The attack has been in decline for years. 2019/20 is the fourth consecutive year in which the club has averaged fewer shots than the year before with over 17 in 2016/17 to around 13 in the last campaign. Not only is the volume of shots decreasing, but also the quality as for every year from 2015/16 their xG has fallen. In 2015/16 they had an xG of 113, in 2019/20 it sat at just 72, this is a fall from just shy of 3 a game to less than 1.9. This is alarmingly worrying for any side but especially worrying for a side that prides itself of free-flowing attacking football.
This is down to the side having less possession and doing less with that possession. Under Pep Guardiola, Barcelona only had less possession than their opponent in one of 247 matches and under Luis Enrique this only happened six times in 181 matches. Under Ernesto Valverde, they had less possession than their opponent in nine of his 145 matches.
Quique Setién tried to change this. Under him, Barcelona had more of the ball but have made the side more conservative as this season the side have played a few proportion of their passes in the final third than they did last season.
This all combined have meant the squad have become more reliant on Lionel Messi. In 2019/20, not only did he lead the squad in goals and assists but also for dribbles, through balls and crosses. This had led to him having the most progressive passes in the squad, more than double second place, and he also leads the squad for passes into the penalty box, three times the next best.
The over reliance on the Argentine has largely come from bad transfers. Since 2014, the Catalans have spent over £800 million on transfers which has also led to them having the largest wage bill in sports. This money has been spent on over 30 plays and many would say only Clement Lenglet and Marc-André ter Stegen have been successes.
Players like André Gomes and Malcolm clearly weren’t ready for an elite club which didn’t stop them spending over £30 million on each of them. Their three largest signings (Griezmann, Coutinho and Dembélé) seems like they were bought without the manager being on board. This has seen Ousmane Dembélé hardly feature even when he has been fit, Coutinho shipped out on loan to Bayern Munich for a season and Griezmann played out of position just to get him onto the pitch. The latter was someone that they had failed to sign twice previously and instead of moving onto younger players that will fit the team, they spent around £120 million on the then 28-year-old.
This method of buying old players that aren’t needed is a recipe for an aging squad in decline. By overpaying for them and giving them huge contracts, it means the club is in a horrible place financially. These two things combined have meant the squad needs a massive overhaul, but these is no money for that to happen.
Of course, the board are to blame for this. Bartomeu is unpopular at the club and Messi has publicly criticised him. Bartomeu hasn’t helped himself by appointing Ronald Koeman as manager. It is obvious Koeman was picked ahead of other candidates to try an appease the fans as he is a club icon and help Bartomeu has he won’t criticise him in the media. Koeman has already upset Messi as he has told his best friend, Luis Suárez, he can leave for free.
With the Barcelona presidential election coming up next year, only months before Messi’s contract finishes, we could see Lionel Messi leave for free. This will leave the next president, who will more than likely opt for a better manager, a huge task.
An aging squad, no money, debt of over £750 million and the club’s best ever player leaving for free. The rebuild at Barcelona is difficult to say the least and it is clear why Messi doesn’t want to be around for it.