Barcelona could be nearing end of the Luis Enrique era says Guillem Balague in his latest column

Guillem Balague returns with his weekly La Liga column

Guillem Balague says Barcelona could be nearing the end of the Luis Enrique era and reflects on the growing strength of Real Madrid in his latest column.


Man City will not be launching a bid to sign Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic, according to Sky sources.

Guillem reflects on the latest developments in Spain and answers your questions in his column…

Time nearly up for Luis Enrique? 

More and more, Barcelona are looking like a team who are tired. Maybe mentally, maybe it is the coach who is not committing his future to the club yet, maybe is it just the whole dynamic of the team that suggests that they need a new impetus that a new coach could give them. It is as if they are getting to the end of the Luis Enrique era.

I’m saying this even though Barcelona could have and should have won against Villarreal. They created more and deserved the three points in my eyes, but for five of the last six games in the first half, it has been 0-0. You might think it is irrelevant, but…

Barcelona are now five points behind Real Madrid in the La Liga title race, having played a game more, after they drew 1-1 with Villarreal

They used to be a Barcelona that was more effective and didn’t allow teams to attack them. They killed teams early, they used to do enough to convert their authority in goals. But in the style created by Luis Enrique, everything depends on the front three, hardly anybody else scores and they get attacked, teams create chances against them. All in all it seems a very talented, yes, but much simpler and even predictable team than in previous years.

If you have Neymar, who hasn’t scored in 11 games, or Luis Suarez, who has to find his best form at the moment, it gets even narrower and it all depends on Messi. He scored a fantastic goal on Sunday, but that shouldn’t mask the fact that Barcelona are at the moment where they deserve to be.

Real going from strength to strength

Zinedine Zidane keeps finding solutions and making his team play better and better. For instance, without Gareth Bale, he has abandoned the 4-3-3 system as the automatic choice and against Granada he played Isco behind Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo as a 4-3-1-2 formation in which he gave the reins to Isco. Only about two months ago, he was thinking he wasn’t wanted at Real Madrid, and now he is an important player.

That is one of the assets of Zidane, he can get everyone involved. He has managed to get everybody feeling important and they all feel like that partly because they have their moment – obviously there are some that play more minutes than others – but they see for instance that he leaves Ronaldo out of the squad against Sevilla which means that everybody is going to rotate and everybody is going to rest.

In fact, everybody is scoring. Apart from Fabio Coentrao, everybody at Real Madrid has scored this season. Goals make players feel important and they feel like they are contributing. The midfield is also a very balanced midfield with Casemiro destroying, Toni Kroos giving it continuity and Luka Modric breaking lines of pressure as well as working a lot without the ball.

Everything is working. It is another week where Zidane has added something to Real Madrid as well as getting the points. They are actually playing really good football at the moment.

Atletico reverting back to their roots

Atletico Madrid are going back a little bit to their essence. I’ve got the impression that Diego Simeone has abandoned some of the experiments that he tried earlier in the season like Koke and Saul in the midfield.

He has put Jose Gimenez, who is a centre-back, as a central midfielder two or three times in friendlies and to have him in that position when he isn’t a creator – he is a destroyer if you like – suggests that he is looking for alternatives to Gabi but basically going back to the original ideas of a team that is very strong defensively and doesn’t concede chances.

The problem is, with Koke in the centre, Atletico Madrid played better. They created more chances, they controlled the game better, but Gabi said that he made the team a little bit weaker so in that crossroads, Simeone decided to go back to what they used to do.

I think it is a shame because it would have given Simeone a lease of life a little bit. It would give the players new impetus, new responsibilities and sometimes players need that after a winning era which they have had.

I think Simeone will stay with Atletico for at least another season, but he will do it in the way Atleti have been doing it for the last few years. The question is, will that be enough as each year, the players are getting one year older.

Sevilla to fight for the La Liga title

Now even Wissam Ben Yedder is adding goals to his great work rate and Steven N’Zonzi is playing wonderfully. He doesn’t want to renew his contract with Sevilla right away, but doesn’t want to go in January either.

Wissam Ben Yedder (centre) celebrates against Real Sociedad at the weekend

They beat Real Sociedad who have been a team in-form and playing some of the best football in La Liga this season and it suggests that Sevilla can challenge for the title. Of course, the 39 games that Real Madrid have gone undefeated makes things difficult but Sevilla will fight until the end for the league.

Valencia in relegation battle

Valencia is a disaster at all levels. The authority from the top is not imposed on the club. The distance that Peter Ling has put between himself and the club, partly because that’s how he deals with his businesses, but partly as well I’m sure because he is disappointed with how the fans are not behind him, makes things worse.

All that means is that you look around and it looks like a house that is about to crumble down. After Cesare Prandelli forced his way out, and now you have a temporary director of football and a temporary coach. They don’t have a clear sky in front of them and they will be fighting against relegation so let’s see what the players can do.

Cesare Prandelli left Valencia at the end of last year after taking charge of just 10 games

Guillem answers your questions…

Do you think Real Madrid have the league won? Or could Barca/Sevilla make a comeback? (@KhalifaAlK99) 

Not at all. There have been cases, with Barcelona at this stage last season for instance, they had a big gap on the rivals but they started dropping points and Real Madrid almost won the league. Anything can happen, but it is quite clear that Real seem to have a more positive dynamic than Barcelona but Sevilla are still there.

Is there an update on Barca transfers? Srna, Vidal, Rakitic, Verratti? (@RobertDobai)

They want a right-back.They approached Darijo Srna and the future of Aleix Vidal depends on if a right-back comes in. City are not interested in Ivan Rakitic, but it is an interesting situation. He had some muscle problems and tiredness before Christmas which is why Luis Enrique keeps giving him rest. I do believe he will count on Rakitic when Barcelona approach the last three months of the season so I think it is a way of letting him rest. There is not interest in Verratti.

Any chance of Sevilla getting Sakho and Vitolo going the other way? (@armirgerrard8)

Not a chance. Vitolo is one of the key members for Sevilla so there is no way he is going. He has had a new contract signed recently so he wants to stay and Sevilla don’t want to let him go.

Why is Nicolas Gaitan not getting more minutes to prove himself to Simeone? Any chance he is leaving? (‏@RobertDobai)

It is very difficult to adapt to Simeone’s Atletico Madrid. A lot of players haven’t been able to do it. They have got a lot of hopes for Gaitan, who keeps going in and out of the side but he has to work much harder with the ball to be able to make an impact. At the moment, he is just a super sub, but they don’t want him to go in January.

Can Real Madrid match the record of 43 games unbeaten? (@AmeenAlHawareen)

Luis Enrique said that no-one is going to end the season unbeaten and win every single game left in the competition, and I believe that is the case with Real Madrid, but it is difficult to see a defeat in them because they are intense, they go for the third and the fourth goal and the goals don’t just come from Ronaldo. There are a lot of things to go for to suggest that the record could be broken.




[Source:- Skysports]