncertainty over Cesc Fabregas' best position. When he plays, he manages to score and links up play well. There is, however, a tentativeness to his play that was most evident in the La Liga fixture against Real Madrid. He is often seen crowding the play in the final third, leading to some missed opportunities.
Also, away from home, Barcelona often have to contend with resurgent teams who are looking to prove a point in front of their own fans. Teams often defend with two banks of four, snuffing out Barcelona's midfield and attack. In the Camp Nou, under the hostile cries of 100,000 Barcelona fans, teams are unable to maintain the composure that they do in their own stadiums.
Finally, inconsistency has been Barcelona's biggest enemy throughout the current La Liga season. It was perhaps best accentuated by their 2-2 draw away at Real Sociedad just a few days after they had thrashed Villarreal 5-0 in the Camp Nou.
Barcelona Fans Are Among the Best in the League
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When fans are as good as the Cules that make it to the Camp Nou week in and week out, it is understandable that the team suffers without their vociferous support.
Whether it is shouting insults at Real Madrid irrespective of the current opponents, or the cheering that follows each name on the Barcelona team sheet or even the rendition of "El Cant del Barca" before and after every match, the fans at the Camp Nou are the most vocal in the league.
Leaving such comforts for the hostilities at San Mames, the Mestalla or El Madrigal is always going to be a hard ask for any team.