Barcelona: Champions League capitulation not reason to write-off Blaugrana’s season
Barcelona's Champions League campaign wasn't supposed to end like it did. Not even Roma’s players believed they could achieve the impossible. Once the final whistle sounded on Tuesday night, the Giallorossi fans couldn't hide their surprise. It was telling. But they were not the only ones in shock. Barca left the Stadio Olimpico utterly bewildered.
The media almost always heap praise on the winner while condemning the loser. Barcelona have been exceptional this season, though. They still deserve credit, despite collapsing in Rome. Only one team can triumph in Kyiv's Champions League final come May. Football ties produce losers as well as winners. It was Roma’s time.
Prior to the return leg in Italy, Barca were unbeaten in Europe this season. They scored nine goals in the group stage while boasting the best defence, having been breached just once in six matches. After defeating highly-fancied Juventus 3-0 at Camp Nou, Blaugrana kept a clean sheet away in Turin. In the round of 16, they beat Chelsea 4-1 over two legs. The Catalan giants deservedly progressed into the last eight after dominating the defending English champions in both games.
Then came the quarter-final against Roma. Again, Barcelona took control, comfortably winning 4-1 on home soil. The Italian side had succumbed to the intense pressing, resulting in two own goals.
Barca were on track to win the treble at this stage. So, losing 3-0 in the return leg doesn't suddenly reduce their quality. Even the very best have bad days. Ernesto Valverde's men are no different.
Barcelona have dominated Spanish football this season. Having gone 32 La Liga games unbeaten, racking up 25 wins, they sit 14 points clear atop the table. Their winning run stretches to 39 matches, last tasting defeat in April 2017 to Malaga. A 2-1 victory over Valencia on Saturday meant Blaugrana broke the record for the longest undefeated streak, previously set by Real Sociedad in 1979/80.
In this season's Copa del Rey, Barca have performed brilliantly. They marched to the final with wins against Murcia, Celta Vigo, bitter city rivals Espanyol and Valencia. All that remains is to dispatch Sevilla on April 21.
Barcelona's performance this campaign has drawn comparisons to Pep Guardiola’s extraordinary team, which won 14 trophies from 2008-12. Although the club is unlikely to reach those dizzying heights during Valverde's era, that doesn't detract from current success.
After Luis Enrique's spell in charge, Valverde took over a team which lacked motivation. That was highlighted in his first two competitive games - Barca were thrashed in the Spanish Super Cup, losing 5-1 on aggregate to eternal rivals Real Madrid. Many expected the Catalans to struggle to recover; however, the former Athletic Bilbao coach quickly turned things around.
Despite not reaching the Champions League last four, Barcelona can make amends before the season concludes. A domestic double is firmly in sight. Ernesto Valverde and his players deserve praise, not criticism.