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Barcelona need a complete revamp of their defence

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Throughout the first half of the campaign, there was very little separating La Liga title rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid, and another titanic battle between these two old foes looked likely to ensue.

However, by mid-February, Zinedine Zidane’s side slowly began to edge away from their nearest challengers, and ended the season seven points clear of the Blaugrana. It was a disappointing outcome for Quique Setien. Despite the former Betis boss having collected an average of 2.13 points per game during his time in charge, it wasn’t enough to clinch a third successive title. 

Although the Catalan outfit outscored their high-flying rivals this season, problems at the back inevitably proved to be their downfall. Real Madrid ended the season with the division’s stingiest back-line, conceding just 25 times in 38 matches, an average of 0.66 per game. They also clocked up 19 clean sheets along the way, equalling the highest number of La Liga shutouts in the club’s history. In contrast, Barca managed to ship 38 goals in as many matches, and ended the campaign with a poorer defensive record than Getafe, Sevilla, Atletico Madrid, and Athletic Bilbao. Real Valladolid, who finished 13th, ended the season just five goals worse off than the 2018-19 champions. 

Setien appeared to have temporarily resolved the club’s defensive frailties with four consecutive clean sheets following the restart in mid-June, however, things soon quickly unravelled with back-to-back 2-2 draws further denting their title aspirations. Although bottom-club and near neighbours Espanyol failed to find a way through, a shock 2-1 reverse against Osasuna just eight days later raised serious questions. 

Although their defensive fragilities have been troubling for fans, it has been good news for both teams to score punters. Whilst most will opt for selecting a win, draw, or lose bet when looking at betting markets, many La Liga followers have found it difficult to trust the Blaugrana this season, and therefore have chosen to look towards goals-based markets instead. Both sides have notched in 50% of Barcelona’s games this year and, with online bookmakers automatically assuming that the Catalan outfit will keep the opposition off the score-sheet, this has been a fairly good angle to follow in recent months. 

Strengthening the defence has to be the priority this summer, and preparations are seemingly already underway. Samuel Umtiti, who hasn’t been the same player since returning from a knee problem, is reportedly surplus to requirements. Whilst the club have been linked to a number of top European centre backs, with Villareal’s Pau Torres believed to be high on the list. Several Premier League players have also been linked with a move including Manchester City’s Eric Garcia, and somewhat surprisingly, Spurs’ Argentine defender Juan Foyth

Setien may also use the summer break to work on a change of system. His favoured 3-5-2 set-up was hastily abandoned after just a couple of games, although with the right personnel in place, he may feel confident enough to return to a formation which served him so well in Andalusia. However, the players may require a few weeks to adapt to the new shape, and with the former Las Palmas boss already feeling the pressure, he must decide whether it’s a risk worth taking. 

Barca’s back-line isn’t getting any younger, and whilst Gerard Pique still has a few more years at the top level, he needs a pacey partner to play alongside. The defence was caught napping on several occasions last season, and often didn’t have legs to get back into position and clear their lines. With the full-backs being asked to push forward at every opportunity, this has left the remainder of the back-line horribly exposed, and it’s an issue which simply must be addressed over the coming months. 

With the 2020-21 La Liga campaign likely to get underway in mid-September, Barcelona don’t have long to try and resolve their defensive issues. However, with preparations already underway, they are expected to return with a faster, younger and far more focussed back-line, and fans will be hoping that the five-time Champions League winners can get back to their impenetrable best next season. 

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