(PS: Long post ahead; Barca’s misery makes me happy, hence, I have a lot to say!!)
Barcelona’s ‘global’ soccer dominance received a seismic shock on Tuesday last week when they were THROWN OUT of the Champions League competition (I was so so so happy).
It would have been less of a shock if they were dumped out of the CL by a superior team. But, let’s face it, there is hardly a team that deems itself superior to Barca let alone equal to these Spanish giants.
I am sure Roma knew they were done for the minute they were drawn against Barcelona for the CL Quarter Finals. I do not think they expected to survive the second leg let alone beat Barca on aggregate score.
They were thoroughly thrashed in the first leg with Barcelona scoring four to their measly one goal. But, they turned it all around in the second leg on Tuesday last week by beating Barcelona 3-0; the aggregate score was 4-4 and Roma went through because of the away goal rule.
It was such a rare unexpected comeback for Roma at this stage against such a team and a shockingly cruel and an unimaginable turn of events for Barcelona. Just last year in the same competition at the same stage, Barca had been able to claw through PSG’s 4 goal lead from their first leg, and beat the French giants 6-5 on aggregate score in their second leg match (this was a beautiful night of football btw).
So what’s the dish? What made Barcelona go from King of the CL comeback in 2017 to the biggest victim of comebacks in 2018?
The answer is that alot contributed to their fall from grace last week, but let me start by saying that I have NEVER EVER EVER EVER EVER liked Barcelona. (Hence, some of the views presented in this post may be slightly biased).
Their style of play, for me, is completely outdated and makes every game a drag! It is crucial to have a formation for the squad, but, let it come with some spontaneity and bring the game alive. Neymar, Suarez, and Messi used to bring the wow factor when they played together, but before and after this trio, it was just boring!
Arguably, they may not use tiki taka at every instance, but, come on, that is the go-to technique for that midfield (that never seems to get replaced).
I also feel like tiki taka is a bullying technique of sorts; mentally and physically for the opponents, which is fine until it becomes a tad too predictable, too domineering, and the players do not often have to think outside of the box in order to win the game. Tiki taka has curtailed their creative expression (don’t roll your eyes, it’s the truth!!).
Anyway, back to the topic. For me, the biggest reason for their poor performance last week was tired, lethargic players. Why would Barcelona have tired players when they have such a good line up sitting on the bench?
Because Valverde seems not to have learned the beautiful art of squad rotation regardless of competition or stage. His over-reliance on his top scorer is evident, and it seems he was a bit too scared to muddy the waters by experimenting with other players. I know nearly everyone considers Messi as some god (more like freak of nature), but even he deserves a break. We have barely seen the likes of Alacer, D. Suarez, and Gomes being used when it counts, and I’m sure they would have a profound impact if they are not forced to live in Messi’s shadow, were taught the ropes, and were allowed to be as creative as they want.
Another closely connected area that the Barcelona coach should have paid more attention to was substitution. The minute Barcelona were two goals down in that second leg he should have brought the other squad members in. We have already spoken about D. Suarez and Gomes up there, but the list is long. Vermaelen, Dembele and/or Paulinho could also have come in to pick up some of the slack earlier on in the game. Unfortunately (or not, depending on your side of the fence), he was making substitutions with like 10 minutes to go. Honestly, how would that help anyone?
And this business of playing defense when you should be attacking, all in the hope of protecting a lead, is not working this time round especially when you are facing a team as hungry as Roma. Go out there and score goals before they even think of making a comeback.
However, the loss (and hopefully several future losses) is not entirely Valverde’s. The board of this team seems to also be full of it when it comes to making purchase decisions (Barca and Arsenal continue to have more in common as the years drag by). Fans have accused Bartomeu and his cohorts of selling their top talent (NEYMAR!!) and purchasing expensive individuals who have not been as productive as fans would have hoped in the domestic leagues.
Here, we are talking about Coutinho and Dembele, who together cost Barcelona more than 200 million euros, but presumably only have three goals between them (but then again, it is the coach whose refusing to rotate these players, although Dembele has suffered serious injury setbacks over the season)!
And let us not forget how old their midfield is, and this Iniesta is still keeping us in the dark about whether he is retiring or not. I think if he renews that contract, I will break something (I still have beef with him over his goal against Netherlands at that World Cup final btw).
Furthermore, Messi and L. Suarez are not getting any younger with both of them in their early 30s. I am sure they still have a lot of gas, but at that age and their level of competition, that gas runs out fast!
Anyway, I wish I could definitively claim that Barca’s glory days are over. But, that is not the case. All they need to do is improve on squad rotation, and avoid exhausting their players especially the older ones. Give Coutinho (and perhaps Dembele) more time away from Messi, and he will become a regular on the score sheet. They also need to utilize the other younger players during games to give them a more hands-on experience as well as allow them to create their own magic and learn through their own mistakes, the BARCA way!
(FYI: These youngsters played really well this weekend with most of the veteran players out and they won)
(I also wanted to say that I really miss Puyol)
Finished. Done. I’m satisfied now.