[dropcap]A[/dropcap] couple of weeks ago, there seemed to be a grim inevitability about Barcelona claiming an historic treble for the second consecutive season.
A winning streak that spanned back to October had the Catalan powerhouses as overarching favourites to retain their La Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League crowns.
However, a 2-1 defeat to Real Madrid in El Clásico at Camp Nou has sparked an unseen chain of events that threaten to sully the Blaugrana’s entire campaign.
A defeat against Real Sociedad at hoodoo ground Anoeta followed, while Luis Enrique’s men were also beaten by Valencia at home at the weekend.
With Atlético Madrid also eliminating Barca from the Champions League, and Diego Simeone’s men now equal with them on points in La Liga, the Camp Nou side’s campaign hangs in the balance.
Interestingly, especially given the attacking weaponry at Enrique’s disposal, it has been a lack of clinical finishing that has cost Barcelona games in the last month.
Since losing against Madrid, the Catalans have only scored three goals in five games in all competitions – an amazing occurrence given that they had netted a whopping 86 times in their first 30 La Liga fixtures.
The dream trio of Ballon d’Or holder Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suárez was previously perceived as unplayable if in the mood, but the Blaugrana trident have failed to fire since the start of April.
Given the sheer ability of these three attacking players, it seems preposterous to even question the offensive strength in depth at the Camp Nou.
However, it appears that if the unthinkable does happen and the three superstars go off the boil, Enrique does not have a Plan B to turn to.
In recent games Barca could really have used an able substitute to enter the fray and freshen up the side’s approach in the final third.
However, after not strengthening in this department in the summer and losing Pedro to Chelsea, the Catalans are not awash with back-up options of note behind their superstar first-choice trio.
Against Valencia on Saturday, Enrique turned to his bench to find the underwhelming figure of youngster Munir El Haddadi as his only attacking option – and opted not to field him.
At 20 years old the Madrid-born forward has time to develop, as do fellow La Masia graduates such as Sandro Ramírez.
When Barca are plain sailing and in a dominant position, like they usually are, introducing a youngster and building his confidence is ideal.
When they are chasing a game, there is no back-up options that can be trusted to replace Messi, Suárez or Neymar.
Enrique’s ploy when his side have been trailing has more often than not been to bring Gerard Piqué forward from the back and have him disrupt the opposition rearguard – something that just hasn’t worked.
So what is the answer?
For any attacking player signing for Barca this summer, Pedro’s example must be carefully considered.
The Spain international forward was first in line to feature last term if one of the illustrious three was not available, and played his part in the Catalans’ famous treble success.
But, for a world and European champion with five La Liga title triumphs to his name, 15 starts over the course of an entire campaign was simply not enough and he left his prestigious boyhood club as a consequence.
As such, the position of Barcelona’s fourth attacker is a poisoned chalice.
Yes, the occupant will get to feature for one of the world’s best teams and alongside some of the world’s best players – but only sparingly.
For someone like Nolito, who is constantly touted as being Barca’s potential new fourth forward, leaving Celta Vigo, where he is the star, to mostly sit on the bench at Camp Nou would be a tough decision.
Barcelona need a back-up option that they can trust; someone that accepts their Plan B mantle and the likelihood of possessing fringe status – this current lack of depth threatens to derail an amazing season to date.
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