FCAi??BarcelonaAi??have been the team to beat in Spain and Europe during recent years. What must they do to continue their dominance?

FC Barcelona must invest wisely in transfers to continue excelling in La Liga and Europe.

What lies ahead for Barcelona?

The 2012/13 season is drawing to a close, and in the majority of Europeai??i??s top 5 leagues a clear front-runner for the domestic title has already emerged (Manchester United in England, Paris Saint-Germain in France, Juventus in Italy), or in some cases even crowned champion ahead of the final matchday (Bayern Munich in Germany). Depending on the advantage over their nearest rivals, this allows managers to rotate their squads on a wholesale basis and to allocate playing time to youngsters and fringe players.

Enter FC Barcelona.

Though the Azulgrana boast a healthy 13-point lead over second-placed Real Madrid in La Liga, they have yet to be confirmed as Champions in the Spanish Primera Division. However, both Spanish powerhouses have qualified for the Champions League semi-finals.

Strangely enough their opponents in the Champions League, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, find themselves in the exact same situation as their Spanish counterparts ai??i?? occupying the number one and two positions in the Bundesliga table respectively, and having their roles from the previous season reversed. But thatai??i??s where the similarities between Barcelona and Bayern Munich end.

Whereas Bayern Munich manager Jupp Heynches has regularly rotated his squad throughout the season, Barcelonaai??i??s Tito Vilanova (and Jordi Roura) only made adjustments to the starting line-up when it was unavoidable. Key players such as Carles Puyol, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, or Lionel Messi have barely been allowed to rest. Moreover, because of Barcelonaai??i??s failure to acquire adequate cover over the summer, this particular set of players is usually rushed back into the starting XI as soon as they become available for selection.

Though having a preferred and settled starting XI contributes to consistency, it is also the main source for fatigue in the long-term. Itai??i??s no coincidence that Barcelonaai??i??s form has been fluctuating in the last two months. Apart from a standout performance against AC Milan in the Champions League and the trashing of relegation battlers Mallorca, the Blaugrana have been anything but convincing as of late.

Their inconsistent form is lending credibility to the notion that Barcelona lack the quantity and quality to compensate for injuries to key players, as evidenced by the Blaugranaai??i??s over-reliance on Lionel Messi. To be fair, every side would be weaker in the absence of their best player, but Barcelonaai??i??s dependency on Lionel Messi has reached new levels.

When the mercurial Argentine was missing from the starting XI in the return leg of the Champions League quarter-finals against Paris Saint-Germain, the Azulgrana looked uninspired and timid. Only Messiai??i??s introduction in the second half swung the tie back in Barcelonaai??i??s favor after falling 0-1 behind. Heading into the return fixture the Blaugrana held the advantage over the French outfit, drawing 2-2 in Paris, securing two vital away goals.

Barcelonaai??i??s one-dimensional attack is hardly news, nor is their vulnerable defense, but the technical staff and administration have willingly neglected to address either. Instead of buying a world-class centre-back or forward, Vilanova acquired defensive midfielder Alex Song to provide cover in midfield (an area where Barcelona have talent in abundance) and central defense, at a costly ai??i??19 million.

The Cameroonian is a good player, but he is not a world-class talent by any stretch of the imagination, nor does he have the potential to develop into one. At 25 years old, he is pretty much the finished article. Itai??i??s evident that Vilanova doesnai??i??t trust Song, at least not in central defense. In light of Barcelonaai??i??s injury problems at central defense, even full-back Adriano has been preferred to the ex-Arsenal player. Unfortunately Song is just one of many failed or misguided transfers in years gone by.

The summer transfer window of 2009 marked the last time Barcelona signed a natural centre-back: Dmytro Chygrynskiy, for a massive outlay of ai??i??25 million. Itai??i??s one of the more ridiculous transfers in Barcelona history for various reasons. First of all, apart from Barcelona no other side competed for Chygrynskiyai??i??s signature, and to add insult to injury, the Ukrainian was cup-tied for the Champions League. It serves to highlight Barcelonaai??i??s incompetence at the administrative and scouting level.

Cesc Fabregas’ transfer from Arsenal London to Barcelona in 2011 (for ai??i??29 million plus add-ons) can be considered a vanity signing when the Catalan giants had, and still have, more pressing matters in other areas. Two years into his Blaugrana career and Fabregas has still not evolved into more than a role-player. Alexis Sanchez is another of those cases; heai??i??s clearly a special talent but either not compatible with Barcelonaai??i??s football philolsophy, or with Lionel Messi. Sanchez was also very expensive, costing ai??i??26 million (plus add-ons).

Alexis Sanchez, Cesc Fabregas and Alex Song have cost Barcelona a combined ai??i??74 million (plus various add-ons) ai??i?? this on three players the club didnai??i??t need in the first place. Out of this particular trio, only the Chilean can stake claim to be a starter, but La Masia graduate Cristian Tello has outperformed the ex-Serie A player, once again highlighting the redundancy of signing Alexis.

Barcelona has spent more on Alex Song than Real Madrid and Bayern Munich paid for RaphaAi??l Varane (ai??i??10 million) and Dante (ai??i??4,7 million) put together. The former has the potential to develop into a world-class centre-back in years to come, while the latter has been the standout centre-back for theAi??in-form teamAi??of Europe and the Bundesliga.

Critics will all too willingly dismiss Bayern Munichai??i??s acquisition of the Brazilian as a stroke of luck, but the Bavarians’ scouting department were also the driving force behind the deals for Shaqiri (ai??i??11,8 million), Mario Mandzukic (ai??i??13 million) and Claudio Pizarro (free), who are adding quantity and quality to an already excellent Bayern Munich squad ai??i?? at reasonable price-tags.

Mandzukic in particular offers something Barcelona needs ai??i?? an alternative to Lionel Messi, a target man, a viable plan B. Though a tireless worker, the Croat is also a prolific goalscorer (22 goals in 33 games), to the effect that Mario Gomez, probably the best pure no. 9, has been relegated to the bench.

Itai??i??s interesting to see that Bayern Munich, one of the most profitable football clubs in the world, very seldom, if ever, overpay for a player. Although the German outfit regularly reaches the latter stages of the Champions League and are one of Europeai??i??s traditional heavyweights, theyai??i??ve only paid in excess of ai??i??20 million four times: Franck Ribery for ai??i??24 million (2007); Arjen Robben for ai??i??24 million (2009); Mario Gomez for ai??i??30 million (2009); Javi Martinez for ai??i??40 million (2012). Furthermore, a case can be made that all of these four individuals have made significant contributions to Bayern Munichai??i??s resurgence in Germany and Europe during the past couple of years.

On the pitch, Barcelona have been world-class for years, but their recruitment policy is anything but. Since 2008, Barcelona have spent a net ai??i??194,3 million (!) on new players, but only Dani Alves has firmly established himself as an undisputed starter. It raises questions over the effectiveness of their scouting department and negotiation skills. If the argument is that Barcelona play a very specific brand of football and not every player is suitable to their style, then where is all the money going?

The very least one can expect when Barcelona spend close to a net ai??i??40 million annually is a world-class talent. Instead of buying a couple of good players, Barcelona should just buy one world-class player, even at an inflated fee. Barcelonaai??i??s spine is as good as any; all it takes are just two or three outstanding players to ensure that the Azulgrana remain the reference point in Europe for the foreseeable future.

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