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Sunday, September 27, 2020

Explained: Five reasons for Barcelona’s 2-8 Champions League humiliation

There is too much dependence on Messi of course, but premonition of the disaster had come in other ways too. What Barça need are massive tinkering, of personnel and philosophy — it’s time to find their old ideals and lost idealism

Written by Sandip G , Edited by Explained Desk | Updated: August 20, 2020 7:14:18 pm
Lionel Messi, Lionel Messi Barcelona, Barcelona, Barcelona FC, Messi Barcelona, Champions League, Messi Manchester City, Spanish Football League, La Liga, indian expressBarcelona's Lionel Messi holds his head during the Champions League quarterfinal match between FC Barcelona and Bayern Munich at the Luz stadium in Lisbon, Portugal, Friday, Aug. 14, 2020. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez/Pool)

Barcelona’s 2-8 demolition by Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinal in Lisbon on Friday night (early on Saturday, August 15 in India) might have caused jaws to crash to the floor around the world, but signs that the seemingly indomitable trophy machine is creaking have been evident for some time now. Only that Bayern brutally exposed Barcelona’s flaws and utterly humiliated the Spanish giants with a high-pressing, high-tempo brand of football.

As stunned fans struggle to make sense of what they witnessed, here are five major flaws of the team that is clearly no longer what it once used to be.

1. Shoddy defence

Barcelona’s isn’t known for its defensive strategies. Their former manager Pep Guardiola once famously said that they do not do tackles. But when Barcelona were at their peak, they had quality defensive players like Carles Puyol and Javier Mascherano. It was because of the stability they provided that the famed Barça front line attacked uninhibitedly.

That’s no longer the case — Sergio Busquets, their under-appreciated midfield workhorse, and Gerard Pique, the rock of the defence, are both diminished by age and injuries. Busquets is 32, Pique is 33 — and while their reading of the game is exemplary as always, their reflexes are not. Same for their 31-year-old left-back Jordi Alba.

Barcelona’s Clement Lenglet, second left, reacts during the Champions League quarterfinal match between FC Barcelona and Bayern Munich at the Luz stadium in Lisbon, Portugal, Friday, Aug. 14, 2020. ( AP Photo)

At the same time, young recruits like Semedo and Clement Lenglet have not quite lived up to their promise. It left the backline vulnerable to twinkling raids by Bayern Munich.

2. Sluggish tempo

Remember Dani Alves and his searing bursts through the right flank? The Brazilian’s pace was a wonderful gift for Barça, allowing them to seamlessly change gears during transitional plays. There is no one in the present side who could ratchet up the pace. The ignored Ousmane Dembele could, but apart from him, the side is sluggish, a bit one-paced.

And pace would have been a handy component on Friday night, as Bayern had a high defensive line and their own centre-backs are prone to lapses in focus. Both Bayern full-backs demonstrated the value of pace, more so the 19-year-old Alphonso Davies, who out-paced and out-ran Barcelona’s right-flankers several times. He also did an Alves in constantly providing well-weighted crosses, and in one instance wove himself into the boxes with clever touches before feeding a cheeky pass for Joshua Kimmich’s goal.

Barcelona’s Ansu Fati, right, is challenged by Bayern’s Joshua Kimmich during the Champions League quarterfinal soccer match between Barcelona and Bayern Munich in Lisbon, Portugal, Friday, Aug. 14, 2020. (Rafael Marchante/Pool via AP)

Barcelona had never relied on pace, but they had never lacked pace.

3. Muddled midfield

It might be difficult to replace Xavi and Andres Iniesta, who controlled the game like puppeteers. They were so precise in the way they could find the little spots to get the ball and pass it quickly. Their abilities to control the game, to be on the ball, and to dictate the tempo were unparalleled.

But since their departure, the midfield has been stale, bereft of creativity and ingenuity. Against Bayern, they were utterly dysfunctional, barring the still-effervescent Arturo Vidal, the one midfielder to press, move, run, and score goals. But he has lacked support.

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At their best, Barcelona had multiple playmakers, but against Bayern, they seemed to have none. There is, of course, promise in the likes of Frenkie de Jong, but it is clear they require a complete midfield makeover.

4. Messi dependency

It’s not Argentina. It’s Barcelona. But Messi dependency rings true. The great Argentine has accomplished solo rescue acts several times in his career, especially in the last two games, but his genius can’t become Barcelona’s gameplan. Feeding the ball to the best player on the pitch could be a logical enough plan sometimes, but it can’t be the only plan.

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi holds his head during the Champions League quarterfinal match between FC Barcelona and Bayern Munich at the Luz stadium in Lisbon, Portugal, Friday, Aug. 14, 2020. (AP Photo)

The system can’t be Messi, even though Messi could be the nucleus of it. Barça’s Messi-dependencia makes it easier for its adversaries: lock him out, strangulate his channels, deploy their entire back-line on him, and win the game. The infusion of the Antoine Greizmann was supposed to unburden Messi, but the Frenchman has struggled with his left-sided role and has admitted that he does not “understand the runs of Suárez, Messi or Dembélé”, and he “still lacks the confidence to pass or shoot”. It is, then, a systemic as well as a structural flaw.

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5. Transfer goof-ups

Barcelona have always got the players they wanted; but they have always let them go. Messi was desperate to have Neymar beside him — he had anointed him as his spiritual successor —but Barcelona let Paris Saint-Germain scoop him.

They coughed up 175 million euros on another Brazilian, Phillipe Coutinho, then loaned him to Bayern, and he came to bite them back with a brace of goals.

Bayern beat Barcelona, Bayern vs Baracelona, Bayern 8 Baracelona 2, UEFA Champions League, Bayern vs Barca highlights, Quique Setién Barcelona’s Luis Suarez grimaces after being fouled during the Champions League quarterfinal match between FC Barcelona and Bayern Munich at the Luz stadium in Lisbon, Portugal, Friday, Aug. 14, 2020. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez/Pool)

They splashed out €160 million on the Frenchman Ousmane Dembélé, then sidelined him; they spent €120 million to fetch the services of Greizmann from Atlético Madrid, yet he did not start the match.

The panic, often indulgent, buying spree reeks of confused thinking. At their prime, Barcelona were the shrewdest of buyers and sellers, their model an antithesis to Real Madrid’s. No longer are they Europe’s shrewdest or finest. And now they need massive tinkering, of personnel and philosophy, to get back their lost glory. It’s time to find their old ideals and lost idealism.

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