Barcelona are in crisis. Here's how Valverde can turn Messi, Suarez & Co. around

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Xavi to replace Valverde as Barca manager? (1:57)

Gab Marcotti and Julien Laurens debate whther ex-Barcelona player Xavi should take over for Valverde as Barcelona manager. (1:57)

Hands up if you're loving every second of Barcelona's ever-deepening crisis of faith, hapless away form and evident bewilderment, as every rival now plays them with the conviction that Spain's champions are there for the taking.

You won't be alone. It's one of sport's most enduring storylines, as teams that have lain waste to all opponents before them with absolute inevitability then wane, decline and get pulverised. It's not a matter of "maybe," only a matter of how well you prepare and cope. "Nothing's more certain than death, taxes and the collapse of possession football if it's not properly cared for," as Benjamin Franklin surely meant to say.

So, there will be widespread glee about Barcelona's sudden vulnerability, far further than among Madridistas, Espanyol fans and anyone of a Manchester United, Juventus or Arsenal persuasion who still resents either the manner or just the pain of those four Champions League final defeats since 2006.

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People find it fascinating, even enjoyable, when mighty edifices crumble and fall. They call it "Schadenfreude" in German, a deliciously malicious enjoyment of someone else's woes. Football has, metaphorically, become such a bloodlust sport that many will think that the only feasible remedy is to accept Ernesto Valverde's mea culpa on Saturday night after Barca lost in Granada for the first time since 1972 and sack him.

(A fun stat: Barca has lost there five times in club history, and every time it happened, they failed to win La Liga that season.)

During the buildup to Tuesday's Camp Nou meeting between La Liga's highest scoring teams thus far, with Villarreal matching Barca's 12 goals after five games, Valverde accepted the reality of his side's malaise. "Coaches are always fighting against the sack. That's not a novelty for me or any of my peers. Given the job I've got, it's results that dictate [my fate]. If Barca aren't leaders, then the manager's under intense scrutiny. But two good results can end a 'crisis.'"

A couple of weeks ago Messi admitted, "I think everyone worried that the coach might be sacked at the end of last season because we didn't meet our objectives, but it was more the players' fault than his."

The problems with Valverde

Three things are true of Valverde. First, while Barcelona were bristling with steely ambition and their key leaders were fit and on form, his "light hand on the tiller" approach to management was perfect. Just look at the good haul of trophies since he took over.

Secondly, now that the seas are extremely stormy, his style of coaching -- specifically the "pact" he struck with the squad leaders that rather than him being the outright boss (like an Alex Ferguson), he'd be primus inter pares, aka "first among equals" -- will need an upgrade. That he struck such a deal with Messi, Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique and Luis Suarez made sense: His was the ultimate responsibility, but it was an extremely benign, consultative dictatorship.

It's a long way of saying that Valverde reckoned, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." It worked a treat ... up to a point. Now it's out of date. Things are broken. They're fixable but cracked.

The third thing that's true of Valverde, I'd argue, is that he isn't enjoying his work as much as he once did.

Yeah, I hear you: boo-hoo-hoo. He's well paid, and he knew the stresses and potential indignities of managing a huge, often self-destructive and deeply divided club such as FC Barcelona. You're playing the world's smallest violin in sympathy for him, right? But this is a decent, hard-working guy who's respected by the large majority of his squad, simply doing the same things that won him six trophies (and a UEFA Cup runners-up medal with Espanyol) before he took over at Barca.

He's not a dud. He is not someone to be dissed lightly, nor is sacking him the real solution to what's been going wrong.

The flaws are easy to list and interdependent. Fundamental to Barcelona's producing a brand of football that was hellish to combat and made them if not unique then brand leaders was positional play. Intricate, demanding play that required both discipline and intelligence. Yet it has been abandoned by the club, in the first team at least, for some considerable time.

Eventually, under someone such as Xavi perhaps, it'll be restored, but will there be competent students to impose it?

That's an intriguing question for the future. Positional play helps possession play, as does the availability of Xavi and Andres Iniesta. Gradually, Barcelona's actual amounts of possession have declined, but much more startling has been the decline in strategy for why possession is important: what you can do with it to punish the opposition. In the cases of some players, "possession" has begun to mean "running with the ball" rather than letting the ball do the work. It's anathema to the Frank Rijkaard, Johan Cruyff, Pep Guardiola and Tito Vilanova school of thought.

Barcelona are not anywhere near as tough -- whether physically, spiritually, athletically or competitively -- as they were in the era when they could count on Puyol, David Villa, Samuel Eto'o, Iniesta, Xavi, Dani Alves, Pedro, Seydou Keita, Yaya Toure or Eric Abidal. Gradually -- and I think this is an inescapable truth -- they've gotten a little softer. The mix of technique, brains, character, strength, athleticism and height declined across the first-team squad.

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There's also less pace. Several of those players who would feature in most people's "best XI" of the current squad are actively short of acceleration, either in explosive sprints or over a foot race. When the ball isn't moving quickly, this becomes a far greater Achilles' heel.

President Josep Bartomeu has been pretty obsessed with passing the buck, whether it existed or not, to the guys who did his football planning: Andoni Zubizarreta, Robert Fernandez, Pep Segura and the exceptional Joan Vila, three of whom should have been retained. Now he's left with an imbalanced squad in which two of the three full-backs, Junior Firpo and Nelson Semedo, aren't good enough, when there's that lack of pace and in which no one seems to have planned for the fact that the only centre-forward turns 33 in January, carries extra weight, struggles to get away from defenders and hasn't scored away from home in the Champions League in four years.

Luis Suarez remains an astonishingly clever, competitive and successful footballer, but the lack of strategy to replace him or make him compete for his place has shown either incompetence or fear of upsetting his major stakeholder, Messi.

Barcelona need to change formations

Let me propose a solution for Barcelona supporters. It's a good one too. Hopefully Valverde is reading this.

Apart from the instincts that Pique, Busquets, Jordi Alba and perhaps Arthur are still imbued with, the whole position-possession-pressing thing that made the modern Barca famous, admired and successful has pretty much departed, meaning that the 4-3-3 they currently play is out-of-date. It's a touchstone of the philosophy that, in due course, Victor Valdes, Puyol, Xavi and perhaps even Jordi Cruyff could reinstate, but right now, it's a relic.

Barcelona, away from home, simply do not possess the means to make that formation effective. It's a strength turned weakness. The solution is a 4-2-3-1. That formation, not a magical formula in itself, is a good fit for Barca's playing staff while addressing current weaknesses and turning them into strengths.

Frenkie De Jong was always going to require time to settle in and develop. He's 22 with only 12 Champions League matches and fewer international caps. But most of his impressive football at Ajax was part of the pivotal partnership in a 4-2-3-1. Let him enjoy that role next to Busquets (on rotation with Arthur/Rakitic and so on).

Busquets benefitted hugely from Ivan Rakitic playing as a "double-pivot" next to him for large parts of the past two seasons. In fact, Valverde's Barcelona were often lined up in a 4-4-2 last term. De Jong can be Busquets' bodyguard now.

Another new signing, Antoine Griezmann, doesn't like playing as a winger or very much as centre-forward. But right now, he could easily play as a No. 9 in front of Ousmane Dembele, Messi and Ansu Fati until Suarez trains away a kilo or two. After that, Suarez at No. 9 with permutations of Messi coming in off the right, Griezmann in the middle of the three and Ansu or Dembele on the left. That not only could augment the chance creation but also would offer Valverde the option of installing a high press.

The 4-2-3-1 formation probably asks the full-backs to fly forward far less than, say, Alba currently does. But with Alba and Roberto edging forward into midfield to flank Busquets and De Jong, a mixture of Pique, Jean-Clair Todibo, Clement Lenglet and Samuel Umtiti as the alert, high-line centre-backs and Marc-Andre ter Stegen happy to play the "sweeper-keeper" role, there are far more solutions than new problems.

Valverde has had the chutzpah to try to find solutions by dropping Busquets, promoting Ansu and Carles Perez and mysteriously giving Rakitic the kind of limited minutes that suggest he was either caught swearing in church or singing the Real Madrid anthem in the showers.

The burning question now is whether Valverde also the chutzpah to accept that 4-3-3 is now making his team weaker and change formation.