The continuous slide of Barcelona
Things are not going well for the greatest team in the world lately.
It was apparent that all was not well with my favourite football team when they lost to AC Milan at the San Siro Stadium.
It was the manner of that defeat that was quite. On a good day, AC Milan, one of the biggest and most successful teams in European club football are quite capable of defeating any team in the world. That’s why football is such a beautiful and unpredictable game - no football team has the absolute monopoly on winning.
A few days after the AC Milan defeat, Barcelona faltered and stumbled again, against their closest rivals, Real Madrid, setting off alarm bells that are still reverberating around the world of football. They also lost again to Real Madrid a few days later.
Something is definitely not right with Barca. Is it that the head coach has been away from the team for medical reasons for a while? Is it that a few coaches now understand better the playing style of Barcelona and have found a way around it? Are Barcelona not the same team without Messi playing at his best?
Is it that Messi and the rest of the squad have been playing too much football and may be football weary?
Again, these questions arise not because Barca lost to two of the best teams in the world but because of the pedestrian way they played that made the team almost unrecognisable on both nights.
Real Madrid had never had it this ‘soft’ against their staunchest rivals. They strolled to a victory playing at the dreaded Camp Nou.
On the night that every one of their great world-class stars played, none of them could ignite any fire. The worst ‘culprit’ was the greatest of them all – Lionel Messi. To compound matters, that was the night his greatest rival, Christiano Ronaldo, shone like a million stars. He scored a brace.
Iniesta, who still played his usual commanding role in midfield but failed to dent the Real Madrid defense, addressed the media a day later and told the world that the entire team was to blame and that Messi’s uncharacteristic off-day was due to a fever. He did not sound convincing.
The reality is that Barcelona and Messi have not been at their best. Even when the team won and Messi scored goals before the AC Milan decline. Messi looked very tired. The team has struggled to be creative in front of goal.
Playing against Barcelona has become a physical and a psychological game for every team. The answer must come in a package called ‘patience’ for any opposing team to stand any chance.
In the last three Barca matches, both Milan and Real were very patient, like vultures. They allowed Barca do all the running and passing, kept their defense tight, well organised and calm.
A few of the Barcelona players have played too much football in the past two seasons. They need to take the occasional break and not attempt to play in every game in chase of records. Lionel Messi is the most ‘guilty’ of this.
He has become the most constant fixture in the Barcelona line-up, to such an extent that every time he is not in the line-up (which is very rare indeed) even the rest of the players feel the team is not the same. The same thing would, therefore, apply when he is not fit, unwell or just not playing well.
It is too early to say farewell to Barcelona and their Tiki Taka style of play. Unless a catastrophe occurs they are still firmly on course to retaining their La Liga title.
Iniesta promised that Barcelona will rise from their temporary stumble and deal with the threat posed by AC Milan when they meet at Camp Nou in their quest to retain the European Champions League trophy.
It is that match that will reveal just how dire the situation has been for this team, that has turned into a shadow of itself in the past two weeks.