The end of an era, no; but a wake-up call, yes. After a humbling 4-0 loss to Bayern Munich last night
’s 2013 Champions
League dreams are most likely over. Still, it’s never all doom and gloom. Barcelona
Here are few talking points from yesterday’s stunner in
Bayern celebrate during their 4-0 demolition of Barcelona
Bayern were, perhaps, more ‘desperate’
A point was raised – that Bayern Munich had more to play for; and it is a valid one. Last season Bayern suffered the heartbreak of losing the Champions League final, on penalties, in their own stadium. They were vanquished finalists in 2010 as well.
So, Bayern have been building to this moment for several years. There’s a greater need to succeed, more desperation, with memories more painful than is the case with
Although Barca are super competitors, they’ve been at the top for several seasons. It’s difficult to maintain the same level of hunger and desperation. Last night
met an opponent
that was hungrier, more desperate. Barcelona
Credit to Bayern, though. They were brilliant. They physically overwhelmed
played a perfect game. Barcelona
The tone was set early with the chasing and hard-work of their wide players, Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery. They were fundamental in Bayern’s victory never allowing their fullbacks to be exposed, something Barcelona exploit so well – especially with Lionel Messi’s tendency to drift to the right and play penetrating one-twos with Dani Alves.
Javi Martinez and Bastian Schweinsteiger were also outstanding in midfield, always snapping at
midfielders and using the ball effectively when they had it themselves. Then,
of course, Bayern were precise in the final third and took their chances – the
German way. Barcelona
There is now a template for how to beat
Chelsea and Real Madrid used it over the past 12 months. Bayern perfected it
last night. Barcelona
|Not the best night for Barcelona|
The emotional load
Nonetheless, before proclaiming the end of
perspective is needed. The emotional element Barcelona ’s had to deal with this season
shouldn’t be disregarded. Barca lost its coach and leader, Tito Vilanova, for a
significant period. Barcelona
were on course for a treble when Vilanova had a relapse in his fight against
throat cancer in December. When Vilanova left for treatment in January they
were on 18 wins and a draw in the league, comfortably through to the Champions
League last 16 and qualified for the Copa Del Rey semi-finals. But in the ten
games afterwards Barcelona
lost three, winning just five. Barcelona
It’s a dip they’ve struggled to get out of.
It may be understandable. Apart from dealing with Vilanova fight for his life
’s squad also
had to cope with teammate Eric Abidal’s gruelling battle against a liver tumour.
It’s a heavy emotional load to carry in the already high-pressured environment
of pro-football. Barcelona
It’s maybe going too far to say
are a one-man
team. But it’s clear they are very dependent on Messi. Barcelona
In many ways it’s normal. Messi has taken the game over so much in the last two seasons. Naturally his teammates look to him. It’s the gift and curse of Messi. The fact he’s scored 44 percent of
goals in La Liga this season says it all. Barcelona
have to be Messi-Lona. Certainly,
they didn’t have to be last night. They have enough top-class players The
flexibility they showed at the start of the season was absent. Barcelona
Yes, a Champions League semi-final isn’t the time to experiment, but playing Cesc Fabregas – to be a threat from midfield – and Cristian Tello – for a dynamic outlet upfront – were better options than a half-fit Messi.
Messi no longer a free spirit
Speaking of Messi, it’s been clear for a while that he’s sacrificed his child-like flair to be an unprecedented goal-scoring machine.
There’s no doubt Messi has become one of the greatest scorers the game has seen. There’s no doubt he is a once in a lifetime talent. However, he isn’t the free-spirit he was in his earlier days; not like Diego Maradona or Roberto Baggio were able to maintain through their careers or Ronaldinho was in his prime. He is being manufactured into a machine scorer, not the Messi that picked up the ball on the halfway, dribbled everyone, and scored.
Against the very best systems and defenders things are different. Teams find a way to minimise his danger.
Messi is still a marvel, but he’s drifted away from the unpredictable genius that can supersede a system – both his and the opponent’s.
The trials and tribulations of Messi-Lona
Not the end of era, but there are problems to fix
Evolution is the only constant in football.
Gerard Pique’s sudden loss of pace has drastically diminished his powers and it’s perhaps what Pep Guardiola saw when he experimented with a back three during his final year at Barca.
continue to refuse mix it up with occasional diagonal balls into the box, more crosses,
or with shots at goal. And their variation upfront – first with Samuel Eto’o
and Thierry and then with David Villa and Pedro – was Barca’s danger previously. Barcelona
has become more predictable. Barcelona
La Liga is weak
Speaking of gifts and curses; La Liga has become so easy for
and Real Madrid in recent seasons
that it affords them a rest. But it also leaves them less battle-hardened for
this time of the season. Barcelona
Meanwhile, the English Premiership is too much the other way. It’s extremely taxing and it’s difficult to double up domestically and in
The Bundesliga may be the perfect balance – a competitive league that keeps players battle-ready but also has a winter break and a season that isn’t as long.