After watching Barcelona against Arsenal, and a few other times as well, I just have a feeling that they won’t be the European Champions come the end of the season.
I’m not so sure how to even approach this article; whilst I think Barcelona are undoubtedly brilliant, there is something in me that just doesn’t believe they’re quite on the level other pundits and fans seem to believe they are.
Barcelona are favourites to lift the Champions League trophy for a second year in a row having had one of their best seasons in their history, and Messi, Suarez and Neymar have a lot to be thanked for if they do go on to lift all these trophies. Watching Barcelona vs Arsenal, they seemed to play a style that was so simple yet so difficult to master, a kind of style that only the wizards they had on the pitch could conjure. Similar to how they played against Real Madrid in their 4-0 win, they used every inch of grass and space they could find on that pitch, and pulled their opponents side to side, backwards and forwards, allowing them to nullify any pressing tactic a team had maybe looked to employ. The ‘MSN’ (Messi, Suarez and Neymar) kept at least two of Arsenal’s back four occupied throughout the 90 minutes, meaning that the players were confused between marking space as well as tracking and following the runs of their opponents. This was epitomised by Neymar’s goal where he was put through on goal, having won the ball high up the pitch, and left Bellerin tracking back despite being in what would normally be a fairly solid position. Iniesta continues to play brilliantly with the outstandingly underrated Sergio Busquets, and Ivan Rakitic has the class to keep things ticking for Barca too.
So, despite all this brilliance, why do I believe they won’t win the Champions League?
- Exposed back four
I was raving about Barcelona’s ability to use the space they have, and whilst this is brilliant for retaining possession, it can be a big flaw in their style waiting to be exposed by a better opponent. When Arsenal played their holding midfielders were allowed a lot of space to drive into when on the ball, and could easily make runs from midfield. The space Özil was finding in between the midfield and defence was also worrying, but it did allow Barcelona to attack with more threat and men going forward. I feel like there’s a better team waiting to expose that properly. Arsenal didn’t go into the games against Barca on good form at all, but the 5-1 aggregate defeat is somewhat misleading, and Arsenal will feel that better game management and finishing could have made the scores much tighter over the two legs.
2. Midfield not as dominant as it once was
Everyone knows Xavi was a legend, no one disputes that. Yet for some reason, I still feel like he’s underrated! When you think of Xavi, you remember his passing, ability to find space, and how he did this with his class and technique that no one else in the world possessed in midfield. However, Xavi was a heartbeat for the team. He was the nucleus for tika taka football to be successful. Without him, Barcelona’s brilliance has diminished ever so slightly, and you can see that there’s not that same ‘wow’ factor that was once there when Pep and Xavi took the team forward back in 2009-2015. I hope the video below will illustrate what I mean…
Barcelona’s midfield is still class, probably the best in the world. However they don’t quite dominate like they used to. At the Emirates there was no sense that Iniesta and Rakitic had the game under control against Ramsey and Coquelin, and therefore Messi was having to drop very deep to try and make things happen. I believe that there may be an over-reliance on the MSN. Not because they score the majority of the goals, but because they also create the majority of them too. This is proven by current La Liga stats on the highest assists, where Suarez leads with 12, and Messi and Neymar follow with 10 just behind him. The nearest Barcelona player to them is Sergi Roberto on 5, and he’s not even a regular starter and sits behind countless other players in the assists table. Can the midfield start providing more for Barcelona? Because if they can’t, then stopping MSN is they way to stop Barca, though that’s clearly not very easy to do.
3. Not enough sufficient cover for injuries
A small point but worth mentioning – Barcelona’s squad has undoubted quality, and a few stellar players such as Arda Turan who can step in, but generally if they were to suffer from many injuries, I don’t think the squad could perform and respond in their absence. Although, when do Barcelona ever have an injury crisis?
4. League not won yet
The league isn’t won yet for Barcelona. They’re comfortably in front by 9 points, but they’ll want to maintain that. Other teams like PSG have nothing but the Champions League to worry about now, and Manchester City and Atletico can play with the mentality that their title chances may be over. Bayern however do have the league to worry about, but they only have Dortmund to worry about as opposed to Barca having Real Madrid and Atletico.
5. There are brilliant teams and brilliant managers still left in the competition
This is really the main reason why I don’t think they’ll win this seasons Champions League. To win it, they have to get passed Atletico Madrid, then potentially face Bayern Munich and Real Madrid on their way to glory. I would back Barcelona against these teams, but I would like to, optimistically, say that Arsenal did give Barcelona a decent tie, with arguably 4 out of 5 of Barcelona’s goals coming when Arsenal were driving forward looking for goals. I believe there’s teams left with far more quality in their squad than Arsenal, more clinical finishers, and managers who will adapt even more to Barcelona’s style and dominance. I believe Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid will be hungrier, more determined, harder working, and better in front of goal when they come face to face with their new recent rivals. ‘Parking the bus’ could be the key to beating this team, as the MSN will look deeper and deeper in their own midfield to try and create chances and find space where ‘Atleti’ won’t allow them any. Antoine Griezmann is becoming one of the world’s best players with 17 goals in a team that doesn’t pride themselves on attacking flair (having only scored 46 La Liga goals this season). PSG’s Ibrahimovic, Lucas and Di Maria undoubtedly have the class needed to undo Barcelona, and whilst Real Madrid have had a poor season by their standards, when they get going they can be impossible to stop. When it comes to Bayern Munich, I believe Pep will have learnt from last season’s defeat to Barca and will trust his players to go out and match them with possession, and look to play a ‘you score, we score more’ style of play. Maybe this is the best way to play Barca, to try your luck and hope you get one more goal than they do. Barca’s defence were kept on their toes by Iwobi, Welbeck, Giroud, Chamberlain, and I therefore expect them to be tested by Lewandowski, Douglas Costa, Ronaldo, Bale, Ibrahimovic, and Aguero.
6. How many teams have won the Champions League two years in a row in recent history?
Well AC Milan were the last team to do it in 1989 and 1990, so recent history suggests they won’t do it – but they’re certainly good enough too. (Not even Pep’s team could do it).
Those six reasons are why I don’t believe Barcelona will win the Champions League. I don’t think I’ll look too stupid if they do go on and win it, because I still think they’re the best team, but the best team doesn’t always win and sometimes it just doesn’t work on the day. Other factors come into play and I think they will, and I’m very excited to see if Barcelona’s performance against Arsenal was just them playing at 70%, or if they were made to look like that by a team who prevented them from reaching their usual brilliance and dominance.