The ‘remontada’ wasn’t possible for Barcelona last night. The epic, thrilling, last-gasp snatching victory from the jaws of defeat performance which ruined Paris Saint Germain was as good as it got in Europe for Luis Enrique’s men. The atmosphere, the stadium, the pressure were all the same but crucially the opposition wasn’t.
Juventus offer a solidarity those in Paris can only dream of creating. At the grand old age of 39 Gianluigi Buffon remains as unflappable as ever. In front of him stand a duo as terrifying as the Clegane brothers in Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci. Either side of them are two of the best full-backs in the world, Dani Alves and Alex Sandro. Did anyone feel they’d concede three and fall apart? Wishful thinking, perhaps.
Those from Turin are no false princes as they seek to establish themselves amongst the elite once again. To become king you must destroy all other contenders to the throne, be ruthless, and take the chances when they present themselves. The damage was done in the first battle, Barcelona fatally wounded, so Juventus simply waited until they bled out.
Well, that sounded a lot more sinister than it did in my head.
A well-balanced team always beats one of individual brilliance
Barcelona had no response to the Italian brick wall spoiling any chance of a comeback. Juventus didn’t need to take risks so they stuck to their game plan. It’s quite common to get lost in the moment or over commit but Massimiliano Allegri has created a well-oiled machine. They easily kept Barcelona at arm’s length. There would be no heroes, only harsh reality to greet the masses in attendance at the Camp Nou.
So what of the defeated Barcelona – is this the end of an era? Will they drop down the rankings? To many the result against PSG papered over a lot of the cracks in the team. For a brief moment it was celebrated as if they were crowned European champions. A wonderful, magnificent feat but maybe the reaction was exaggerated due to the existing doubts over this team.
If Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team needed to score six, you knew they had it in them. Luis Enrique’s version is almost as successful as Pep’s but they no longer appear unbeatable. A comeback of that proportion is always worthy of respect, no doubt at all. But the response to that Paris game meant more because it came as a surprise. A throwback to what Barcelona used to do, when they bullied opponents into submission. This one doesn’t do that. Well, apart from that night.
What happened to the new wave of La Masia graduates?
The fall from grace – which might include a league and cup double yet – is down to more than just Luis Enrique. As he’s walking out of the door at the end of the season it’s easy to lump all the blame on him. While he is by no means innocent, the running of the club on the whole has been below par for one as important as Barcelona.
There was a time when fans of the Catalan giants would point and laugh, openly mock rivals Real Madrid for importing a team and not creating one. Having a team full of academy players naturally gave the club a magical, natural, homely feel to it. Those in the squad dreamt of wearing the shirt and learnt from an early age how to play ‘the Barcelona way’. It’s a connection you can’t artificially create and as such, it gave them an advantage over their peers.
Sergi Roberto is the only new homegrown player in the current XI. I suppose you can extend that to include Rafinha too but that’s it. The rest are the same which came through during previous regimes and are approaching their final years at the top. The squad is bloated by big money signings, most of which aren’t at the level you come to expect from Barcelona. The recruitment simply isn’t good enough.
Andre Gomes is a wonderful player, extremely talented. Yet what does it say about the powers that be at Barcelona to believe he would be a good fit there? His style is languid and he prefers to arrive late into the box, or play just behind a main striker. That role doesn’t exist at Barcelona. They require speed, quick passing or great vision. He’s a different type of player. Did they sign him just so Real Madrid couldn’t? I fail to see why else they made such an effort to sign Andre.
The midfield is the biggest issue because its drastic decline means the front three, the best in the world, are cut adrift from the rest of the team. It means they often go long in order for Lionel Messi and company to inflict their damage. They are bypassing an area of the team which was the strongest not so long ago. Xavi Hernandez left, Andres Iniesta isn’t getting any younger and even Sergio Busquets looks vulnerable at the moment. They were elite. It’s a far cry from that now.
MSN or nothing
Luis Suarez and Neymar are good enough to start in any team in world football but they need service. With Messi having to drop deep in order to be the provider and finisher it unbalances the side. Iniesta is occupying the role Xavi did but no one in the current squad can play the ‘Iniesta role’ so, like Messi, he needs to do a bit of both. It limits their threat, you dilute their influence. It’s criminal to do that with such wonderful players.
You can’t keep relying on the same guys when they need protecting, not overexposing. The problem for Luis Enrique is that even with overburdening his key men, they do a lot better than their supposed replacements. Iniesta and Messi are like iPhones: they work better than their rivals but you need to be careful with their battery life. Don’t ignore the warning signs.
Messi really struggled against Juventus. His movement was good but the final cross or shot more often than not wasn’t. The fact the team runs through him meant it left the Argentinian looking below par. The image of Messi snatching at chances or sending a cross behind for a goal kick is unheard of. But what do you expect if you run the man into the ground? I’ve no doubt that Messi himself drops into the pocket of spaces because he loves to influence proceedings but this is because he feels he has to. If he doesn’t do it, who will – Andre Gomes, Ivan Rakitic or Denis Suarez?
Is this the end of Barcelona’s era of dominance?
It feels premature to call time on this Barcelona team but there is a lot of work to do this summer. They are fine in the goalkeeper position but they desperately need a new right back as well as at least one other centre back. Busquets, like Messrs Iniesta and Iniesta, needs someone to rotate with. Iniesta is playing a little deeper now so you need a guy who can link the midfield and attack. The front three are great but the rotation options are poor, forcing ‘MSN’ to play far too often.
Javier Mascherano, Jeremy Mathieu, Denis Suarez and Arda Turan should all be replaced as they aren’t needed or can’t be trusted to play back up. It was a major oversight on Luis Enrique’s part to assume Roberto could cover the loss of Dani Alves.
Will Messi or Iniesta leave in the summer?
Barcelona crashing out of Europe is a dream come true for those who write speculative transfer pieces. The delay in Messi signing a new contract only fuels that fire. The Argentine spoke about the project being key to him staying for ‘life’ at the club. Now would be a good time to get a deal signed to give the fans a boost following the disappointment of their European exit. Barcelona are very confident he will stay.
Iniesta by all accounts has a deal agreed in principle with the club but won’t sit down to finalise negotiations until the season is over. Much like Messi Barcelona fully expect him to sign a new deal until 2020 before he moves into coaching.
Ter Stegen is negotiating terms on a fresh contract after taking over as number one following Claudio Bravo’s exit.
Could a clearer schedule aid Barcelona’s league ambitions?
One plus from exiting the Champions League is it allows Barcelona to focus purely on the LaLiga title race. While they would rather still be in the competition it lessens their schedule and, heading into El Clasico, will look to lay down a marker against rivals Real Madrid.
A draw wouldn’t be the end of the world or their challenge for the title but a victory would crank up the pressure on Madrid. It’s worth remembering they went to extra time against a tough Bayern Munich side on Tuesday. So far they’ve spent all season being one step behind Los Blancos but a victory at the Santiago Bernabeu would make even the most ardent Madrid fan begin to panic.
A loss however and they can kiss the title goodbye.