Everyone is looking to see if Barcelona are truly in a crisis now. Gerardo Martino has a world of pressure on his shoulders to find the answers after a very poor showing in the team’s most recent matches. While eyes are directed at Neymar, the answers to Barca’s problems can be found with Cesc Fabregas – his positioning on the pitch, rather than his actual presence.
Fabregas has always been in something of a bind since signing for Barcelona. An excellent midfielder, but one that has to fight for his place over the existence of Xavi and Andres Iniesta. Not a bad false nine, but certainly not one that can do what Lionel Messi does.
The way Barcelona players in Bilbao against Athletic was a demonstration of everything wrong with possession football. Xavi looked old, like he has too many times over the last couple of years, and Fabregas provided just another player for short passes and holding onto the ball instead of a real target in the middle of the box to concentrate passes to him and distribute them to Alexis Sanchez and Neymar.
Two options for Martino – either use Fabregas as one of his midfielders, which means benching either Xavi or Initesta (probably Xavi), giving Barcelona a more attacking player coming from behind, while giving Pedro a chance in the front three, and using Neymar or Alexis Sanchez in a more central role, almost like an actual striker.
Even if he decides to keep Fabregas in the False Nine position, Barcelona can’t be so spread out with their front three like they were at the San Mamers. Neymar is at his most dangerous when he’s further away from the touchline, playing on the edge of or inside the box. Alexis Sanchez is the same, and part of his success this season was not playing just like a winger, instead returning to his positioning and patterns from the first season at the Camp Nou.
Barcelona have other issues as well – Javier Mascherano keeps making mistakes in the defense, costly ones. Not having Jordi Alba and Dani Alves is taking its toll on the attacking game. Still, Barcelona should and can look better with what they have right now. Martino knows, probably, what he has to do in order for that to happen, but sometimes other interests get in the way.