While Roma have continued the celebrations after a famous Champions League win, the blame game continues in Barcelona
Every legend has two points of view to compare and contrast: the hero’s journey versus the villain’s motivations. And, seconds after the final whistle and while the AC Roma players celebrated on the pitch after one of the biggest upsets in the history of the Champions League, the Barça footballers, management and fanbase had already moved past the embarrassment to begin pointing fingers.
For one team to celebrate, there must be a side that loses, and it was Barça on Tuesday. Real Madrid would also suffer 24-hours later, but a lucky referee’s call in the 93rd minute saved them from making a fool of themselves. Europe was already in shock after witnessing Barça’s downfall; adding Madrid to that cocktail would’ve been too much to swallow for the powers-that-be.
'Were you not entertained?!'
— AS Roma English (@ASRomaEN) April 12, 2018
Who is to blame for Barça’s shameful night in Rome? Even top analysts and insiders are unable to agree on one single reason. Yes, Leo Messi was missing, but it’s the price you must pay when you consistently press the world’s best player to solve any equation and fix any potential problem by himself. In Rome, Messi was out of the game both physically and mentally, overpowered by Roma’s intense pressing and unable to find answers to the huge amount of problems piling up for Barça.
If we scratch deeper under the surface, a tactical explanation for this mess puts Ernesto Valverde directly in the spotlight. The coach had never, to date, showed any signs of conservatism in his playbook. He might have been less offensive than former managers Luis Enrique or even Pep Guardiola, but controlling games in the midfield wasn’t necessarily negative for a team that relied heavily on Messi’s strikes of genius.
This time, however, the plan went south from the beginning while Roma’s desperate attempt to turn over the score in the first game proved successful. They bottled Barça inside their own box and pressed hard in an amazing showcase of physical superiority. Barça drowned in their own incompetence. The goals slowly trickled into Ter Stegen’s net (the keeper was, once again, the best Culé player of the game) and ultimately completed the 3-0 upset in the 82nd minute with a Kostas Manolas’ goal.
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) April 12, 2018
Messi, Valverde… and the players’ lack of ambition. They happily strolled into the Stadio Olimpico believing that it would be a piece of cake after the 4-1 score in the first leg. That night, Messi destroyed the Italians with his usual efficiency; this time, without Messi to rely on and overpowered in all areas, many of Barça’s top players shrunk on the pitch, unable to react, afraid like a deer caught in the headlights.
Nobody took matters into his own hands. Nobody asked to have the ball. Nobody tried something different. They just let things happen and never seemed to really believe they could bounce back. Even in the final minutes of the match at 3-0 and needing to score, never did Barça’s strikers seem to believe in themselves. Just take a look at Ousmane Dembelé’s finish in one of the best chances to score: tepid, bland, no faith whatsoever.
Dembelé and Philippe Coutinho were bought this season for an overall cool $300 million, but on the season’s biggest night, the under-19 winger was overwhelmed by pressure and the Brazilian attacker was watching the game at home, as he had already played for Liverpool this year and couldn’t be included in Barça’s ranks. Two emergency solutions for Neymar’s departure last summer which were thought about and executed by a hapless sporting board, which never fully understood that mindlessly splurging money is not enough to win a Champions League.
They should have taken a look at PSG’s demise year after year… but they didn’t. In their effort to fight against the French economic powerhouse, they became just like them. And now, both will watch the semifinals on TV.
Ironically enough, both PSG and Barça have dominated the season domestically. In Barça’s case, they even have the chance of completing the ‘perfect’ unbeaten season and winning the Copa del Rey against Sevilla. And it is becoming increasingly clear that even performing that feat won’t allow Valverde to escape unscathed after last Tuesday’s disaster. To put it simply, La Liga is no longer enough: Barça fans dreamed of conquering the Champions League and, after the dream is over, the wake-up call is going to be extremely harsh.