Barcelona are still one of the best teams in the world. They still possess one of, if not, the best players on the planet, are still in all the competitions they entered at the start of the season and are second in La Liga.
So, why does it feel like there is something missing for the Blaugrana this season?
As of Sunday evening, Barca were knocked off the top of La Liga for the first time in 59 match days. A home loss to Valencia, who previously had the third worst away record in the division, meant Atletico Madrid went to the summit for the first time in 18 years – since they last won La Liga.
While this was going on, Thiago Alcantara was setting a Bundesliga record for touches in a match and passes made in Bayern Munich’s 5-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt.
A product of Barcelona’s famous La Masia youth system, Thiago was the sole player who Pep Guardiola lured away from the Camp Nou to join his Bayern evolution - rather than revolution.
In Thiago’s past two games he has scored an acrobatic, last-minute scissor kick to beat Stuttgart 2-1, before completing 148 of his 159 passes in yesterday’s win at home to Frankfurt, making 185 touches in the process, both league records.
Alcantara’s impressive performances are keeping Toni Kroos out of the team, who after his dazzling display at Manchester City in the Champions League was being hailed as one of the world’s best midfield players.
The Bayern number six left Barcelona after not being assured of a first-team place in the heart of Barca’s midfield. The 22-year-old does not lack confidence. Backing himself to play above two of Xavi, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta or Sergio Busquets.
That originally looks like an impossibility, but when you consider the talent he’s keeping out of Bayern’s middle in Kroos and Javi Martinez (Guardiola seems reluctant to use his as a full-time centre back) he has the ability to walk the walk as well as talk the talk.
And how Barcelona must wish they had him now. With Gerado Martino imposing his style on Barca, a more direct attack with greater use of the wingers, his side have struggled to control games in the way they would have done under Pep or Tito Vilanova.
Xavi’s age is catching up with him. Unable to play every game, he is still as impressive as always with the ball, yet without it is a liability, as highlighted in Bayern’s 7-0 mauling of Barca in last season’s Champions League.
Fabregas has been utilised as a striker in Lionel Messi’s early and mid-season absence, while Alex Song has fallen further out of favour, if that was possible.
The slot alongside Iniesta and in front of Busquets was Thiago’s to claim this season. Barca’s short-term vision was blurred with Xavi-tinted glasses. His position in the team was the reason for Thiago’s removal, though injuries and his own inability to last 90 minutes has limited his playing time and increased bit-part players like Song and Sergi Roberto.
Letting Thiago go was as much an error of the board's, to accept only €25m, as it was Martino’s, for failing to realise his best young talent could have been the new midfield legacy of Barcelona, just like 700-Barca-appearance Xavi.
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