Barça seek new line of attack, with or without Pep Guardiola
Thursday 26 April 2012
Pep Guardiola summed it up after the first leg of Chelsea's epic semi-final win over Barcelona: "If football was about possession we would win every game but it isn't. It's about putting the ball in the goal." Now, with or without their coach, the team who have dominated football over the last four years need to find a way to win again.
"We have to learn to attack better," he said immediately after Tuesday's 2-2 draw that sent Barça out: "With this craziness to attack, attack, attack from the very first whistle – that I have drummed into the players – there are times when we do not know how to find the pause. Perhaps that is a lesson that we need to learn."
With the 41-year-old coach due to decide on his future in the next 48 hours – it is unthinkable that he will sit down to Saturday's pre-match press conference without having publicly declared his decision – it is still not clear if it will be him fixing the glitches, only that they are there to be fixed.
The missing ingredients will be sought by hiring new faces, demanding more from last season's new faces, and welcoming back some old ones.
David Villa has told Spain coach Vicente del Bosque that he will be fit and ready for the European Championships; Barcelona supporters will hope he remains that way for the start of the new season. With Leo Messi scoring 63 goals it has been easy to forget the importance of the Spanish national team's all-time top scorer, who broke his leg last December.
Cesc Fabregas admitted recently that he has needed to relearn how to play the Barcelona way. Alexis Sanchez is learning for the first time. With a low sense of gravity that helps him spin away from defenders in either direction, he remains perfect material for the Barça machine, but his circuit board has still not been completely rewired and, as with Fabregas, much more will be expected in the second season.
The appearance of Fabregas's former Arsenal team-mate Robin van Persie at the London hotel where Barcelona stayed in the build up to the first leg reminded everyone of the friends he has inside the camp. Along with Tottenham's Gareth Bale, whom Barcelona had watched earlier in the season, he would be a supporters' choice to join this summer.
But Barcelona may struggle to find the money for one of those players let alone both. The club's treasury spokesperson Susana Monje revealed in February that there would be €50m (£41.5m) to spend in the summer plus money raised from sales. Van Persie's contract situation might make him more viable but his wages would be a stumbling block and a more realistic option than Bale could be Valencia's attacking left-back Jordi Alba, who started his career in Barça youth system.
Bale or Alba, somebody who can break from the back – where the Welshman would play if he were signed – is perhaps the one thing Barcelona have lacked most in their frustrating run-in. During Guardiola's first three seasons the ability of right-back Dani Alves and central defender Gerard Pique to arrive from deep and surprise the opposition was vital. Neither player was selected to start both legs against Chelsea.
One important decision that has already been taken is that the team will not go to Asia this summer. The rigorous whistle-stop tour that Guardiola said effectively replaced a proper pre-season has been rejected. The club, at great financial loss, will play only European friendlies in order to protect the legs of their more senior players.
There is no reason why 32-year-old Xavi Hernandez, who played his 120th Champions League game this week, cannot carry on but his and the 34-year-old Carles Puyol's workload will need to be reduced. There will be no clamour for them to move on, especially in view of how Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba and John Terry have made a nonsense of the campaign to ship them out this summer.
Xavi played 145 accurate passes on Tuesday – 24 more than the entire Chelsea team. His mission now, and Guardiola's – should he accept it – will be to turn that domination into big match victories once again.
Tired, luckless and a nightmare: Spanish reaction to Barça's exit
"Nightmare at the Nou Camp. Barce-lona out of La Liga and the Champions League after the three darkest days of the Guardiola era."
"The main culprit is not chance, but the lack of inspiration, freshness and the magic needed to achieve glory. Everything depended on the success of [Lionel Messi], who has become tired and luckless towards the end of the season."
"The elimination can be explained in a thousand ways but, fundamentally, it was the effectiveness of the tools at hand that was lacking... They did almost everything to be in Munich, but not what was most important."
"Unjust, cruel... Any adjective is not enough to define Barça's incredible elimination. Rarely has a team had all the qualities to reach a Champions League final. And rarely has a rival with so little won the prize."
Facts in figures
72 Barcelona enjoyed 72 per cent of play on Tuesday night.
168 Completed passes by Xavi – more than the entire Chelsea team (135) at the Nou Camp.
22 No side has retained European Cupin 22 years.
8 English finalists in Champions League in eight seasons.
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