Messi can’t be bothered, Xavi’s too weak and they’re a shambles at the back. What the hell is going on at Barcelona?

Earlier this season Barcelona were knocked off the top of La Liga for the first time in 59 consecutive matchdays by Atletico Madrid.

And on Wednesday night the same team turfed them out of the Champions League, with a surprisingly comfortable victory at the Vicente Calderon.

Barcelona will point to their astonishing 79 per cent possession but when it came down to clear cut opportunities, Diego Simeone’s side

They hit the woodwork on several occasions, rarely looked like letting the Blaugrana in, and rightfully claimed their place in the semi-finals.

Bayern Munich brutally exposed the Catalan giants last season, with a 7-0 aggregate victory and it heralded the start of a new era in football.

For many years, Barcelona had been the model to which other clubs have aspired; they had a style and panache that seemed virtually impossible to counter.

A few teams managed it on occasion, Chelsea, for example, scraping through at the Nou Camp in 2012.

But Barcelona’s thrashing at the hands of Bayern should have been a wake-up call, a sign that something was rotten.

However, instead of using it – as well as the unfortunate and sad cancer diagnosis of coach Tito Vilanova – as a chance to refresh the football philosophy and structure of the side, they stuck to their guns.


Barcelona’s big-money purchase of Neymar was essentially the club showing they backed themselves to continue along the same path.

That money could have been spent in numerous other places to modernise the side and make them competitive against Europe’s elite.

The Brazilian has done Barcelona more harm than good this season, if you take into account the furore caused by his transfer.

On the pitch he has sparkled infrequently, with his finishing, composure and overall influence on games all lacking.

He looks a better player when he takes to the pitch with Brazil; perhaps Neymar needs to be the main man to gain confidence and flourish.

A team with Messi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets is never going to be a bad one, but pummeling La Liga’s lesser lights week in, week out isn’t enough for Barcelona

Bringing in Tata Martino as manager was another nod to their familiar style; the coach has not tried to change much with the exception of the introduction of longer diagonal passes.

He doesn’t have the personality and ability to inspire that, say, Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho and Diego Simeone have.

Nor the long history of success and ability to handle superstars that the other manager of this year’s Champions League semi-finalists, Carlo Ancelotti, has.

Martino made some strange decisions on Wednesday night, like starting Messi on the right and playing Cesc Fabregas as a ‘false nine’.

Messi had not scored in his last five games against Atletico and Martino wanted to tweak the system.

But the Argentine was toothless and Fabregas was aimless, meaning Barcelona offered little attacking punch.

Martino also took off Iniesta, citing ‘fatigue’ in his post-match press conference.

But the Spaniard has been the club’s best player for the past few months and if there was ever a time to keep him on the pitch to unlock a tough defence, this was it.

Messi has never been a player who runs his heart out for the team but his total of 6.8km against Atletico was appalling, just 1.5km further than goalkeeper Jose Manuel

Some suspect the forward has been trying to save himself from burnout, so he can finally impress for Argentina at the World Cup.

Messi and his countrymen will be relishing the chance to lift football’s most prestigious trophy in Brazil, Argentina’s great rivals.

In the last few weeks, Messi has been playing well, but not exerting himself particularly. Even in the Clasico, where he scored a hat-trick, it was moments of genius rather than an inspiring display.

The aforementioned Fabregas is another problem. He doesn’t seem to have a position at Barcelona – a jack of all trades and master of none.

It is scarcely believable that this is the same player who was dominating games in the Premier League with Arsenal, because now he looks lost on the pitch.

They also need more power in the centre. Xavi is still a technically adroit pass-master, but physically only Busquets is up to the job and demands of modern football.

The best teams in Europe put together a combination of exquisite technical ability and super-human physicality and Barcelona have all their stock invested in the former.

Not since Yaya Toure reigned supreme at the Nou Camp have they had enough force and dynamism through the middle.

And defensively, they are a shambles. With Dani Alves and Jordi Alba bombarding forward, it puts a lot of stress on the centre backs.

Javier Mascherano, converted from midfield, is not tall enough. Gerard Pique seems to have lost his way and is a decent defender but could have been so much more.

Marc Bartra is talented but inexperienced and Carles Puyol is quitting the club at the end of the season.

They could yet finish the season as La Liga champions, vying with Atletico and Real Madrid for the trophy – but it would only paper over the cracks.

There are a lot of problems at Barcelona and if FIFA’s two-window transfer ban is upheld after the club’s appeal, we will have a Catalan crisis on our hands.

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