The football season is long, and many themes are revisited over the course of it. Many lessons are learned—some unlearned—and while a team will evolve over the eight or nine months it will only become as strong as its weakest characteristics allow. It may even overcome them for a while, but not forever. This is a fact of life, nevermind football.

Themes revisited. From January 25 to February 11 Barcelona won only two of six matches. They fell 10 points back of Real Madrid in La Liga and were largely written out of the title race with three months to go. At the time, many questioned the depth of squad available to Pep Guardiola. The manager had an all-world starting XI, the thinking went, but beyond that there were some shortcomings—shortcomings that were costing the club points.

That theme—Barcelona’s lack of depth—was all but forgotten over the next eight weeks as the Catalan giants rattled off 11 league wins in a row and progressed to the Copa del Rey final and Champions League semifinals. But it has come to roost once more, and when all is said and done it may be the defining theme of their season.

Barcelona never really had an answer when striker David Villa was lost for the rest of the campaign to a broken tibia in late 2011, and while Javier Mascherano has deputised effectively in central defense he was never going to be the ideal replacement for Gerard Pique, who because of attitude problems, form problems and undisclosed problems has been in and out of the lineup much of the season.

Inadequate squad depth is a dangerous thing for a side with ambitions in several competitions, even one as talented and front-loaded as Barcelona. Its initial symptom is team fatigue, and once that sets in a general lack of quality in the players called up to give the tired ones a rest can significantly depress a record.

Never was this more apparent than in Saturday’s Clasico, won 2-1 at Camp Nou by Real Madrid. The seven occasions on which Barcelona had previously dropped points away from home should have been sign enough that the old standard was out of reach this time around, but in losing at home to their existential rivals the Catalans hit a low they hadn’t experienced since Guardiola arrived in 2008.

With Alexis Sanchez unable to play the full 90 minutes Guardiola had to pick between Pedro and Christian Tello to replace him. Pedro, himself, has been limited by injury this season and, when healthy, has only been able to contribute three goals in La Liga, so the manager selected Tello. The drop-off was obvious.

Guardiola also opted to start Cesc Fabregas from the bench. The former Arsenal man hasn’t played more than 30 games in a season in four years and has clearly petered out after a strong start to his first Barcelona campaign. But because he sat Andres Iniesta had to be deployed further upfield, which necessitated a start for Thiago Alcantara. Thiago is a fine player and should certainly not be blamed for anything that went wrong on Saturday, but he’s hardly Iniesta, and for Barcelona to maintain their standard they need Iniesta, Messi and Xavi playing at or near 100 per cent and in their best positions.

Xavi, against Madrid, was withdrawn after 70 minutes. This would have been unthinkable in November or December, but with 47 matches under his belt this season the 32-year-old is obviously finding each new step a little heavier than the last.

And Messi, football’s Energizer Bunny, was as ineffective against Madrid as he was midweek at Chelsea. He’s played 54 matches already this season—most of them for the full 90 minutes. That’s four successive seasons of at least 50 matches and five of at least 40. Add in international appearances and it’s simply an unsustainable amount of football.

That Barcelona have been able to maintain such a high standard for so long speaks to both the all-world talent of their top players and their individual commitments to fitness. And while three years of utter domination constitutes a rare dynasty in the realm of football there’s no reason to believe it couldn’t go on even longer with the acquisition of adequate depth.

It’s a theme that has been attached to the Catalan giants all season but became all the more pronounced in the past week. Without adequate depth Barcelona risk falling off the pace even sooner next campaign than they did this. They risk burning out their best players, especially Messi, well in advance of their best-before dates. This is a theme they can’t afford to revisit.

Follow Jerrad Peters on Twitter @peterssoccer

Comments (11)

  1. So, after this result, do you see Pep leaving??

    • No way Pep is leaving. If anything, it makes it more likely that Mourinho is leaving instead because he has fulfilled his dream of beating Barcelona.

  2. I don’t totally agree with this point. Its true that Barcelona players engage in massive amount of games every year as you mentioned but that same argument can be made for real Madrid if they had lost this bame . Personally I believe Barcelona is the deepest team in the world but they are learning that one constant style of play can eventually be defeated.

  3. this article is retarded, why dont they wirte an article about real madrid beating them fair and square, you think barca is the only team dealing with injuries this season they have 4 of the 10 best footballers in the world and your talking about no depth?…messi played every game this year including and international friendly and thats why he didnt perform tonight because hes worn down hes 24 years old for god sakes, its crazy they get beat loose the league title and you guys are writing an article with excuses for why they lost…i dont know about what the score thinks but real madrid was the better team tonight…who ever worte this article is a barca fan and cant except the fact that they got beat in there home soil…

    • 110 percent correct steve o fuck the score

      • It’s an opinion piece, not a match report, dumb asses

        • dont be hatin there listerine your probs a barca fan too dumb ass…

          • Just because he responded in a negative way does not mean he is a Barca fan. That is illogical. He’s right as well. It is an opinion piece, and Mr. Peters is entitled to his opinion. Just as you are entitled to yours. There is nothing wrong with disagreeing with his views, but when you say it in such a childish manner, it makes it difficult for people to really respect what you are trying to say.

  4. yes it is becomming a fact that barce aren’t going to win la liga, but the summer will be very telling of what barca does to bolster the squad as well as pep’s future at the club

    gareth bale would be a great replacement for abidal but i think alvaro perriera is better suited to barca, when you look at the price tag

  5. Completely disagree with Mr. Peters. Barcelona’s problem isn’t the lack of depth. They started yesterday’s El Clasico with a back four of Adriano Puyol Mascherano and Alves. Masherano’s play this season as a center-back as been an absolute revelation. His play has been so great it has give Pep the opportunity to discipline or whatever he is doing to Pique. Pique himself was considered one of the best center-backs in world football just a season ago. This is the only real area you can make a case Barcelona really lacks adequate positional depth. They don’t have really that many reinforcement for center-back as well as full backs. Midfield and Upfront they’re deep and have luxury of playing Keita/Pedro;who Pep describes as the 2nd best finisher on the team, Cesc, Tello/ and Affelay when healthy. They have had significant injuries losing out their top man in Villa as well as Affelay, and the unfortunate circumstance of Abidal. Another thing you should consider is this is a team that has won 16 of the 18 competitions they have qualified for. They have play so much club football not to mention the strains of international competitions such as the Euros, World Cup, Copa, Confederations, and Olympics have played a part of these players.

    P.S. Mr. Peters hows your boy of Benoit Asssou Ekotto “the best left back in the EPL” doing?

  6. I actually agree with this article in some regards. Mr. Peters, I am not sure if the El Clasico result is directly because of Barca’s lack of depth. However, it should be stressed that this lack of depth for Barca is an important problem and is one of the reasons (not the only reason, but definitely one of the biggest reasons) why FCB will not win la liga this season. No one here, can make the argument that Tello should be starting in El Clasico. That’s telling enough. Messi plays way too much. But he has to (along with Xavi and Iniesta) because there is no real adequate depth in the team. As Mr. Peters pointed out, Fabregas (who started the season well) simply has seen his form drop. Thiago is good as well, but he’s not the answer. David Villa’s injury has been such a massive blow to this squad, although in fairness they have Ibrahim and Pedro to fill in. As for LB, they have no one since Abidal has been away. They need another centreback as well. And lets just hope that Daniel Alves doesn’t get injured, otherwise Barca will have an even bigger problem than they do currently. Bottom line is, Madrid were the better team in El Clasico. This is a fact. Real Madrid have been the better team overall in la liga this season. This is also a fact. But Barcelona, need to spend in the summer I think. They need another centreback, a leftback, another midfielder and a striker.

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