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A LOOK AT LA LIGA

A gap opening up

Barça are still too reliant on Luis Suárez and Rakitić.
Barça are still too reliant on Luis Suárez and Rakitić. / AFP
  • Decision after decision has backfired at the Camp Nou and much of Barcelona's squad is now over the hill with no replacement in sight

When they look back at the history book on this La Liga season, it will go down as one of the least notable in decades.

The motivation has been to just complete the campaign; but, in truth, it is mainly a year of transition with Real Madrid a little further down the line than their great rivals, Barcelona.

It took a while for Real to adjust to life without Cristiano Ronaldo and they needed Zinedine Zidane to return to the club to lead them out of a maze.

He's built on the rock that is Sergio Ramos and started to oversee a rebuild that relies on youthfulness and organisation.

Ramos has been nothing short of magnificent in driving all those around him and setting the standards required to take titles. The old-timer has weighed in with nine goals this season, including three vital penalties in the space of three weeks since football restarted.

The young players such as Marco Asensio, Vinícius Júnior and Rodrygo have a role model to emulate.

Over at the Camp Nou, life is far less harmonious. The club seems to have lost its identity and decision after decision has backfired.

The key has always been to have a replacement in the building before the current occupant of the shirt is past the peak of his powers. Andrés Iniesta and Xavi Hernández departed when there was still fuel in the tank; that was the Barça way. The problem is that they failed to have the replacements ready.

Philippe Coutinho, Arthur and Frenkie de Jong were all expensively imported to fill the roles of the legends, yet none have reached the benchmark required. It is a mish-mash.

Ivan Rakitić is still a prominent player, albeit a couple of years past his sell-by date. Samuel Umtiti has never advanced, Nelson Semedo hasn't made the grade, Arturo Vidal doesn't come close to reaching the standards of a Barcelona player and Martin Braithwaite was a bizarre panic signing. In an ideal world, Luis Suárez would have been sold last summer and Lionel Messi would be utilised far more sparingly.

It's hard to put a finger on exactly when it all went wrong. It has been a slow progression of ill-considered decisions.

A decade or so ago, there was a bunch of academy graduates competing for places, but the well has dried up. Riqui Puig and Ansu Fati are both getting game time, but they are years away from their peak.

Nobody was surprised when it was reported that the whole first team squad was available for potential transfer. Reports have emerged about even Messi contemplating leaving the club. This would normally be unthinkable, but it may be a consideration.

Plans must be made for post-Messi life. Do they cash in right now to splash out on an alternative superstar? Break the bank to invest in Kylian Mbappé or swallow their pride and re-sign Neymar?

There's a real danger that Real Madrid are creating a distance between the two clubs and Barcelona are just falling further behind.