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Apr 15, 2014

Barca's dominant run could be over

Messi&Xavi 140415  [576x324] - Copy
It's been an up-and-down season for Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez and Barcelona.

With five games left in the La Liga season, Barcelona has already suffered its fifth domestic defeat, which matches the most losses the team has suffered in a single campaign since the 2008-09 season. That season, Barcelona rallied under first-year manager Pep Guardiola to win the treble, and subsequently began an era of dominance for the Catalan club that has included six more trophies.

Five years after that treble performance, Barcelona remains an influential club in the European football landscape. The team is currently four points behind leaders Atletico Madrid in La Liga, and they'll face rival Real Madrid in the final of the Copa del Rey on Wednesday. Normally, competing for these trophies would be seen as business as usual for Barcelona, but inconsistent performances this season from individual players and the team as a whole have created doubt about the club’s present status, and depth issues in key positions like center back threaten to jeopardize the club’s run as one of Europe’s most dominant teams.

After a close look, I see some strong signals that Barcelona’s five-year reign of collecting trophies could be coming to an end.  

The death of tiki-taka?

Barcelona has every reason to be scoring more goals this season. The team ranks second across La Liga with 16.8 shot attempts per game, which is a significant improvement from the 13.9 shots per game the team averaged last season. The team also averages 19.4 take-ons per game in the attacking third this season, compared to just 15.5 in 2012-13.

Despite the club’s statistical improvement, Barcelona is scoring fewer goals this season. The team averages 2.8 goals per game, compared to 3.0 goals scored per game in 2012-13. More importantly, after being the only team in La Liga to score at least once in every game last season, Barcelona has failed to score in five games throughout the 2013-14 campaign.

Barcelona's attacking style has changed under manager Gerardo Martino.

The most logical explanation for this lack of goals is that opponents are being more patient with Barcelona’s signature tiki-taka buildup -- which relies on passing and movement to open defensive channels -- and their commitment to putting numbers behind the ball is making it hard for Barcelona to manufacture goals. And while this is a tactical strategy that Barcelona is familiar with, the team’s...