Worst. Week. Ever.
I don’t know about you, but I’m still recovering from Barcelona’s elimination from the UEFA Champions League. Barça had a 2-0 lead against Chelsea in stoppage time of the first half, with an extra player—at home as well! What happened?!
In a span of seven days, three games were lost, two championships were lost, and one question has been left for all Culés to ponder: How could it all go so wrong, so fast?
First, let me congratulate Roberto Di Matteo and his men—minus John Terry. Now, many are saying they won with “anti-football” and that they played not to lose instead of playing to win. Some are even saying this Chelsea team may be the worst team to ever reach the Champions League final. I’m not going to write about how they played anti-football or didn't deserve to reach the final.
But if you were to ask me, I’ll tell you what I think. But that’s a whole different subject.
Chelsea knew they could only win this semifinal one way: defense and counterattack.
They defended with everyone and when the few opportunities they were able to counterattack, they succeeded in scoring. You can’t be mad at that.
Pep Guardiola handled the post-game press conference as he always does—with class. I'm so proud to call him my team's manager and a Culé.
This article is for Culés, written by a Culé. So you will see that I use "we" and “our” when referring to Barcelona because I feel Culés are a part of the team as well. It’s a bit longer than usual, but just hear me out.
Here are the rest of my thoughts....
Ramires gets past Puyol.
I’m not going to give a complete breakdown of the game – I’m sure you’ve read plenty of those articles.
I understood that Pep Guardiola wanted to save Dani Alves for the second half, thus Pep left Alves out of the starting XI. But with Gerard Pique’s injury, Alves had to come in sooner than expected.
We now see the significance of Pique’s injury. Gerard has the speed and height needed to play the lone CB for a 3-4-3 team position. With him out and having to use one of their three substitutes for such a freak injury, Barcelona’s defense was weakened and in trouble.
I have been very critical of this Barcelona defense all year and I won't change that. This defense cannot defend the counterattack at all, period. It cost us too many times this season including the Real Madrid game with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring on a counter and it cost us against Chelsea. Credit has to go to Frank Lampard and Ramires for executing the counterattack terrifically. For the second straight game, Chelsea score on a counterattack in injury time of the first half.
I still say Carles Puyol cannot be an every game defender anymore due to his lack of speed. With Eric Abidal out and Gerard Piqué being injured multiple times this season, this team was always thin in the back line. But what bothers me is that both Pep Guardiola and Sandro Rosell never made the defense a priority in 2011 in signings nor in bringing up youngsters from the B squad. Javier Mascherano has been a solid defender when called upon.
I don't know about you, but I want to see a defender or two be signed this summer. Jordi Alba would be a terrific signing. Looking to see if the club can sign Thiago Silva or Mats Hummels is needed. It'll be tough to get either Silva or Hummels, but I do want to see Rosell make an attempt to sign a CB. This current Barcelona defense is weak as well as it cannot defend the counterattack.
You want to know the crazy thing about all of this as far as the defense being the possible downfall of Barcelona, I CALLED IT MONTHS AGO. In the FRIST article that I ever wrote for Bleacher Report (October 24, 2011) entitled “La Liga: Someone Please Tell Barça Defense Wins Titles”, I talked about how the defense may become the reason Barcelona may not win the Champions League. Take a look at some of the things I said back then:
“Culés need to stop dreaming about lifting the UEFA Champions League trophy in May (although it does run through my mind at times) and consider what will ruin those thoughts of glory—Barca's defense is weak and will be their downfall.
“I don’t understand why people think that Barça doesn’t need to worry about those four (or three nowadays) defenders in the back.
“If we learned anything from the 2009-10 Champions League run, we learned Barcelona can struggle once in a hole score-wise.
“While the additions of Fàbregas and Alexis Sánchez have been great, the fact Pep Guardiola and Sandro Rosell did not sign a top defender this offseason is worrisome.
“Barcelona needs to invest in a true defender. No more Maxwells or Adrianos. No more midfielder/forward defenders.
“As a Culé and as one of those people who dreams of seeing Puyol or Xavi hoist that CL trophy, I like to think Barcelona will not buy into the smokescreen their great midfield creates and strengthen their back four.
“Some may think this is being dramatic but it's only a matter of time when the defense will no longer bend but break. Stop thinking about now and think about the future. Wins may be happening now but the future is not bright for the defense.”
Hate to say I told you so, but I told you so!
After you finish reading this article, please click on the link here and read that article from October. Take a look at the comments and read how people ripped me and my article. I wonder what those people that said “Poor article”, “Overdramatic” and “Is this serious?” are thinking right now.
There’s a reason why I’m The Voice of FC Barcelona on Bleacher Report.
Let’s get to the penalty.
Lionel Messi missing the penalty kick is not the sole reason for Barça’s elimination nor did Messi choke. If it wasn’t for Messi’s brilliance all year round, Barcelona wouldn't have even get this far.
Messi’s ability to convert PK's is one of his few weaknesses. I honestly was worried when Lionel Messi stepped up to take the kick. Messi did not choke because Leo has been inconsistent with his PK's, well, always.
For me, I never liked (and still don’t) like the way Leo takes penalties. He usually takes that slow, almost arrogant approach to PK's. I’m no expert in taking PK's, but it just seems like Messi’s style is not the best to say the least. For me, I’d prefer the style that Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo—just power it in there!
This sound likes blasphemy for a Culé like me to say, but I’ll take CR7 to take a penalty for me any day. Sorry, but Ronaldo has been—and will probably always be—a better penalty taker than Messi.
That being said, both Ronaldo and Messi let their teams down with PK misses in these semifinals. Both of them had bad approaches to the PKs and couldn't make it. It goes to show you that even the most talented players miss PK's. Also, don’t be mistaken, Messi is still the best player in the world and it’s not even close.
Messi’s miss was a tough blow, but this team till still had plenty of time to score a goal.
Barcelona tried to get a goal past the white wall Chelsea created but to no avail. In the 90+1 minute, Fernando Torres—yes, that player that has been the butt of so many jokes and countless “Torres Can’t Score” memes ever since he signed with Chelsea—ended Barcelona’s UEFA Champions League title defense, scoring the goal that might have just convinced Roman Abramovich that El Niño was worth £50 million.
Many British papers are saying Torres justified his overpriced transfer fee with his goal. Let’s be honest, Torres scored a very important goal, but he’s still a £50 million flop.
Total goals in the semifinal: Torres – 1, Messi – 0. Who would have thought?
For many Barcelona critics, one thing that they are beginning to wonder is if Pep Guardiola’s tiki-taka system has become too predictable. I don't buy this argument. What I do see is that this team is lost any time a team decides to park the bus. We saw this in 2010 with Inter Milan, we’ve seen this in La Liga whenever an opponent takes the lead against Barça and play all-out defense, and we’ve seen it now with Chelsea.
I know it’s easier said than done, but Pep Guardiola and his team needs to work on something to fix this, because many teams are going to copy what Chelsea did against Barcelona.
One Culé mentioned to me that David Villa was sorely needed in a game like this and how he and Messi were wonderful together. I couldn’t agree more! I’ll even take it one step further—Pep needs to have Villa start at ST and move Messi to either RW or CF for some games next season. I understand some of you may not agree, but consider this: FC Barcelona made a club record of 105 goals in all competitions in one season when they had Samuel Eto’o playing striker in the 2008-09 season. Villa is not a LW like he has been playing since he arrived at the Camp Nou.
I’m not trying to overreact, but I think this semifinal teaches us that a true striker is needed when facing an all-out, park-the-bus defense. A striker like Villa would work the middle of the pitch and would free up Messi to have the space he needs to create plays instead of having all the pressure of being in the middle solely on him. Villa would have been tremendous in the Chelsea game. His speed, ability to work defenders, and most importantly his ability to create and take shots, would have made a difference.
Perhaps due to Barcelona being so deep with wingers as well as seemingly not needing a true striker these past few years, we overlooked the impact a striker like David Villa can bring to the team.
But as we all know, “perhaps”, “would have”, and “should have” mean nothing right now.
Barcelona has plenty of wingers, but lacks strikers. Time to change that and have a plan B, Pep.
I know it's tough to accept this loss because we Culés feel like we were the better team—because we were the better team football-wise. But just like Fernando Torres said after the game, the best side doesn't always win.
Luck wasn't on our side all year as well—just count how many times Lionel Messi and others hit the post all season.
Pep Guardiola was right when he said that this year it wasn't to be. For me, it's tough to watch my favorite sports shows because they continue to show replays of the elimination. I can't even go to my favorite football websites or any of the Spain websites that I read everyday because I will be reminded of the elimination.
Many Real Madrid fans, Madrid journalists, and Barcelona haters from around the world are smiling and laughing at Barcelona and Culés, saying it's "el fin del ciclo" – i.e. Barcelona's reign has ended.
Let me tell them this: laugh all you want just like you laughed in 2010 when we were eliminated. We will lift ourselves back up and win again like we did in 2011. You're a fool if you think our reign has ended. Even if Pep leaves, we still have an amazing team, we still have the best player in the world, we still have the best midfield in the world, the majority of our team is under 28, and we're only going to get better this offseason.
Oh yeah, I guess you aren't making fun of us now, Madridistas. You made fun of how Messi missed the PK; how does it feel to have CR7 and Kaka get stopped? At least the thing that stopped Messi's PK was the crossbar. I think NASA is still trying to find the ball Sergio Ramos orbited out to space!
So go ahead and laugh, make fun of us. I’ve seen this movie before and thankfully for FC Barcelona and we Culés, this story is going to have a good ending for us.
This was the worst week for FC Barcelona and all their fans in recent history, but it’s the tough times that make us stronger because we appreciate the triumphs even more.
So stand up Culés, brush yourselves off and refocus. There are still four Liga games left to support our team as well as the Copa Del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao on May 25.
Michael Jordan once said, “Nothing of value comes without being earned.”
Barcelona didn’t have enough to earn the European title this season. But trust me when I say this team will lift itself up, learn from this recent disappointment, regroup and fight to earn the European crown once again.
ser del Barça és
el millor que hi ha!
Thanks for reading. A special shout out to Sayra Morán and her group Women United Football Club, a social network community advocating women who love Major League Soccer, for contributing to this article. Check them out at womenunitedfc.com.
Visca el Barça!
Xoel, The Voice of FC Barcelona on Bleacher Report!
Follow me on Twitter: @XoelCardenas