Barcelona’s Champions League semi-final exit at the hands of Chelsea on Tuesday night has raised questions about the effectiveness of the Catalan club’s all-attack, all-possesion football artistry. The defending champions were held 2-2 at home, losing the tie 2-3 on aggregate, and will have only themselves to blame for not being able to crush Chelsea despite being 2-0 up in the first half itself. Add to that the sending off of Blues skipper John Terry — for a high knee in Alexis Sanchez’s backside — with over an hour left to play and the result seems even more unfathomable. A 2-0 result would have booked Barca a spot in next month’s final in Munich. But the never-ending will to attack and that too in full numbers, almost in a way disrespectful of Chelsea’s ability to score proved to be Barca’s undoing.
Barca had control
Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta put Barca in control of the tie before Ramires pulled one back just before the end of the first-half — meaning Barca needed to score again to qualify for the final due to the away goals rule.
Fernando Torres’ goal moments before the final whistle was the icing on the cake for Chelsea, who stuck to their plan of defending in numbers and hitting Barca on the counter-attack. Another talking point would be Lionel Messi’s missed penalty after Didier Drogba was — a bit too harshly — adjudged to have fouled Cesc Fabregas in the box. A lot of blame has been attributed to the Argentine’s ineffectiveness against an almost impenetrable Chelsea side that he has failed to score against in the last eight games now. Also, Barca’s over dependence on their star man has been called into question.
But the bottomline is that Barca need to respect big European sides and learn to close out games. Barca dominated possesion (73-27), effected 543 passes more than their London rivals (660-117) but could not dominate the most important statistic — goals. Barca were similarly outdone by Jose Mourinho’s champions Inter Milan in the 2010 semi-finals.
Barca came into the semi-final second leg at Camp Nou on the back of successive defeats, losing 1-0 to Chelsea in the reverse fixture at Stamford Bridge and then suffering a home defeat to arch rivals Real Madrid — virtually ending their chances of defending their La Liga crown having fallen seven points behind the league leaders.
Pep Guardiola has led Barca to 13 titles since he took charge of the team in 2008, including three La Liga titles and two Champions League trophies, by keeping Barcelona’s and La Masia’s (Barca’s football academy) footballing philosophy at heart. But with modern day clubs innovating and improving on a daily basis, Guardiola will have to bring in some changes to Barca’s style inorder to compete with such teams.
Learning to win ugly — by pulling opposition players out of their holes rather than playing the entire game in the opposition’s half — would be the first step. Or else in a few years, considering most team’s figure out Barca’s single-minded style of play, the Catalans would be reduced to comparisons with Arsenal. Credited with the most beautiful football but an empty trophy cabinet.