Barcelona’s Argentinian forward Lionel Messi (L) and teammate Brazilian forward Neymar da Silva Santos Junior speak in a match:ANDER GILLENEA / AFP
I am yet to wake up from the nightmare of last Tuesday night. A friend called me up on Wednesday morning and asked if the earth was still revolving round the sun. That’s when I knew I was not alone in a very bad dream that became reality.
Understand my position. I am a fan of FC Barcelona, the greatest team in the world, and of Lionel Messi, the greatest player to ever play the game of football.
I ‘worship’ daily at the altar of FC Barcelona’s with their unadulterated, free flowing football, mesmerizing movements and creativity in front of opposing goals.
In the past 15 years, I have followed the team through an ocean of superlative performances, as well as small islands of a few painful hiccups here and there.
I did not lose faith even when Bayern Munich did a clinical whitewash of the team in 2012, with seven unreplied goals in the semi-finals of that year’s champions’ league. It was not as painful as last Tuesday because Bayern are in certain ways even bigger, and ‘richer’ than Barcelona. Plus, Barca did not have their three most lethal strikers in the world on the field in the two legs of those matches.
The grave danger for Barcelona is that the world has become so used to them winning matches that it is assumed all they need to win a match is to be present. That’s how dominant the team has been. But everything came tumbling down from that pedestal of illusion when ‘little’ Paris Saint-Germain, a team with big ambitions but little results in Europe, took Barcelona, with all its firepower of the most gifted players on the planet, to the cleaners leaving even Lionel Messi, his hands covering his face, crouching in bewilderment on the field in Paris for the first time.
Barcelona surrendered to the masterful display of a brilliantly organized team with clinical finishing. Barca were totally eclipsed, over-run, outsmarted and conquered in 90 minutes of blistering football to which Tiki Taka had no answer.
This is not the first time Barcelona would confront this kind of humbling defeat. It happened in 2004/2005 when Chelsea stopped them at the round of 16. It happened again in 2006/2007 when Liverpool did the damage at the same stage. Plus, of course, the unreal 7-0 (home and away) trouncing by Bayern Munich in 2012. But in all those instances, Barcelona still maintained their dignity and customary playing style, patiently knocking the ball around, darting left and right, probing and always looking good enough to turn things around in a moment of magic.
But all that did not happen last Tuesday when nothing worked. The team was in a trance. The players looked hapless and lost, not knowing what hit them and how to respond. In short the team fell like a pack of stacked cards.
Matches are never won on the strength of reputation. That’s what I believe happened last Tuesday night – the Barca players took things for granted, assumed the opposition were cannon fodder to be devoured any time they wanted to within the 90 minutes of that match.
That’s why FC Barcelona must be shaken to its foundation going forward after this scandalous and humiliating defeat. The team requires some fresh injection of something to shake them off their present comfort zone.
That’s why Luis Enrique is unlikely to be retained when his contract expires next summer. But before all of that there is the return leg of the match against PSG.
Fanatical fans of Barcelona are already talking of a miracle at Nou Camp, upturning the four-goal deficit and progressing beyond the round of 16. I am not that reckless in my optimism.
PSG’s victory last Tuesday was not a fluke. It was well earned and deserved. They were bright, exciting, well organised and clinical.
That night everything went right for Paris Saint-Germain and wrong for FC Barcelona. PSG were simply better in every department, putting up a perfect game that will surely wake up an FC Barcelona that is becoming bored with breezing through matches and winning so easily.
I can see already that Barcelona would want to set aside last Tuesday night’s defeat and get back to winning ways again quickly. This defeat is only a small bump in their history. The return match will fully test the character of FC Barcelona, as they will throw everything into scoring an early goal without opening up their own rear and conceding any.
My gut feeling is that no miracle will happen. PSG, having glimpsed the finish line, would ‘die’ rather than surrender their four-goal lead. They may just be too high a mountain, even for the great Barca, with their arsenal of world-class players in attack, to climb.
It will be very interesting to see how Messi, Neymar and Suarez respond. This past decade Barcelona have dominated the Championship like no other, breezing through matches as if opposing teams did not exist. Often times, even when they failed to get to the finals it was always a close call, losing by a hair’s breadth.
The apparent weariness in the team would eventually require some injection of new talents, new ideas, new challenges and a new manager.
If any team can create history in the Champions League and recover from a 4-0 defeat in the return leg it is probably FC Barcelona.
That’s why the second-leg in Nou Camp will be an intriguing contest. Barcelona will go all out and throw everything into scoring as many goals as early as possible. That means abandoning their patient passing game and going for broke.
That would definitely open up more cracks in their weak defense and if Di Maria and Cavani put up fifty percent of what they did in Paris, the expected Miracle of Nou Camp would not happen!It is the prospect of such a challenging match that makes football such a beautiful game to watch and follow.