Despite being level on points with the league leaders after eight matches of the La Liga season, Barcelona find themselves in an awkward position for a midseason push. Resources are limited, Lionel Messi is injured and their defence is leaking goals.
Luis Enrique enjoyed the blistering three-headed monster of Messi,Neymar and Luis Suarez in 2014/15, but he still found himself under pressure in the opening stages of last season. This year, despite three major trophies under his leadership, the Barcelona boss will have a harder mountain to climb.
Should the defending champions get through this awkward patch (i.e. no Messi, nor reinforcements), the latter portion of 2015/16 could be set up for magnificent things, but the period of October through December holds its own demons to navigate.
Even if all of Enrique’s players were at 100 percent fitness the task of retaining three trophies was going to be difficult, so his squad suffering from major injuries dents his mission.
Messi, suffering from “a tear in the internal collateral ligament of his left knee,” according to Barca‘s official Twitter page, leaves an undeniable gap in Barca‘s treble-winning side.
Messi has a tear in the internal collateral ligament of his left knee. He will be out for around 7-8 weeks pic.twitter.com/TLor97gmou
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) September 26, 2015
Added to Messi, Andres Iniesta has been dealing with a setback of his own. ESPN FC reported the Spanish midfielder has returned to first-team training, but his status for Sunday’s match is a game-time decision.
Injured midfielders Rafinha and Sergi Roberto make the 31-year-old’s return a much-needed addition, but whether he will be risked so soon after his recovery remains to be seen. Enrique has only three fully fit, first-team central midfielders in his squad—Javier Mascherano, SergioBusquets and Ivan Rakitic—so any minutes Iniesta can provide would be more than welcome.
The reason Barca are so hamstrung in midfield by injuries is they sold Pedro to Chelsea—losing quality depth—and their transfer ban makes replacing the sold and injured impossible until January 2016.
Former Atletico Madrid midfielder Arda Turan would likely be starting in Enrique’s current predicament, but his inclusion has been deemed unlawful. Likewise, right-back Aleix Vidal, bought from Sevilla, cannot wear Barcelona’s shirt until next year, leaving an already struggling defence with more work on their plate.
Many wondered if Barcelona’s transfer ban was really a punishment when it was prescribed by FIFA in December of 2014—especially after their treble—but the next few months seems to be where the ban will really take its toll.
Another injury to an important member of Barca’s first team, specifically Neymar or Suarez, and them not having purchased talent (nor upper-level talent from La Masia) would create something of a crisis.
As compared to their trophy-holding counterparts from Serie A and the Premier League, Barcelona have taken the Bundesliga and Ligue 1 route.
Juventus and Chelsea are suffering from what one might label “Golden Badge Syndrome,” while Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain are comfortably leading their respective domestic leagues. The German and French champions, however, play in largely one-team leagues, Spain has never been classified as such.
What the Italian and English champions are going through is arrogance laced with complacency. Barcelona, having three trophies to their name, must battle the same mixture.
Real Madrid have the best defensive and offensive records in Spanish football, and motivation under new management to retake the throne. For Barca to retain their La Liga crown, they must keep pace with their primary rivals while balancing the recommitment to winning, energy levels and their three-pronged ambitions.
All easier typed than completed.