Everything fades eventually.
During the last few years, Barcelona have been Europe’s most feared team.
That ended abruptly last season. Bayern Munich continued their ascent with a brutal savaging of the Catalan side.
The 7-0 aggregate semi-final win wasn’t just one team pummelling another into submission. It was a clear victory for one type of football over another.
Barcelona’s tiki-taka style, which had confounded most opposition, was suddenly obsolete.
Chelsea laid down the groundwork the year before with a stout defensive display and a speedy counter-attack, but Bayern mastered it.
Except it doesn’t seem that Barcelona have learned from their mistakes.
It is best shown in the behaviour of the full-backs, Jordi Alba and Dani Alves. Both still attack with abandon; you look at their heat maps and could be forgiven for imagining the imprints had been made by wingers.
Alves returns this weekend with Barcelona to Sevilla, the club he left for £23 million plus add-ons back in 2008.
When he left for Camp Nou, Alves burst into tears at the press conference called to announce the move.
But the years since have been good to him.
Four La Liga titles, two Copa del Reys and two Champions League wins are the key jewels in his collection, and he’s deserved each one.
Alves has played a key part in Barcelona’s recent history, and his swashbuckling, attacking style has been difficult for opponents to handle.
But now, with football morphing, twisting and progressing as it always does, what was one of Barcelona’s biggest strengths is now a weakness.
We saw it in the recent defeat by Valencia, although it was Alba at fault. When Barcelona’s full-backs push up the pitch, it leaves space in behind for the opposition to break into.
Jeff Powell notes in the Daily Mail that the recent clash between City and Chelsea was the closest anybody has come to matching the way that Bayern play.
And that bodes badly for Barcelona, who have been drawn against the Manchester side in the Champions League.
But Tata Martino has been reluctant to give Martin Montoya a chance to display his credentials and show he is worthy of a starting place ahead of Alves.
It’s understandable—being Barcelona manager naturally brings a lot of pressure. If he puts in Montoya for Alves and the La Masia youngster makes a mistake, there will be hell to pay.
But Barcelona must seriously consider their strategy, not just for the upcoming Champions League clash, but also for the future.
At 22 years old, Montoya needs to be playing football. Regularly.
He will be loath to leave Barcelona, but he may have to if Alves is considered undroppable.
The Brazilian’s contract expires in the summer of 2015, and Barcelona must be pondering whether or not to cash in on him at the end of the season.
Alves has said before that he does not want to retire at Barcelona and fancies ending his playing career at the club where he started it—Bahia.
He "gets" Barcelona; of that there is no doubt.
The full-back recently criticised some supporters for their pessimism after the Valencia defeat and then for not showing up at the Real Sociedad Copa del Rey game, which saw just 38,505 spectators at Camp Nou.
Alves said, as reported by Joe Wright of Goal.com:
Fans are very pessimistic when there is a bad result.
Those who don't come to the ground are not true Cules. Everyone has to do their part. If you doubt this team it's better that you don't come.
It's important to win because we live like that. When you have a bad result against Valencia, some doubts are normal. What we cannot do is doubt ourselves.
We have to continue working because in the end we want to enjoy ourselves with the fans.
And, unlike with most teams, his negative comments were received reasonably well by the Barcelona supporters to whom I have spoken, who acknowledge there is some truth in his words.
Blaugrana fans can take criticism from Alves, because he has shown he loves the club. There's a strong bond between the Brazilian and the fans.
He brought about the good times.
And it makes saying goodbye even harder.
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