After last night’s 4-0 defeat to Paris Saint Germain, Barcelona will need to pull off the greatest comeback in Champion’s League history to progress further in this season’s competition. Having been completely blown away by Unai Emery’s side the likelihood of Barcelona even making the tie competitive again is remote.
Barcelona have been at the pinnacle of the European game for over a decade, doubt has been cast over their credentials before but tonight’s match really calls into question their right to be considered among the continent’s elite sides.
When Pep Guardiola started building a side to recognise his vision of how a Barcelona side should play his timing could not have been better. Guardiola’s first seasons in charge at the Nou Camp coincided with Lionel Messi’s blossoming into arguably the greatest player the world has ever seen. Add to that the midfield axis of Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, who were also the driving force behind Spain’s dominance on the international scene, and you had the perfect football storm.
Guardiola built his team around these three players. Great, good and mediocre players came and went, improving or diluting the quality of the side to varying degrees at different stages but that triumvirate remained throughout Pep’s reign. They continued to improve, bringing great success to the club, many believed that side were the best ever in club football.
When Guardiola left the perfect stability he brought went with him. Since then the club has had plenty of success but all the while the quality has been slowly but steadily eroding. Xavi is gone, his powers had been on the wane for a couple of years. Sadly Iniesta’s game has also deteriorated badly, last night’s game was a perfect example. PSG’s midfielders made the little magician look old. Messi is still a force to be reckoned with, he had a bad game tonight in a position that didn’t really suit him but he is still an exceptional player.
However, the great Argentinian can’t do it on his own and the players he is surrounded with now simply aren’t good enough. During Luis Enrique’s time at the club the front line of Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar known as the MSN has often been enough to blow teams away. The frequency with which that trio produced the goods was frightening but it also papered over the cracks. In every other area of the pitch the quality was going from bad to worse.
The performance in Paris was the culmination of years of players leaving the club and not being adequately replaced. Players like Samuel Umtiti, Andre Gomes and Sergi Roberto are nowhere near good enough to uphold the level of performance that Barcelona have come to expect over the last decade. There were players missing from tonight’s starting line up that can improve the team but Ivan Rakitic is the only one of those that would have got some game time during the glory years. Javier Mascherano was another loss on the night but in truth his best days are behind him too.
Players like Sergio Busquets and Gerard Pique look like pale shadows of the players they were when Messi, Xavi and Iniesta’s outrageous quality galvanized the side. The squad is in need of a massive overhaul the kind that can’t be performed over one or two transfer windows. Massive surgery is needed and until it’s provided Barcelona will struggle to compete at the highest level in Europe.