Barcelona Must Stop Treading Water to Claim La Liga and Champions League Success

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Barcelona Must Stop Treading Water to Claim La Liga and Champions League Success
Associated Press
Misery: Messi and Neymar look downheartened.

To the casual observer, Barcelona's defeat by Real Sociedad on Saturday night was an upset, a shock, a real turn up for the books.

But to anybody who has been following the team closely this season, it was more like the moment a tired driver finally fell asleep at the wheel and drifted across the motorway into the lane divider.

Knowing it was going to happen doesn't make it any less brutal—or painful—to watch, though.

Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images
Griezmann gave Barca the runaround.

Sociedad's 3-1 triumph in Anoeta was thoroughly deserved, with attacking duo Antoine Griezmann and Carlos Vela particularly impressive.

Barcelona and Tata Martino should know that with things so tight at the top of La Liga, every minor detail needs to be considered.

While many write the Spanish top flight off as a battle between two sides—although this season Atletico have joined Barca and Real Madrid's party—that particular tussle is usually gripping.

Carlo Ancelotti's Madrid side are flying, having been beaten just twice this season—in 2013, by the other two title contenders, funnily enough.

Barcelona have dropped points in four of the last seven games, which by their standards is poor form.

The 2-0 victory against Manchester City was, on paper at least, a superb result.

But the performance itself showed a lack of gumption, to let the Manchester side off with just one more goal after they had been reduced to 10 men.

The marquee signing of Neymar aside, the club has been treading water both on and off the pitch in the last couple of years.

Losing Tito Vilanova was both unfortunate and disruptive, but they should have sorted out their defensive deficiencies last summer.

Nobody was saying they needed more firepower, so spending €57 million (or more, as per Barcelona's own summary, h/t Inside Spanish Football) on the acquisition of Neymar was ill-advised.

Alvaro Barrientos/Associated Press/Associated Press
Money well spent? Neymar is good, but the defence needs repairs.

Of course, the Brazilian could turn out to be one of the world's very best players for a number of years and end up being good value.

But, similar to Manchester United's purchase of Juan Mata, it's a little like buying a new television to make your lounge better when what you really needed was something to sit on. 

Being overly defensive is certainly not a philosophy Barcelona or Blaugrana fans care for, but there's a difference between playing so-called "anti-football" and due diligence at the back.

Chelsea's David Luiz has long been on the radar of the club, and while he would be an upgrade on Javier Mascherano at centre-back, he is prone to errors himself.

Martino made mistakes against Sociedad, one of the greatest of which was to get himself expelled at half-time.

It left his deputy Jorge Pautasso to steer the ship after half-time, straight into the iceberg it had been heading for all along.

He had already made too many changes from that City game; sometimes it's better to start your strongest team and then rest players by taking them off. 

Lionel Messi's fine strike to level the scores at 1-1 before the interval was almost unfortunate if anything, because it gave the team a false confidence as they headed in for the break.

A few weeks ago we saw Griezmann, Vela and Co. try and hit Barcelona on the break at Camp Nou in the Copa del Rey, and although the Catalans dominated that game, Sociedad looked dangerous on several occasions.

Like Manchester City did, they had a man sent off, and it killed the game.

For too long this season, Marc Bartra and Martin Montoya have sat on the bench.

Both of the youngsters started against Sociedad and were part of the problem, with Bartra making a mistake for one goal, and Montoya unable to offer quite the same dynamism as Dani Alves.

Alvaro Barrientos/Associated Press/Associated Press
Disaster: Barcelona were a shambles against Sociedad.

But had the pair been given more game time earlier on, in easier fixtures, perhaps they would have been ready.

An optimistic note, though: Barcelona have not declined irreversibly. They are only a little way away from where they need to be.

In their treble-winning season, 2008-09, they were at the same number of points after the same number of games.

Barcelona-based publication Sport reports that they have scored four less goals but conceded four less as well.

Both Madrid sides are stronger now than they were then, but it shows that small tweaks are all that’s needed to progress.

Just make sure you’re tweaking in the right places.

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