FC Barcelona

Youthful identity could be the sole saving grace of Barcelona's season

Max Parsons
Gavi started for Barcelona against Atletico Madrid
Gavi started for Barcelona against Atletico Madrid / Soccrates Images/Getty Images

Another day, another humiliation for Barcelona.

The Catalan giants are enduring one of the most difficult spells in the club's history, and Saturday night's 2-0 defeat at Atletico Madrid was a reminder of just that.

Travelling to the reigning La Liga champions, Barcelona were outplayed in every single department on the pitch. It was yet another rude awakening to the fact that Ronald Koeman's side, despite being the mighty Barcelona, are miles away from the top of the domestic ladder - let alone the continental one.

Setting out in a more familiar 4-3-3 formation this time out, the pre-match feeling was one of optimism at the fact that the club had returned to its more natural identity. Free-flowing football, bursting with silky creativity with a compact and tricky front three flanked by aggressive and marauding full-backs - well, that's what it felt like.

Jordi Cruijff, Ronald Koeman
A despairing Ronald Koeman / Soccrates Images/Getty Images

Instead, what we got was a Barcelona lineup struggling to implement those unplayable traits.

At full-back, the naturally right-footed Sergino Dest couldn't provide a threat from the left while Oscar Mingueza, who is a centre-back by trade, failed to add any threat in the final third whenever he ventured upfield.

In midfield, it transpired with time that Koeman had implemented two holding midfielders with two roaming wide men, limiting the side's ability to sharply play through a dynamic and well-drilled Atletico team.

The supposed fluidity of a front four seemingly consisting of Memphis Depay, Philippe Coutinho, Gavi and Frenkie de Jong was nothing but confused, sloppy and messy. Contrasting to the ruthlessness and dexterity on show from Luis Suarez, Joao Felix and Thomas Lemar for the hosts, Barcelona's attempt at carving out opportunities with an interchangeable front line was frankly embarrassing.

In fairness to the Catalans, that 2-0 defeat to Los Rojiblancos represented their first of the La Liga campaign. However, it was yet another night demonstrating their severe and unrecognisable lack in squad depth and overall quality.

There was, however, a positive to take away amid all the regrettable events from Saturday night.

Barcelona still have an identity - a direction...sort of.

Against Atletico, Koeman set out with five La Masia graduates in the starting XI. That's discounting the prodigal Ansu Fati, who made another substitute appearance on his road to full recovery, and Sergi Roberto and Riqui Puig, who also both featured off the bench.

If one silver lining comes out of the tormenting and plagued cloud that is Barcelona's financial turmoil, it's the rebirth of the importance and presence of the club's famed academy.

Through necessity, Koeman has reintegrated the sublimely talented youth of La Masia into the club's future, giving the likes of Mingueza, Gavi and Nico Gonzalez the platform upon which to progress, develop and shine.

17-year-old Gavi, in particular, is showing his tenacity and class on the field and, after another bright performance on Saturday, he's another little reminder that the club does have direction despite a horrific current situation.

A lack of world-class quality will inevitably cost Barcelona any sort of relatively respectable outcome to the 2021/22 campaign - that much is already clear. However, their saving grace could well be the emergence of more academy prospects into the senior side - a clear path on which the club is heading.