After a strong transfer window, a lot is expected from the Spanish Champions in Europe. The fans want Barcelona to dominate the Champions League once again and even the players want to focus on the competition after failing to cross the quarter-final barrier in last three seasons.
But with Leo Messi and a number of new signings, can Barcelona really win the Champions League? Or is it just like the start of every season where the Catalans are the obvious favorites to win the competition, only to falter in April?
Here, we take a look at five reasons why Barcelona might not win the Champions League despite all the talks about it in the Catalan capital:
?? Internazionale #UCLdraw
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) August 30, 2018
Yes, Barcelona has always finished as the Champions League group winner in the last decade or so. But the things don’t look that straightforward for the upcoming season. The Catalans are paired with Tottenham, PSV and Inter Milan in group B.
Let us start with Tottenham – A team which might lose once in a while against smaller clubs in EPL but thrives on big nights against tougher opponents. Take the recent 3-0 victory against Manchester United at the Old Trafford for example. And the London based club has also come a long way in Europe during Pochettino’s tenure. Last season, Tottenham played 1-1 draw at the Santiago Bernabeu before beating Real Madrid 3-1 at the Wembley. With their attacking football, the Lilywhites are going to be a difficult test for Barcelona.
Inter Milan are back in the European competition for the first time in six years. But after their recent transfer window, the Nerazzurri are definitely ready for the Champions League. With Marco Icardi, Lautaro Martinez, Keita Balde, and Ivan Perisic in the attack, the Italians will not miss a single chance to trouble the Catalans.
PSV might be the only easy test for Barcelona on the paper. But the Catalans cannot afford to underestimate the Dutch club. PSV is one of the most exciting teams in Europe with young talents like Hirving Lozano and Gastón Pereiro at their disposal.
So Barcelona’s fight for the Champions League will start at the group stage itself. And although they have a quality squad to deal with it, the margin for an error is very small for the Catalans.
A few years ago, Barcelona was probably the most dangerous team in Europe with players at the peak of their career. In 2018, most of those players are still with Barcelona but in the twilight of their career.
Take Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets for example. The duo was a part Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering team and have been loyal to Barcelona since then. But after winning everything in the last decade, are they really hungry for more? Are they playing with the same intensity 10 years later?
The Catalans have signed a number of youngsters in the last two transfer windows as they prepare for a future without whatever is left of Pep’s Golden Era team. But the new faces do not have the Barcelona blood in them just yet. They do not understand the meaning of ‘Mes Que Un Club’ just yet. And those who do, hardly have anything on the line anymore.
Of course, same cannot be said about Leo Messi, who has found a new reason to lift the Champions League as the captain of Barcelona. But with Pique, Busquets and Luis Suarez – Are they at their best anymore and do they want to give their best anymore?
Ernesto Valverde is a world-class manager and he proved it last season with Barcelona’s dominance in Spain. And while his tactics cannot be blamed for the team’s embarrassing defeat to Roma at the Stadio Olimpico, another aspect of Valverde’s management definitely hurt Barcelona.
The Catalans won the first leg against Roma with two own goals and two scrappy goals. They still had a 4-1 advantage going in the 2nd leg. But Valverde decided to start with Messi, Suarez, Rakitic against Leganes before their second leg in Rome. Messi scored a hat-trick in that game to bag three more points in the league which was all but won. But at what cost?
Three days later, the more or less same Catalan side traveled to Rome and was convincingly beaten 3-0 by the Italians in an energy-sapping game. Credit to Roma where it’s due, but should Valverde have rested his big guns before the away leg? Yes, he definitely should have!
The Catalans have a better squad this season after their new signings in the transfer window. But if Valverde fails to manage his players like last season, it won’t make any difference. The Spaniard needs to rotate the players wisely and use Leo Messi and Luis Suarez with care. After all, they are 31 now!
2. No.9 Conundrum:
For all the quality in their squad and especially in the attack, Barcelona’s No. 9 is surprisingly the position to worry about for the Catalans.
Luis Suarez has been Barca’s No. 9 for the past few years and he has done exceptionally well in front of the goal. But the Uruguayan is in the wrong side of the thirties and it has slowed him down. But – The Catalans do not believe that and were arrogant enough to send Paco Alcacer to Dortmund on loan.
Just like last season, Suarez is taking his time at the start of the season which is not a big concern for Barcelona in the league. But it is the striker’s form in the European competition which will give Valverde a few sleepless nights before the Champions League kicks off.
Suarez scored just one goal in the Champions League last season in 10 starts. And his last away goal in the Champions League? It came on 16th September 2015. The stats are not in the Uruguayan’s favor and if that is scary for the cules, wait for the next stat.
If Suarez fails in the Champions League once again, Barcelona only has Munir El Haddadi as his back-up in the squad. A 23-year old La Masia product who spent his last two seasons on loan without playing European football at all.
So what if Suarez fails once again?…
With Luis Suarez’s poor form and Iniesta’s departure, the Catalans are set for yet another season of Messidependencia. While there is no harm in using the World’s Best Player to win titles for your club, asking him to do all by himself while others simply sit back, is a dangerous habit. And unfortunately, Barcelona are addicted to it now.
With Messi off the field, Barcelona always finds a way to demotivate themselves and get into trouble before Messi comes on and pulls them out of it. And that is simply not a good sign for a team which boasts the talented players like Rakitic, Coutinho Dembele.
In a 10-month long season where Barcelona are expected to win the treble every single time, relying on the Argentine wizard has cost the Catalans in the past as well. Last season, Barcelona suffered against Roma where Messi was not at his best. The story would have been a little different had someone else stepped up.
With Coutinho and Dembele improving at the right time, Barcelona needs to stop looking towards Messi every time they find themselves in trouble.
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