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 25, 2013, 10:30 PM EDT
Jurgen Klopp has a mountain to climb in order to erase the pain of the Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich.
May 25, 2013, 9:45 PM EDT
FC Barcelona have confirmed via their official Twitter account that Neymar has agreed to join the Catalan side next season.
May 25, 2013, 9:25 PM EDT
The club lost. Again. This team is awful. So … where are the big changes?
May 25, 2013, 8:50 PM EDT
Chelsea lost to Manchester City 5-3 for the sweep in the pair’s double dip in the United States.
May 25, 2013, 8:29 PM EDT
One of Major League Soccer’s hottest young strikers scores for the third consecutive match:
May 25, 2013, 8:27 PM EDT
It’s official: the Robbie Rogers’s return to soccer is nearly complete.
May 25, 2013, 7:19 PM EDT
Outgoing Bayern Munich manager Jupp Heynckes hinted at Borussia Dortmund sensation Robert Lewandowski’s probable switch to Bayern after the Champions League final.
May 25, 2013, 6:50 PM EDT
Bayern Munich defeated Borussia Dortmund 2-1 in the Champions League final at Wembley Stadium in London. The postmatch reactions pretty much cover it all.
May 25, 2013, 6:20 PM EDT
Manchester City and Chelsea are handing starts to four youngsters who are looking to make their breakthroughs.
May 25, 2013, 5:52 PM EDT
The 2013 Champions League final was incredibly exciting, and passed every test as a match that will live on in the memory of fans.
May 25, 2013, 5:25 PM EDT
How a wonderfully entertaining UEFA Champions League final played out:
May 25, 2013, 4:59 PM EDT
Arjen Robben, criticized by many for his woeful record in major finals, finally got over the hump in stunning fashion as his 89th minute winner sent Bayern Munich to the promised land.
May 25, 2013, 2:45 PM EDT
There have been two to make the semis; You know who they are?
May 25, 2013, 1:48 PM EDT
Looking back at his ground-breaking announcement, even Robbie Rogers is a little confused about why it was all such a big deal:
May 25, 2013, 12:44 PM EDT
The most recent reports say it’s Barcelona FC, as the Catalan giants have apparently beaten Spanish rival Real Madrid for the Brazilian star’s services:
May 25, 2013, 12:20 PM EDT
Looking at the weekend MLS schedule and wondering if we’ll see one of these two on the field?
May 25, 2013, 11:40 AM EDT
Something to like from the Galaxy side – but one big concern, too:
May 25, 2013, 10:45 AM EDT
Despite the Chicago Fire’s awful record through 12 MLS rounds, there’s still enough to like about Frank Klopas’ club.
May 25, 2013, 12:32 AM EDT
Santos confirmed that they have accepted two offers for Brazilian sensation Neymar.
May 24, 2013, 9:29 PM EDT
In a mind-blowing move, USA Today have reported the LA Galaxy have sent a player to the Chicago Fire in exchange for the rights to Robbie Rogers.
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