Barça failure raises questions over playing style
BARCELONA - Reuters
Barcelona’s Argentinian forward Lionel Messi holds his head in his hands after losing to Chelsea. AFP photoThe question on many lips after Barcelona’s elimination from the Champions League is how a team featuring Lionel Messi with 72 percent of possession over 180 minutes of football could fail to get past ultra-defensive Chelsea.
For all its dominance and pretty passing around the edge of the penalty area in front of the London club’s massed ranks, Pep Guardiola’s side managed only six shots on target in the 1-0 defeat in the first leg and three - to Chelsea’s five - in a 2-2 stalemate in the return game at the Nou Camp on April 24.
Yes, Barça, whose performance was described as its ‘most tragic monologue’ by daily El Pais, was unlucky to be denied by the goal frame twice in each match and yes, Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech saved his team on several occasions.
However, there is also a sense that if the soon-to-be-dethroned European champions were less obsessed with holding on to the ball and willing to hazard more risky passes into the danger areas or shoot from distance they would now be preparing for the trip to Munich for next month’s final.
Guardiola, who like most of his squad learned Barça’s ‘tiki-taka’ brand of football based on rapid, intricate passing moves at the club’s youth school, said again after Tuesday’s bitter setback that he would remain true to that philosophy.
Yet doubts also seemed to be gnawing at the former midfielder after Barca’s hopes of a fourth straight La Liga title were all but snuffed out by Saturday’s home defeat to Real Madrid and Chelsea crushed their dreams of a third continental crown in four years.
“We are not a team that can play in different ways,” the 41-year-old, who has led Barça to 13 trophies since taking over in 2008, told a news conference.
“We have a peculiar way of playing and the opposition adjusts to that and that’s it,” he added.
“I was just telling them, attack, attack, attack and we never stopped but they (Chelsea) also counter-attacked well.
“Maybe this is a lesson I should learn, that we should hold back and not be so offensive.”
Barça has certainly missed the goal-scoring prowess of injured Spain forward David Villa and they could have done with a player with the physical presence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic to unsettle Chelsea’s imposing defenders.
The volatile Swede spent the 2009-10 campaign in the Catalan capital but fell out with Guardiola and was sold to AC Milan. The introduction on Tuesday of defensive midfielder Seydou Keita in a forward role was a poor substitute.
Someone who might have made a difference up front in the closing stages is centre back Gerard Pique, who has occasionally been deployed to excellent effect as an auxiliary striker on the rare occasions Barça was chasing a game.
Sadly for the home side, the Spain international collided with his goalkeeper Victor Valdes midway through the first half and had to be replaced by fullback Daniel Alves.
One man Barça has always been able to rely on during its recent golden period is World Player of the Year Messi but the Argentine failed to produce when it counted for the third straight game, suggesting the team may rely too much on his goals and assists.
Contrast that with Real, where strikers Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain have weighed in with more than 20 goals each in La Liga and the Champions League to compliment Cristiano Ronaldo’s record-setting scoring exploits.
Whether Guardiola, who has yet to extend his contract beyond the end of this season, decides that changes are needed remains to be seen.
Playmaker Cesc Fabregas perhaps unwittingly put his finger on the crux of the problem in remarks to reporters after Tuesday’s reverse.
“We played a good match, we dominated and we created a lot of chances,” the former Arsenal captain said. “We were the same Barça as always.”