Spanish Football: Talk of Barcelona's demise is vastly exaggerated

3May 2013

Betfair

 

A seven goal reversal over two legs to Bayern Munich has prompted many people to suggest this is the end of an era for this current Barcelona side, but James Horncastle believes such talk is exaggerated. Here's why...

 

It wasn't so much that Bayern Munich knocked Barcelona out of the Champions League, more a case of how they did so, which has led many to talk of the beginning of one era and the end of another.

 

Four-nil at the Allianz Arena. Three-nil at the Camp Nou.

 

The last time a team beat another by a seven-goal margin over two legs in a semi-final of this competition was almost half a century ago when Real Madrid obliterated FC Zürich 8-1 in 1964.

 

For what it's worth, Barcelona hadn't been defeated at home and away in a European knock-out tie since Dundee United of all teams had got the better of them in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup in 1987.

 

Historical precedents like these only added to the inclination to say that a club side that has not only distinguished itself as the best in the world over the last four and a half years, but ranks among the greatest of all-time, is done, finished. It's over.

 

Is it that black and white, though? Reports of their demise do seem exaggerated. You get the impression that what people are belatedly coming to terms with is a diminishment in the once-in-a-lifetime standards Barcelona set under Pep Guardiola.

 

How long could we realistically expect this team to sustain them? It's often said that great teams have a shelf life of three years. After that players, sated by success, tend to lose focus, they grow complacent.

 

That Guardiola sensed this was increasingly the case at Barcelona is often cited as one of the reasons why he decided it was time to walk away. This is crucial to understanding where the team is at right now.

 

Motivation is fundamental. It's what made the difference over this tie. After losing two finals in the last three years, you got the sense that Bayern Munich, in addition to being a formidable team in their own right, wanted it more.

 

"The secret of sustained success," Andres Iniesta said earlier in the season, "is that there is always something new." What can be considered new for Barça, though, when this particular generation of players have won every competition they've participated in?

 

Before we elaborate on that further, it must be said that things have not been easy for them this season. First, Pep left and that must have taken some absorbing. Second, there's how this season has panned out under Tito Vilanova.

 

Barça came out of the blocks fast. They made a record start. They won 17 of their first 18 games in La Liga, were scoring loads of goals and established an unassailable lead. And from Christmas it was apparent they'd win their fourth league championship in five years.

 

A bad team doesn't do that.

 

Then the unfortunate happened. Vilanova's cancer returned. The concern for his well-being can't not have had an impact on the players and the way they prepared physically and mentally. His enforced absence brought uncertainty. At the time many asked: will he come back and if so when?

 

In the meantime, who was in charge? Jordi Roura was nominally, although, unlike Vilanova under Guardiola he never aspired to be a full-time manager. You would have thought that this Barça, comprised as it is with players who have played with each other since they were kids, would be able to manage itself, but no.

 

Barça suffered injuries too. Carles Puyol got hurt. They were missing a leader and a centre-back. A makeshift alternative in Javier Mascherano went down too, as did Adriano, accentuating the need to strengthen in that position which has been apparent for some time.

 

All this insecurity, you feel, made the team look to Lionel Messi more, like in the Round of 16 second leg against Milan and Paris Saint-Germain in the quarter-finals. That he pulled up injured in the process only added to Barça's problems.

 

They lacked the intensity of old (a fitness and motivational issue). And after losing the first leg of their semi-final against Bayern 4-0, their belief in a turnaround, particularly considering they'd be without Puyol, Jordi Alba, Mascherano, Sergi Busquets and Messi in the second, was understandably gone too.

 

All things considered, many of the circumstances around Barça's faltering second half of the season are temporary. Like, you hope, Vilanova's illness. Like the presence of some key players on the sidelines.

 

With the exception of Victor Valdes, who may leave in the summer, and the veteran status of Puyol and Xavi, the team is relatively young. A number of positions need strengthening but that can be done in the transfer market this summer. And there's the small matter of possessing Messi, the best player in the world.

 

Motivation, that key ingredient, might also be rediscovered by shaking things up a bit. Just as Pep got rid of Samuel Eto'o, Deco and Ronaldinho, maybe Vilanova will have to do the same to freshen things up a bit and provide the kind of jolt teams sometimes need to ward off staleness and kick start a new cycle.

 

There's no reason why Barça can't remain competitive.

 

For now, though, the focus falls on an all-German final. After their tour de force against Barça, it's understandable that the exchange has Bayern as favourites at 1.46 over Dortmund at 3.1 to lift the trophy.

 

Wembley, the scene of two of Barça's Champions League victories under Johan Cruyff in 1992 and Guardiola in 2011, awaits.

 

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Keywords: Spanish Football, Barcelona

Source: Betfair

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