Saturday, 23 March, 2019

Backlash for Barca's Champions League exit

12 Apr 2018, 01:26 ( 11 Months ago)

DF-Xinhua Report
Roma's Daniele De Rossi (L) vies with Barcelona's Lionel Messi during a UEFA Champions League Quarter Final Second Leg soccer match between Roma and Barcelona in Rome, Italy, April 10, 2018. Roma won 3-0. Photo Xinhua.

FC Barcelona's shock exit from the Champions League on Tuesday night following a 3-0 defeat away to Roma has sent alarm bells ringing in and around the Catalan club.

   Defending a 4-1 first leg lead, Barca failed a single shot on target as they crashed out of the competition against a rival that looked fitter, faster and stronger than they did.

   The local press were quick to respond with the Barcelona based 'El Mundo Deportivo' newspaper saying Barca were "unrecognizable" and were "overrun," while 'Diario Sport' was even less forgiving calling Barca' s performance "lamentable," and saying there were "no excuses" for the defeat.

   Certainly Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde admitted his side had been second best, saying it was a "bad day," because we were unable to overcome the situations they presented us."

   Apart from Barca's defeat in the Spanish Supercup in the summer, this is the first real setback since Valverde replaced Luis Enrique as Barca boss, but it does highlight some issues with the side.

   For a start Barca are still too dependent on Leo Messi, who still looks to be lacking fitness after struggling with a groin injury at the end of March: on another day Messi would have worked a moment or two of magic and Barca would have gone through, but in Rome it was not to be.

   Luis Suarez also looked sluggish and isolated in attack, while in defense Samuel Umtiti and Gerard Pique were also heavy legged. Pique's case is probably because he has played a lot of late, but there will be questions over Umtiti, who has been generally excellent this season, but who could have been distracted by talk of a new contract at Barca, or a possible big money move elsewhere.

   Sergio Busquets' fitness is also an issue for Barca, especially as the holding midfielder seems to have no true replacement in the squad. Busquets rushed back from a broken bone in his foot to play the first leg, rested at the weekend and started in Rome. He looked as if he is still struggling and may need a couple more weeks to get back to his best.

   The fact Busquets has no natural replacement must also raise questions of Barca's transfer policy in recent seasons, because a look at Tuesday's side and the starting 11's which fell at the same stage in the two previous years shows very few differences year on year.

   With Phillipe Countinho unable to play as he had already played for Liverpool in the competition earlier this season, Ousmane Dembele and Paulinho (who cost 150 million euros between them) were on the bench and Yerry Mina in the stands, with right back Nelson Semedo the only recent signing to be in the side.

   Barca's bench has looked to have a lot less depth than Real Madrid's this season and has limited Valverde's options to rest key players as often as Zinedine Zidane has done at Madrid and in the end that has cost them.

   The club needs to sign three or four top players, especially a central midfielder, over the summer to have the depth in the squad Madrid have and to allow them to keep going in three competitions from August to May.

   However, it is not all bad news for Barca, while Madrid coasted in the first half of the season and currently third in the league table, the Catalans gave everything and as a result are 11 points clear at the top of the Liga Santander and also have a Cup final against Sevilla to look forward to in 10 days and a League and Cup double is a major success at any club... even Barca.

   That possible double has probably come at the expense of the Champions League, whereas Real Madrid could win the Champions League, but at the expense of failure at home: which is preferable? It probably depends on which team you support, but even Zidane commented the league is "the bread and butter that sustains you every day."