What’s wrong with Barça? Nap time.

The analysis. The endless analysis. The speculation. The blaming. The quest for reasons why. It’s all like bringing in a team of child psychologists and behaviorists when a 2-year-old is having a full on, guns blazing tantrum in the middle of a shopping mall. Smart men posit, and offer suggestions. Then a mom strolls past and says, “That kid needs a nap.”

It’s as simple as that even as, writ in the larger terms that define a football team that isn’t doing what it is supposed to — or more correctly, what its supporters believe it is supposed to — it’s a bit more complicated.

Barça needs a nap.

But it’s more involved than just laying around for a few hours to recharge batteries, like a kid or a puppy. Luis Enrique is giving the team days off training, because he understands how tired his players are. Armchair pundits scoff and snarl about the quality of the subs, about decisions made and not made, buys not made for this reason or that. But the extravagant quality of the Barça XI combined with its cost is the precise reason that the team has has a short roster since the days of Pep Guardiola.

Supporters complained about that roster as well, offered up varied and sundry names as solutions, but reality is cruel: Who the hell replaces Xavi? Or Iniesta. Or Suarez. Or Neymar. Or Messi. It’s an easy answer. Nobody.

Teams such as Atleti and Bayern can come at opponents with waves of depth because they have a roster stuffed with very good players. Barça has a particular problem because it has players who, at many positions, define that position. And you only get one of those.

People sit n snarl about Arda Turan, who was a demon at Atleti, who routinely guides his national team to excellence, and they deem him unworthy. And they’re right, because he’s subbing for a player such as Iniesta or someone else, in a system that is complicated even for the men who have grown up with it. And they look clunky, or people say things such as “Positioning,” that word that makes anyone who uses it sound a genius, even as dissecting the bowl of marbles that is a football match is much more involved than anything most of us can imagine.

The other complicating factor is that players of a quality sufficient to truly sub for any of that murderers’ row of an XI aren’t interested in sitting on the bench for 70 percent of the time. There’s also the cost. Supporters discuss this player and that like it’s fantasy football with an unlimited budget, then scoff at a board who has to figure out a way to pay for one of the most expensive rosters in world sport, somehow, some way. Sometimes there isn’t a way. Other times, even if a player might be good enough, he isn’t good enough to affect the result.

The goal scored by Real Sociedad yesterday was exceptional, a bit of footballing extravagance that a lot of teams are capable of if everything goes exactly right, that mythical butterfly in the Amazon flapping its wings. It was an unstoppable goal. The passer was covered, the scorer was covered. The pass was perfect, the header was perfect, everything about that goal was a gem, this thing created by the football gods with malice aforethought. If those same players try to score that goal a hundred times, they probably couldn’t. But they did that time, and it was enough.

It wasn’t enough because of any grand scheme, or this player or that player not bought. Thiago Silva stands there and watches that header go in just like Mascherano or Pique. That goal was enough because Barça needs a goddamn nap. They don’t need this player or that player, because this player or that player, even if all the fantasies come true, would be immediately deemed wanting, woefully short by an impatient, expectant fanbase besotted by the spectacular.

The search for answers to what’s going on with Barça is like the joke where the drunk man is standing under a street lamp, looking for the keys he lost. When asked why he isn’t looking for them over there in the dark where he lost them, he replies that the light is better here. Preferred reasons abound, traditional scapegoats are trotted out. The players will tell you exactly why, though. Look at Pique at the post-match presser. Dude is hammered.

As this piece takes shape, Leicester City is doing it again, winning yet another match by scoring a single goal, then playing it out. It’s the kind of magic that Barça used to routinely feel. No, not the workmanlike qualities of Leicester, but that sense that something wonderful was going on. The first treble was something wonderful and unexpected, something unprecedented. It was, like the Leicester City supporters must be feeling, a fantasy embedded in a fairy tale, sprinkled with glitter, borne on the backs of unicorns.

What will Leicester City feel next season, after big clubs poach stars, and Capitol Ones, and FAs, and exhibitions, and all of the stuff attendant to having pulled off something magical? The first treble for Barça, something that is absurd to type, was magic. The second was a bit more grim and a lot less enjoyable for too many supporters, because it carried with it the burden of expectation, of snarling, infighting and nothing ever being good enough, because nothing is ever like that first time. But even amid the disgusting behavior of too much of the fanbase, there was joy and magic. A second treble. By the same group of players, within a decade.

Rather than the tempestuous season of tragedy that defined the year of Tata Martino being treated as something of a respite, a chance to recharge and have the team get its minds right, so many bitched and pissed and moaned that their insatiable lust for silver went unabated. How DARE they not win everything again?! Whose fault is it?

That lost season set the stage for the glory of last season, as Luis Enrique came in and won, quite improbably, another treble. Another treble. He did it with supporters who wanted him fired, who questioned his every move, who spread rumors about its best player wanting out because of the coach, board, price of gas in Barcelona, low quality of pintxos. And the team won. Every … almost everything. It lost the SuperCopa, and everything was a disaster again, because five of six trophies just isn’t good enough. The standard has been set, after all.

Right around March last season, Barça hit the throttle and took off like a rocket. It destroyed everything in its face, with goals and a style that, previously deemed wanting and not the way, is now majestic. It had those reserves of energy because it didn’t have demands from the previous season because it didn’t win anything. This past summer was different. So different.

Because Barça have so many glittering jewels, the demands are incessant: exhibitions, Copa America. Euro qualifiers, national team friendlies, SuperCopas, UEFA SuperCups, season after season, month after month, week after week. The real job begins, and it’s a match every three days, a grind that sucks away energy and sharpness, that gives players the hollow, haunted looks that we are seeing in the eyes of the team right now.

And there is Real Sociedad, with none of those obligations, none of those expectations, none of the stresses of a cauldron of expectation. They’re daisy fresh, home and ready to play football. They scored that improbable, magnificent goal then hunkered down to work. Yet even with all of that, just as last season’s visit to Anoeta, there were chances, many chances. Some were flat-out missed, some were saved, some moves met an untimely demise at the feet of a La Real defender.

Those chances would have, a month ago and many levels of sharpness ago, been goals. When the ball bounded off a La Real player straight to Messi at the mouth of their goal, he just pushed it meekly toward the keeper. A laser-guided ball over the top found Messi in perfect stride, and he flicked it wide of a net and keeper at his mercy.

What failings do you evince when you’re tired? I drop stuff. Keys, glasses, papers, you name it. And my wife says, “You should take a nap.” She’s right, even as I argue with her. The parent tries to make the kid take a nap because clearly, the kid is tired. More resistance. What do you do if you’re the superstar of the best team in football, and you are clearly hammered. You keep playing, because what choice do you have? There is no replacement. The coach keeps playing you, and everyone hopes. But that past sharpness that would have converted both those glorious chances is now a resigned turn away from the scene of another failure.

Four matches without a goal or an assist for Messi. And even as we told ourselves that Messidependencia had ended, it is times like this that the team needs a spark of magic, a mazy, crazy goal capped off by a rocket of a finish, that inspiration provided by the best to ever play the game. But he’s too damn tired. The ball doesn’t go into the net for any number of reasons, but with most excellent chances, it’s because at some microscopic level, something went wrong. The foot strikes it a fraction of a centimeter off from where needed, and the shot goes over the bar or directly to the keeper. Sharpness.

Suarez is missing chances because he’s tired. Neymar isn’t his customary quicksilver because he’s tired. Busquets is misplacing passes, misjudging plays, not covering players he should, because he’s tired. Everybody is tired. The coaching staff knows it, the players know it.

What was once a Liga lead threatening double digits is now three, a single match. But even then, it needs to be two slip-ups, because of the work done previously, the head-to-head dominance that requires many more bad days to become the doom that many foretell. Everybody has a reason why, but it’s simple: the ball isn’t going into the net because knackered players lack the necessary sharpness.

And Leicester City won again. It’s magic. The danger of magic is when it becomes anticipation, then morphs into the vile beast called expectation. Winning is a burden, this heavy, unbearable thing that a great team has to lug around. Board, bosses, journalists, friends, spouses and companions, supporters all want it, want them to keep doing it. And hardly any of them understand that desperate need for a nap, for a respite from everything, all at once, the unburdened sleep of a child.

This isn’t about supporting the club. They don’t really give a shit what Barça Twitter or expectant supporters and journalists do. At this level, execution isn’t about anything external. Sports cliches exist for a reason, and all the talk of “digging deep,” “finding an extra gear” is real. The team knows what it has to do, knows how hard it has to fight to make an unprecedented sort of history.

But is also knows that it needs a nap. The problem is that right now, the two goals are incompatible.

By Kxevin

In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.


  1. “Barça needs a nap.” I chuckled a bit. This is so true, though.
    The internet can be a tiring place, sometimes. So many untitled fools who thinks they understand and have all the answers. “Arda is shit” is what I read most around. It’s refreshing to read your text, kevin. Even thought I don’t always agree with you.

    Culés became a bunch of ungrateful spoiled children. 39 matches unbeaten. Usually those 2 losses and 1 draw would be diluted throughout the season. But they didn’t, and somehow hell broke loose. Winning can really be a burden.

  2. Thanks for the thoughts. It is obvious they are tired – perhaps mentally more than anything, but surely physically too. It was evident in the clasico, where the defence was exposed time and time again – the team didn’t close down neither players nor spaces. Yesterday, as pointed out, it was lack of movement, sharpness, tempo and creativity. It is trademark Barca fatigue: slow ball circulation, and then Messi takes a shot when he shouldn’t, but nobody else will step up.

    I am not critical of the team, Anyone who plays a sport at any level knows how it is: as soon as fatigue sets in, levels drop, decisions are off, the body and mind move in at different speeds, patience runs out, etc. I play floor ball for fun and exercise, and noticed a very simple example which illustrates this: in the early games, there is a nice flow of subs, a good balance and tempo is kept up. But the more tired we become, the less we sub; we cut corners and passing becomes sloppy, etc. We are far, far from being professionals, but that doesn’t matter. It’s psychology 101.

    On Arda – I feel it would be absurd to blame him for this or that, but on the other hand I think there must be some room for expressing disappointment. I was hoping for a little more, especially since I think his very first game was very promising. Instead, I feel he is not really improving much. Maybe because everyone else are playing worse, too, and he is caught in that maelstrom?

  3. Great article. This Barca team (like some previous Barca teams) tries its best to be of a machine-like quality, to make perfect passes and runs. And that makes it very easy to forget that those playing football of an absurd quality week in week out are in fact humans suffering from fatigue, doubt, and all sorts of other troubles.

    I also agree with MSN above that it’s incredibly strange to question the quality of a team and coach which are currently leading the best league in the world and have good chances of also making the Champions League semi-finals. Criticism, sure, but some responses seem to exaggerated.

  4. You are so damn right. For me, I think International break ruined it all + how the La Liga was set up. Seriously? two difficult opponents before and after two Champions League games (Against Atleti!!) with very tight rest time for them?

    And for Arda, I think he’s still adaptating and it happened to Suarez too last season. He’s very good and his leadership in central play is excellent!

  5. Thanks for this piece, However, I see little merit in the idea that Barca fans are a bunch of spoiled brats who are being unfair to their team. Everyone knows the team is tired. Everyone knows that the team can not always play at its best. Looking at the last four games though it is also clear that but for a ridiculously stupid foul by Fernando Torres, we could be looking at one of the most monumental collapses in any sport in recent times. That fans are questioning reasons for this only makes sense and many of their criticisms are valid.
    The good news, of course, is that even with a poor run, we still have great shot at winning the treble but have made this goal much harder to achieve. There will be very little rest for the starters from here on out, something our substantial Liga lead was supposed to avoid. The team knows this, our rivals know this, and it shouldn’t be a sin if some Barca fans acknowledge this too.

    1. The tantrum analogy is used as a device to set up the idea of people overexplaining something that is in fact simple. There is nothing implied as regards a team tantrum, or any degree of unfairness. Not sure if I should be relieved that only one person misconstrued the piece that way, or worried that others have the same impression but haven’t said anything.

    2. Not really. I mostly disagreed with your explanations as to why the team is having such difficulty recently. To say that the team is “tired” while true can not be the whole story since the team has been tired for months and yet somehow managed not to lose in 39 straight games. Moreover, if we blame our bad run of form solely on fatigue then the rest of the season does not bode well since the team will only get more tired.
      Furthermore, I don’t see how Turan’s play up to this point can be looked at as anything other than a huge disappointment. He was supposed to provide vital relief and reinforcement in the second half but seems to have only fallen behind Sergi and Rafinha in the pecking order. Barca’s big problem the last few games has been our difficulty scoring. Teams again have started to load the box and look to score on the counter. They will continue to do so until we come up with a solution, which usually means that one or more of MSN have to up their game.

  6. Whatever happened with this that or the other, we are the favorite to win any time we step on the pitch. It’ll be that way from now until the end of the season.

    I believe in this team. We’re gonna win it all. The lesson from last season was that when the chips are on the table, the team shows up. So far weve had “margen para error” and so the chips haven’t actually been on the table yet. The same people who doubted last year didn’t learn the lesson; they doubt this year, too.

    The chips are on the table Wednesday. We’ll get the job done.

  7. Perhaps the players need a nap, but right now is the moment for a nap. These few weeks are going to be crucial in how we define the season.
    Lets make it to the SF, but previously Wolfsburg make us happy and kick them out on tuesday, and on the weekend we have Valencia which is truly winnable match.
    Later on it remains only Betis away as a possible slip up, but by then our suitors might lose a point or two,
    The moment has a lot to do with their heads. They somehow lost that spark that makes them different from all the others. They need to regain that again cause is so close.
    But even if we dont win anything this season, i know that they have given everything and left thir guts on the field, so it wont matter. But, in case they repeat the double or treble, that will be historical and they will be labelled as immortals. Players have to believe in this chance. You have to give it all.

  8. Good read. To be honest, really feel sorry for the players who give it their all yet fatigue lets them down

  9. Great piece!
    Now its the time to see what this team is capable of, if we win on wednesday then its gonna be a moral boost to the players for the semi finals and the remaining liga games.

    I hope wolfsburg get the job done on tuesday, only one goal in the first minutes and real madrid will have it.(Fingerss crossed)

  10. The loss against Real Madrid really affected us, although people were saying that it was meaningless, but that was just being said to mend their wounded pride. When we lost to RM, we lost our aura of invincibility. I expect Valencia to come out at us like rabid dogs this weekend. They know we are hurt and they will want to capitalize. The biggest problem I have seen recently is a tendency to concede early goals. Barca is tired. We are entering games at half speed and paying the price over and over. It happened against atletico and sociedad. The tie against Atletico will be a pivotal moment this seasons. If we grind out a win, morale will increase. I just hope messi shows up. Everything that the man has been trying lately hasnt worked out. He looks tired. He needs a goal to shake off the heebie-jeebies of scoring his 500th career goal. I believe that statistic instead of inspiring him; it’s frustrating him. Neymar has been pretty poor lately as well. Apparently, vermaleen and Rafihna have been both ruled out for the match against atletico. champions are defined by how they react to massive adversity. We’ll see how our boys do. We cannot give up an early goal against atletico, because we know that they’ll just park the bus a la mourinho.

  11. Another great post Kev, thanks! I still find the way that some people complain about this team quite shocking to be honest. A team that has achieved more in the last 10 years than most teams do or have in their entire history. They owe us nothing anymore as far as I am concerned, if anything we owe them, we owe them our support and our belief because they have given us countless years of incredible football and unparalleled success. I know a lot of people will disagree and think that they owe their fans an unlimited amount of success, but that is not the way I see it. They have given me more joy than I could have asked for in a lifetime let alone a decade.

    With all that said I still believe we can and will win the treble. Do they need a nap? Yes they do, and maybe that is exactly what they are doing right now. Napping. Napping when they think they can afford to nap. The whole point of a nice healthy lead is so that we can afford to nap in certain games and risk losing points. They showed against Athletico that when they really need to they can raise their game. They are all tired, mentally and physically. Messi especially. The harsh reality is that they have to pick and choose the moments when they decide to really turn it on, but you know what, this team is good enough that all they need are a few moments. If in the end it is not enough then so be it. This is an incredible team being pushed to its limits, both physically and mentally.

  12. well of course the team is tired, it’s the end of the season and all big teams are in more or less the same situation. we are not only paying the price for the amazing season of last year but also the first part of this one when the team was basically the same with almost no main subs (another reason why Rafinha’s injury was so bad for the team). still, i see in these last games that there are periods where we can find our speed and energy and create lots of chances. anyways, hope we can manage the atletico game, at least we will be meeting another tired team.

  13. Nicely written. I had the exact same thoughts on the impossibility of substituting Messi (or other star players) even though he needs a nap

  14. I will say it again and I wish L.E was on this blog, when we step out onto the pitch tomorrow, the scenario is that AM need to score to qualify, if we play out a goalless draw we go through hence this isn’t a game where we have to push numbers forward and risk being caught on the counter. For once, let’s ditch the “we attack no matter the result ” philosophy for tomorrow cos we are finding it difficult to score and chasing a game is the last thing we want now and pls keep Messi away from that midfield

  15. I concur. All what the team, the gala 11, require is a good rest. But for quite terrible reasons, we are not in a state to take rest. Injuries have come at the worst possible situation. I must especially point at the injury of Mathieu here.
    Whatever we talk about getting rid of Messidependencia, he is the player who can see us through this moment. But for that, we should not give him moments equivalent to that of his Argentina team. Ask him to keep away from the midfield, and he might see this through.

  16. Right in the hands of RM… a lucky first and a quick second from CR, and then Draxler is injured… Perez must have payed Chance to work in their favour!

  17. Wow, two really unsatisfying matches tonight. Man City PSG was awful for 90 minutes ( Blanc must be close to the heave for selection, tactics and performance ) and Madrid turned it round with an awful FK from Ronaldo high went through the wall. 🙁

  18. Like him or not, as is the case, Ronaldo is a phenomenal footballer. I understand where he was coming from when he suggested that his teammates weren’t up to standard. If they had a sporting director that cared about the sport side of things they would have run us a lot closer every year.
    Yes it was only Wolfsburg but even in this below-par year he has some amount of goals.

    1. Didn’t watch the game and just turned over in time to see the poor FK at the end but yeah he scores a lot. Is that fair enough ? Tell me the other two were great and I’ll revise it upward 🙂

      Absolutely right about the running of the team but that’s down to Perez I suppose.

    2. One of the was quite nice, a header from a corner; the other a tap-in from a lucky bounce. He is certainly a phenomenal footballer, a real force, though unbearable as a character… Had a pretty good game overall, as did Bale initially. I was thinking why it seem RM are often given more space to run in, and apart from not being a possession team to Barca’s degree, they are obviously more dangerous from the cross and flanks cannot be left undefended, as teams often do against us, cramming the box.

  19. Thats what happens when you give them the momentum. I blame us for making them believe that they can turn around the tie.

  20. I am scared of Madrid right now, I think they are the favorites. If we get them in this form we are now, I think we are out

  21. Again and again we see a great demonstration on the massive difference in mentality between us and them as fans.
    They hype and gloriously celebrate the bare minimum , And we show disappointment and resentment with anything less than perfection, And in an ironic twist, The fans of the lesser team enjoy themselves more than we do with outs, What a shame.

    I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, But the players will come out with flames in their eyes……………………….Good, As they should be.

  22. Come on guys, seriously?? So RM managed to beat Wolfsburg at home, that scares you? The goals weren’t even all that good. The fact that this tie was even a question mark after the first leg is what people should be looking at, not the fact that they beat the team currently sitting in 8th in the Bundesliga, at home.

    I really do not understand Barca fans sometimes. Even in our current form I still think we are favourites and I wouldn’t bet against us vs any team left in the competition. For me the toughest team left we play tomorrow. City we would demolish, RM and Bayern would be closer but when the chips are down I would take our front 3 over any of theirs every day of the week.

    Have some faith, The players have proven time and time again that when it really matters they come through.

    1. The cynicism and constant state of apprehension we suffer from, Is the result of our own success,
      When you’re at the top, You have a lot more to lose than someone at the bottom, That’s why many elite athletes resort to drugs or other methods of cheating to keep the crown, Once you taste success you just can’t accept the bitterness of demotion, That’s what most cules feel, All the time.
      On the other hand, Someone who’s scrapping the bottom of the barrel, Almost everything seems like a success to him, Look at RM, They won a single la liga in the last 7 years, Keeping this fact in mind, No wonder they celebrated winning a single clasico as if they won a championship.

  23. ok guys I will be honest I didn’t even watch the EE match but the fact that MSN isn’t clicking at the moment worries me. Imagining conceding one or two quick fire counter attacks and having to turn the game around with Messi,Ney and Suarez being off coupled with Messi deciding to make life more difficult for himself by always abandoning the right wing to play in midfield. I also watched about 15mins of the second half of the real Sociedad game and was surprised to see Iniesta, Messi and Neymar still holding onto the ball for too long and eventually losing it, refusing to do the quick passing that opened up the AM bus. I believe we can progress today but for the next round (seriously hoping we get City) we need to up our game. Also recall that we won the UCL last year without having to chase a game throughout the knockout round, only hoping we continue like this

  24. Well. I don’t see anything scary about this EE’s side, just look at the whole game and you would notice that they did nothing impressive against a lesser team, they needed a magnificent display from ronaldo to qualify, if not for ronaldo’s goals they are already out. With our current form I think we can win agaisnt them(but with difficulty). Wolfsburg don’t have quality players as RM, but let’s wait and see them facing a quality team like bayern or Barca to draw conclusions.

  25. RM won and CR7 did score 3. But it was nothing exceptional from Madrid or Ronaldo. Wolfsburg for all their defensive master class in the first leg, gifted a tap in to Ronaldo for the first and you all saw how poor the third goal was, again awful defending. I am not worried about them, just worried that the win over us gave them a lot of confidence and they have a momentum now. If we turn on our switch, which we misplaced during Villareal half time, we can beat them.
    Right now, we have to go through, the toughest team to beat in Europe. Even a nill draw will give us some confidence.

  26. Yeah, they are feeling better about themselves but it wouldn’t be hard. Usual question from me. Would you rather have our squad ( in its current supposed condition ) or one of the other three ? Still a no brainier. If we play near our best no one can live with us. If we don’t we’re still at least joint favourites to lift the trophy.

    With regard to tonight’s match , not sure what Simeone can do. They’re not good enough to come after us so they’ll still be in reactive mode with a high press. Can they still manage that at this stage of the season ? No mistakes, no AWOL defenders and we’ll go through.

  27. Starting to get slightly worried about the Copa plus Olympics saga for our South Americans. As I understand it, Neymar is still wanting to play both, Messi is happy just to play the Copa, Suarez hasn’t said anything and Barto is ( correctly in my view) adamant that they can play one but not both. Now the Brazilian Federation has weighed in with the sentiment that Neymar should be allowed to play both. Does anyone know if they can insist on this as in normal tournaments, barring injury.

    This could grow into a biggie. Hope not but Im with Bartomeu on this. Problem is where the Games are being held. Neymar will be under huge pressure.

    1. Since the Olympics is not a FIFA tournament, clubs are under no obligation to let players go (hence the conflict regarding Messi’s participation years back). Copa is. So I guess Barca has a case, but of course it must be handled delicately to maintain a sense of fairness in Neymar’s mind.

      To me, this nonsense about the centennial Copa is the real problem,forcing a tournament where there should be none. Lack of respect towards the players and clubs.

Comments are closed.