Barcelona’s struggles down to five-subs rule: Luis Garcia
Ex-Atletico star says teams are able to cope with Setien's tactics to tire them out
Former Liverpool and Atletico Madrid midfielder Luis Garcia believes Barcelona's recent struggles may have been a result of the newly implemented five-substitutes rule.
The increase in replacements from three to five was mandated by Fifa as football resumed after the coronavirus-enforced hiatus. Football's governing body explained that the change "has been made as matches may be played in a condensed period in different weather conditions, both of which could have impacts on player welfare".
Barca held a two-point lead over Real Madrid at the La Liga summit with 11 matches to play when action resumed on June 11.
However, should Real beat 10th-placed Granada this morning (Singapore time), the league leaders would move four points ahead of the Catalan side with just two games left to play.
Explaining how things have gone so wrong for Quique Setien's side, Garcia, 42, said in a virtual press conference with Asian media yesterday: "Barca tried with Setien to adopt a new kind of football because (his predecessor Ernesto) Valverde had this possession-based fast transition (style).
"With Setien, it's more about keeping the ball, trying to tire the (opposing) team out with the ball. Maybe the situation now, where teams can change more players, it's not enough to show their best performances...
"We all want to watch a good Barcelona, we have in our memory those amazing games back in the days of tiki-taka... but that was a long time ago...
"After the outbreak, we've seen a stronger Real. We've seen a lot of doubts in the Barcelona team... problems at the back and not scoring enough...
"Real used the break very well, bringing back injured players like (Eden) Hazard and (Marco) Asensio. They have been key players."
Setien himself had alluded to how the change in the substitution rule would affect his team even before top-flight football in Spain resumed.
He said: "It will harm us, because of our way of playing. In many games, we will resolve (it) in the final minutes.
"If you give opponents the option of fresh players coming on in that time, the weakness that is generated with tired players will not occur."
Former Real sporting director Jorge Valdano concurred, noting that Barcelona's passing game aims to "tire out rivals to capitalise on technical superiority in the final minutes".
However, Barcelona legend Rivaldo disagreed, saying: "A squad like Barca or Real's are much stronger than most of (the) other teams and they can easily decide matches in just 45 minutes as they have tons of talent in their ranks."
The most storied of those talents is record six-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi.
Garcia, who like Messi came through Barcelona's famed La Masia academy, recently said the 33-year-old Argentine can play at the highest level for another five years.
However, there is growing speculation about Messi's Barca future.
He hit out at former teammate and club sporting director Eric Abidal in February and openly ignored Setien's assistant Eder Sarabia when he was trying to offer tactical instructions late last month.
Those issues, coupled with an ageing Barcelona squad and the discovery of Messi's yearly exit clause, have only fuelled speculation.
Former FA Cup and Champions League winner Garcia, however, is not convinced, saying: "I'm sure his way of thinking is not, 'I'm tired of this system, I'm giving up'.
"Not a chance. Every time he has been in a situation like this, he always has the calm to think and take the right decision. I'm sure we'll have Lionel Messi in La Liga for a few more years."