For the last half a decade, Barcelona’s biggest weakness has constantly been their weak back line. However, after a strong run of games, what was once the opposition’s easy target has become the bane of rival attackers.
The Catalan club’s summer transfer window focused heavily on covering the defensive aspect of the team, in accordance with the idea that no matter which footballing philosophy you subscribe to, the security of a solid rear guard is indispensable. Their most notable signings so far, Jules Koundé and Andreas Christensen, have joined academy talent Alejandro Balde and Ronald Araújo to create a defence with the strength that the club has dreamed of.
Not long ago, Barça appeared to have no way to securely shut off their opponent’s route to goal. With the departures of Javier Mascherano and Dani Alves, as well as Samuel Umtiti’s and Clement Lénglet’s nosedive in form, the team relied heavily on Gerard Piqué to patch up a tattered backline.
While the former captain could temporarily increase the team’s security, it’s difficult to compete when one relies solely on one player to cover their defensive fragilities. And so, as time went on and age began to catch up to the Blaugrana veteran, the Catalan’s shaky base began to give way.
Once the repair effort was underway, the situation began to change very rapidly.
The signing of the 26-year-old Christensen gave the club a player who has both youth and experience. While some doubted him due to his weaker build, his skill and intelligence has overshadowed any issues with his physique.
Then, Balde’s explosion of form gave Barça an unexpected, but very welcome, answer to the left-back issues that an aging Jordi Alba was leaving behind.
Koundé’s capacity to overwhelm and beat opponents with speed and positioning work as a great compliment to Araújo, who is becoming one of the strongest and most passionate centre-backs around.
With these four new warriors, Barcelona managed to get the better of their Real Madrid rivals in the final of the Super Cup in a highly dominant manner.
While some may say that Madrid barely attacked and were incapable of creating danger, it’s precisely this which reflects the modern Barça’s defence’s greatest strength. Anticipating danger before it happens, drowning out opponent creativity higher up the pitch, and running back with perfect discipline to correct mistakes all add together to turn the opponent’s deadly dagger into little more than a toothpick.
Araújo’s match-long duel against Vinícius was living proof of how far the team’s defence has come. Severely limiting the influence of one of the world’s best wingers is no easy task, but the Uruguayan rose up to the challenge in an intimidating display of strength and solidity.
It’s of course important to remember that this wonderful run of defensive form is still a recent development that will need to maintain its momentum after a run of intense and demanding games. This euphoria can be dangerous if it covers up the memory of the shaky structure which the team was just barely scraping wins with.
Ultimately, a good defence is characterised by consistency and the capacity to always have an answer to the opponent’s attacks no matter how relentless. The Barcelona of the past wasn’t capable of producing the necessary defensive regularity, and so the results on the pitch showed the consequences.
The next few weeks will prove crucial to test what this new backline is really made of but this Barcelona side have only conceded six times in 16 La Liga games this season.
German goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen has also been crucial to the side’s victories, and for now, it appears that Xavi finally has a backline he can rely on.
GSFN | Nicolás Antúnez de Mayolo