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.
Aug 30, 2014, 6:15 PM EDT
Clint Dempsey’s second half goal pushed Seattle five clear at the top of the standings.
Aug 30, 2014, 4:40 PM EDT
Second half goal from Benedikt Höwedes gave Schalke a point at home.
Aug 30, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
The young Swans manager is hoping to get “to the 40-point barrier as fast as possible” after the hot start.
Aug 30, 2014, 3:35 PM EDT
Both managers react to a crazy second half at Goodison Park.
Aug 30, 2014, 2:57 PM EDT
All the action from a sensational Saturday of Premier League action.
Aug 30, 2014, 2:35 PM EDT
Real Madrid could be the deepest attacking side in the world right now, and they just may get deeper.
Aug 30, 2014, 2:25 PM EDT
One of the greatest games in Premier League history played out at Goodison. Relive it, here.
Aug 30, 2014, 1:45 PM EDT
The Tijuana midfielder absolutely smoked a goal home against Leones Negros on Friday night.
Aug 30, 2014, 1:14 PM EDT
Hammers boss laments poor decision but must look at his own teams shortcomings after poor display.
Aug 30, 2014, 12:44 PM EDT
The Special One got a special start from his players. Watch Chelsea vs. Everton live, right here.
Aug 30, 2014, 12:43 PM EDT
“We had more possession of the ball than Burnley but more free-kicks were awarded against us than in favour of us,” van Gaal said. “I think that is remarkable.”
Aug 30, 2014, 12:19 PM EDT
Mame Biram Diouf is back from Germany, and the Senegalese forward has already scored a Premier League goal in exhilarating fashion.
Aug 30, 2014, 12:11 PM EDT
Watch Everton and Chelsea clash, right here.
Aug 30, 2014, 12:06 PM EDT
One goal does not an exciting game make, but Harry Redknapp will be content to snare his first three points of the year.
Aug 30, 2014, 11:59 AM EDT
Mame Biram Diouf’s dazzling run through Man City was the moment, but Stoke won the match with defense.
Aug 30, 2014, 11:59 AM EDT
Swansea flying after third-straight win to start the season.
Aug 30, 2014, 11:57 AM EDT
Remember the name Rolando Aarons, as the 18-year-old Jamaican-born Englishman starred in leading Newcastle back.
Aug 30, 2014, 11:52 AM EDT
Schneiderlin double hands Saints their first win of the PL season.
Aug 30, 2014, 11:11 AM EDT
Watch Routledge’s stunning volley for Swansea City.
Aug 30, 2014, 11:02 AM EDT
All the action from a frantic first half. Watch the 2nd half live, right here.
- Xabi Alonso debuts as Bayern Munich held at Schalke 0
- Premier League Saturday Roundup: Chelsea win classic; Stoke stun Man City 0
- Everton 3-6 Chelsea: Blues prevail in sensational nine-goal thriller (video) 1
- Manchester City 0-1 Stoke City: Diouf’s dribble springs upset (video) 1
- Newcastle United 3-3 Crystal Palace: Zaha hands Warnock dream comeback (video) 0
- VIDEO: Swansea City’s Wayne Routledge scores sensational volley 0