Barcelona 2018: End of an era?
"The Fall of Barca's Empire," said Marca. "Without football or fight," El Pais pronounced. Ernesto Valverde's Barcelona against Roma in the Champions League second leg looked as uninspired as the side in Frank Rijkaard’s final season. Since the Dutchman’s departure, the Blaugrana have won six La Liga titles, five Copas del Rey, three Champions Leagues, and eleven other trophies. One thing that very few people will remember in five years' time: this is the least entertaining Barcelona side in recent history.
Not flashy, but functional
Since winning the Champions League in 2015, the Blaugrana have failed to progress past the quarterfinals. This year was the most extraordinary, considering the first leg result. With the scoreline at 4-1 to the Catalans, pundits were granting them entrance into the semifinal club without checking their ID. But Edin Dzeko would make an excellent bouncer. He dominated Gerard Pique and Samuel Umtiti, who had been pivotal to Barcelona's 0.6 goals conceded per game ratio and six clean sheets in the Champions League.
When Messi’s not firing, there’s no alternative
Tuesday night marked a historic moment. Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta played together in the Champions League for the hundredth time. They are the first pairing to do so. But unease set in from the moment Roma’s Bosnian hitman opened proceedings. Something was in the air.
The Giallorossi amassed nearly 30 attempts on goal. It was only the second time in Champions League history a side won the first leg by three goals or more but was eliminated. The Giallorossi fully deserved to go through over two legs.
You can differentiate between Barcelona and Roma with two words: intensity and identity. Roma showed what they’re all about. They did not allow Barcelona to play their game, only averaging 58% possession over 180 miinutes. The Italians took more shots, too. Messi and Luis Suarez were negated almost as soon as the ball passed them.
What’s worse, Messi was involved in three of the four goals scored for Barca in the first leg. When he finally had an off night, no one else stood up.
Luis Suarez is the only other Cule to reach double figures in goals this season but has been streaky with his form. Paulinho is third-top scorer for Barca with eight goals in all competitions.
In the past nine months, Barcelona have spent over €200 million in an attempt to replace Neymar. They haven’t found the right formula. It looks like 4-3-3 is the right formation, with the little Argentine playing at the tip of a midfield three, Ousmane Dembele, Suarez and Philippe Coutinho further ahead. But Dembele has been injured and Coutinho cup-tied. The new group hasn't had time to coalesce.
Barcelona are champions-elect In La Liga now but face a summer rebuild. The midfield lacks real legs. In two years, more than half their starting XI will be over 31.
The squad needs shaking up. If suitable players aren't coming out of La Masia, the World Cup will hamper outside recruitment. The overriding question is whether Ernesto Valverde is the right man to usher in a new generation? After Ernesto Valverde's tactics and squad let it slip from what should have been an unassailable position, questions will be asked. Are there answers the Barcelona board is prepared to accept? Is there another boss out there in which they may place more confidence? We'll know in two months.