It was the kind of humiliation no one had expected or anticipated. This was FC Barcelona we were talking about. The best club in the world and one of the best the game had ever seen. The battlefield was their legendary home ground, Camp Nou where superstars are created and made, and where coincidentally, the best player of the world plied his trade.
The odds were heavily against the home team. This was not Mission Impossible but “Missió Possible“, the tag used by the Catalan media for the match. However, things started to seem wrong the moment a certain Lionel Messi was not on the team sheet. And, it just all went downhill from there on.
Barcelona were drubbed 3-0 by Bayern Munich at the Camp Nou and 7-0 on aggregate. Barcelona fans did not know how to react to the scoreline, probably because they were accustomed to being on the other side of the spectrum. The remarkable part of Barcelona’s defeat was that Bayern had managed to do so without six players who had begun the night a booking away from missing the final at the Santiago Bernabeu. Such was the team depth that Jupp Heynckes possessed, something which Barcelona should look, envy and learn from, because this was what ultimately lead to their downfall.
The fact that they had to put in Marc Bartra, usually the fifth choice centre-back alongside Adriano in an unfamiliar left-back role in a Champions League semi-final says the story really. Add to that their unhealthy obsession with possession and the resulting slow build up which not only gave Bayern time to set themselves up defensively but also gave them sufficient time to prepare swift,deadly counter attacks which resulted in three goals being scored against them. This time, it was Barcelona who have put themselves in this precarious and humiliating position and without sufficient investment in the coming transfer window, they could risk going backwards.
It all started with Tito Vilanova’s team-sheet for the first leg at the Allianz Arena.
The Barcelona defence had lost Carles Puyol along with Javier Mascherano to injury and as a result, the inexperienced La Masia graduate, Marc Bartra was thrust under the spotlight. Understandably , the teenager was a bag of nerves the whole night, and it showed when he missed an absolute sitter in the 75th minute along with the numerous times he gave the ball away. The entire match, Barcelona were out muscled and out jumped by their Bavarian counter-parts which leads me to the question as to why Tito Vilanova did not choose to even play Alex Song. Arguably, the Cameroon international is a far better choice than Bartra and has also played a few matches in the centre-back role. Not only would he have added height, but also some much needed muscle to shove the likes of Gomez and Muller aside. Bayern enjoyed the greater height advantage and used it to full effect as two of their four goals were scored from corners. Usually, to cover up for their weakness from corners, Barcelona make it a point to not concede any but curiously, that night they conceded as many as 11 corners. The decision to field Alexis Sanchez ahead of David Villa was also rankling and Alexis’ poor performance that night did not help his critics who still label the Chilean, a Barcelona flop. Villa was clearly in better form than Alexis and his goal scoring ability and experience would have lifted some of the burden off a clearly unfit Lionel Messi who unsurprisingly was kept quiet by Dante and co. the whole night.
Usually, teams tend to sit back and absorb the pressure when playing against Barcelona and then counter-attack as fast as possible, an example being Didier Drogba’s goal against Barcelona in the first leg in the Champions League last year. This season was different. Both Real Madrid and Bayern Munich took the initiative early and instead of sitting back, both insisted on a tough, heavy midfield battle relying on strong, physical players like Khedira and Javi Martinez respectively. Barcelona suffered against both teams this season and their obsession of playing football “the right way” by stringing together 2000-odd passes is to blame along with the lack of a physical presence. Tiki-Taka as has been previously said was always a means to an end but not the end itself and this season, it has turned out to be Barcelona’s undoing.
Poor transfer dealings too have played their part. Prioritising attack over defence was one of Barcelona’s biggest follies. There was no point in spending huge amounts of money on purchases like Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas. There was no need to have spent nearly 37 million on Alexis Sanchez when there are the likes of Pedro, Isaac Cuenca, Cristian Tello and even Gerard Deulofeu (literally) waiting in the wings. Alexis Sanchez was clearly a case of a transfer deal gone wrong as he started his career at Camp Nou brightly but numerous short-term injuries kept him away from commanding the spotlight. This season was his chance to shine and despite being given numerous opportunities, he has never really lived upto both the potential and the hype. Meanwhile, Cesc Fabregas was clearly an “emotional” purchase and has spent majority of this season on the bench making him one of the most expensive reserve players in the game today. Add to that, the continuous media reports of a “done deal” with Santos for Neymar suggest that Barcelona are spending on players who they really DON’T need.
A good uncompromising, no-nonsense centre-back is exactly what Barcelona will need and a few of them will quickly restore their “invincible” status. This transfer window will be especially crucial to Barcelona and it remains to be seen whether they will make the right purchases as it could make or break them next season.