Barcelona Out-Fought and Out-Thought By Liverpool6 min read
Despite being 3-0 up from the first leg of the Champions League semifinal against Liverpool, who were shorn of two of their brightest strikers for the second leg, the niggling feeling of how important Ousmane Dembele’s last-second miss in Barcelona would be never went away.
Once Divock Origi had given the Reds an early lead at Anfield, there was a sense that it could be one of those European nights at Anfield.
Were Barcelona complacent, even with the memories of their collapse against Roma just over a year ago still fresh in their minds? In hindsight, it’s hard to argue against it.
How else do you explain that a team who had to get through a gruelling 90 minutes against Newcastle at the weekend – whilst Barcelona had complete rest – and then had the stuffing knocked out of them 24 hours before the game after seeing the Premier League title slipping from their grasp, were still, evidently, more motivated than their opponents?
Collectively, the Blaugrana were often out-fought, though some credit has to be given to Arturo Vidal for standing toe-to-toe with just about anyone from Liverpool that got in his way.
He at least embodied the warrior-like spirit and desire that was missing from many of his colleagues on the night.
Being aggressive but within the bounds of fair play, has never really been Barca’s strong suit of course, and to that end it was relatively obvious that they could’ve been ‘bullied’ if Liverpool turned up playing a style that’s more typical of Premier League fare.
However, with a three-goal cushion to fall back on, and ball players throughout the XI, the Catalans should’ve at least looked to take the game to their opponents by imposing themselves. It just didn’t happen with Barca out-thought as well.
On a handful of occasions the visitors escaped the shackles, but where in the first leg things fell their way, at Anfield Lady Luck deserted them at the crucial moments.
It’s difficult to find any positives on a night where everything went right for Liverpool and wrong for Barcelona. There will be consequences too.
Spanish media are already speaking of this being Barca’s ‘worst ever’ night, and it’s not a performance that will be forgiven in a hurry.
Those supporters who’ve been against the appointment of Ernesto Valverde as coach from the beginning, for a perceived ‘safe’ style of play rather than the swashbuckling, all-action pressing style they were used to under Pep Guardiola, will be beating a path to the Camp Nou to voice their frustrations.
The Basque will have to take his share of the blame of course, but it would be unfair to totally pin this defeat on his shoulders.
The issue that will be concerning Josep Maria Bartomeu and his board now is where the team go from here, and whether they will honour the extra year given to Valverde.
Imperious for the most part in La Liga, where they remain a cavernous 15 points ahead of arch rivals Real Madrid, Barca could still win their fifth Copa Del Rey in succession (a record if it happens), meaning a second league and cup double in two seasons.
One could even legitimately argue that winning La Liga has more value given the consistency required over an entire season and not one-off games where, clearly, the unexpected can happen.
However, two three-goal leads blown in European competition leaves a sore, open wound, which a little sticky plaster or bandage won’t close.
The inquest begins now…