On and off the field, rumors are swirling about Barcelona's demise. Some have proclaimed that the club’s famed tiki-taka style is being phased out by manager Gerardo Martino, while others profess that Barcelona’s golden age of world-class homegrown players is simply coming to its natural end. Three losses in the past six La Liga games have compounded this thinking, and as Barcelona faces Manchester City on Wednesday in the second leg of their UEFA Champions League matchup, there is considerable belief that the English club can overcome its 0-2 deficit.
The problem for Barcelona offensively is that opponents are becoming more content with staying compact and keeping numbers behind the ball, and this “bunker mentality” has effectively driven Barcelona’s scoring rate down because of the lack of quality chances created. The team is scoring on just 16.8 percent of its shot attempts this season, which is a significant decline from the 21.8 percent conversion rate that Barcelona averaged throughout 2012-13. At the same time, La Liga opponents averaged just 12.7 clearances per game from their own defensive third against Barcelona in 2012-13, and that number has swelled to 23.2 clearances per game this season because of an added emphasis on defending Barcelona’s attack.
Breaking down these bunker defenses is not exactly a new issue for Barcelona, but the fact that more La Liga teams have also improved in the counterattack means that the team is dropping critical points against teams that are not nearly as talented.
So how can Barca fix its problems and turn the tide this season? The key likely involves repositioning superstar Lionel Messi....