Apr 24, 2012, 1:53 AM EDT
It would be difficult to imagine a team with both Xavi Hernández and Juan Roman Riquelme losing three in a row if it hadn’t happened nine years ago. That’s the last time Barcelona was on a losing streak as long, falling to Valencia, Celta Vigo and Atlético Madrid in the middle of a five-game winless run that cost then-manager Louis Van Gaal his job, leaving a team featuring countrymen Patrick Kluivert, Philipp Cocu, Frank de Boar and Marc Overmars behind at Camp Nou.
Tuesday, Pep Guardiola’s squad is on the cusp of the same result, carrying losses against Chelsea and Real Madrid into the second leg of their Champions League semifinal. Only once in Guardiola’s three previous seasons had Barcelona even lost consecutive matches – end of year irrelevancies at the close of the former captain’s first title as manager (2009). Though it is again the end of a season, their second leg with Chelsea is anything but an irrelevancy, the defending European champions carrying a 1-0 deficit into the second leg of their Champions League semifinal.
While Barcelona are considered the favorites by most, their recent history against English sides at the Nou Camp sides has been problematic. Against Arsenal – a team that, for the most part, has been willing to ry and match them like-for-like – they have been fine, winning their last two meetings in Spain by a combined score of 7-2. Against other English opponents (Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United), Barcelona has four draws and a loss since defeating Chelsea in February 2005. In back-to-back semifinal first legs against United and Chelsea in 2008 and 2009, Barcelona was held to scoreless draws.
Leaving Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, Barcelona looked as impotent as those manhandled sides. There was no distinct plan for how to deal with a physical, disciplined, patient side who valued its defensive shape above taking the ball off their opponents. Back then, the debate raged as to how long the English sides’ luck could last given the extent to which they were supposedly dominated by Barça. Now, there is a greater awareness that the problem is Barcelona’s. They have to find a solution, not wait for their opposition’s perceived luck to run out.
The scary part for Cules: Guardiola doesn’t appear to have a solution; or, at least, if defender Gerard Piqué is considered an antidote to a goal shortage, the problem’s not being properly tackled. The big Barcelona center back will give Guardiola an option at the end of matches, but reportedly benched due to a dip in form (before injuries slowed a return), he may afford Chelsea a route to kill off the tie before Barcelona can snag an equalizer. At the point where Piqué’s size would be utilized in an attacking role, Didier Drogba (presumed healthy for Tuesday after missing Saturday’s match with Arsenal) would be back, augmenting Chelsea’s height in defense.
Before then, Barcelona has few choices but to find a new, ingenious way to use their current, homogenous personnel. Even the channel between Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic that presented so many first leg options is likely to be closed by a Chelsea defense that, protecting a lead, can set up deeper and more compact than in the opening moments in London.
Chelsea can always make mistakes. We could see a penalty call, a freak own goal. We could see another Andrés Iniesta blast from distance push tactics aside.
But we could also see this play out the same way it did the last time Chelsea went to Catalunya, and while that wouldn’t hand Barcelona a third straight loss, it would put them out of Champions League.
As was the case last week, Pro Soccer Talk will be bringing out all the stops for this one. Play-by-play with will start around 2:00 p.m. ET, with post-match analysis and reaction to follow. On Wednesday, we’ll do it all over again as Real Madrid tries to stay on course for a double against Bayern Munich.
May 29, 2015, 11:20 PM EDT
Final: Sporting KC 4-0 FC Dallas
May 29, 2015, 10:01 PM EDT
Watch the lone first-half goal of the Sporting KC-FC Dallas match, televised on UniMas tonight.
May 29, 2015, 9:39 PM EDT
An important I.R.S official told The New York Times that more indictments in the FIFA corruption investigation will be released.
May 29, 2015, 8:35 PM EDT
Newcastle has released Ryan Taylor and Jonas Gutierrez.
May 29, 2015, 7:16 PM EDT
Orlando City SC made a big announcement earlier today regarding the future of the club.
May 29, 2015, 6:34 PM EDT
Barcelona has yet to pay the remaining 83 million euros of Neymar’s transfer fee, and his former club, Santos, will sue.
May 29, 2015, 5:41 PM EDT
The Men and Blazers speak with U.S. U-20 head man Tab Ramos ahead of the 2015 U-20 World Cup in New Zealand.
May 29, 2015, 5:05 PM EDT
FA chairman Greg Dyke thinks Sepp Blatter’s fifth term of FIFA presidency won’t last.
2014 MLS Cup rematch: For the New England Revolution, it’s a new season, different game against LA Galaxy
May 29, 2015, 4:10 PM EDT
On Fox Sports 1 this Sunday, the New England Revolution face LA Galaxy in a 2014 MLS Cup rematch.
May 29, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
Chelsea’s title-winning team dominates our picks. But there are still plenty of surprise inclusions.
May 29, 2015, 3:20 PM EDT
As the soccer world continues to react to Sepp Blatter’s fifth-term as FIFA president, his 72-year-old former VP is basically telling the law to take a long walk off a short pier.
May 29, 2015, 2:05 PM EDT
We’re in the shadow of just one rushed afternoon, and the FBI and others are watching the money float off the yacht, hoping to strike.
May 29, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
This award went down to the final vote. Do you agree with our pick?
Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein withdraws from second vote; Cocky Blatter speaks in power, references “offshore” future
May 29, 2015, 1:28 PM EDT
“I’m not perfect. Nobody’s perfect, but together we go.” Inspiring.
May 29, 2015, 1:02 PM EDT
There were 209 votes, and nations could abstain from voting as well.
May 29, 2015, 12:47 PM EDT
Can the Gunners win a second-straight FA Cup? Sherwood’s Villa stand in the way.
May 29, 2015, 12:17 PM EDT
Aston Villa is hoping to keep the 24-year-old Belgian, who has scored 49 goals in 99 matches since coming to the England from Genk in 2012.
May 29, 2015, 11:15 AM EDT
One man dominates our votes. He probably dominates your picks too…
May 29, 2015, 11:06 AM EDT
Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein and Sepp Blatter have addressed voters ahead of Friday’s presidential election, and we’re onto the vote.
May 29, 2015, 10:23 AM EDT
The United States kicks off its U-20 World Cup run with a match against Myanmar at Midnight, and will look to emerge from a relatively winnable group with Ukraine and hosts New Zealand.
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