Barcelona left pondering the same questions after Champions League exit

Roma’s incredible Champions League victory over Barcelona will have been enjoyed by neutrals the world over on Tuesday evening, yet as the Blaugrana are eliminated at the quarter final stage of the Champions League yet again, the club are left pondering the same questions.

Much was expected after Luis Enrique departed the club in the summer, Ernesto Valverde was supposed to arrive and take Barcelona up a level, whilst Lionel Messi was promised significant summer reinforcements.

Neymar’s sudden departure then sent the entire club into a tailspin, although credit must be given to the former Athletic Club coach for pulling the team out of it and not allowing the heavy Spanish Super Cup defeat to derail the entire campaign.

Valverde brought with him a 4-4-2 formation which has greatly improved the team’s defence. Gerard Pique has been afforded more protection from the midfield, whilst Samuel Umtiti’s defensive work has been nothing short of fantastic for the majority of the season.

In attack there has been an obvious drop in production without Neymar, much of the burden has been placed on Messi’s shoulders and there has always been a fear that if he doesn’t produce, the team may struggle.

That’s exactly what happened at the Stadio Olimpico where Roma took advantage of a misfiring Messi and punished the visitors with some committed play in both phases of the game.

Yet again Barcelona were left wondering just how they have slipped up in Europe once again. The problem with the club’s transfer business was that it rectified none of the issues that plagued the team last season.

Neymar wasn’t replaced, although Ousmane Dembele’s injuries have hardly helped him settle in Catalonia, and Messi was still relied upon too heavily. Marco Verratti was the club’s main target in the summer but after a lengthy courtship, they simply couldn’t get the deal over the line. Ander Herrera was an alternative target, but he showed no interest in leaving Manchester United. Players were signed who were some way down the list of targets.

Philippe Coutinho arrived in January, but he could have no influence on the team’s Champions League campaign due to being cup-tied. This is a signing that may well improve the team’s strength next season, but his LaLiga form hasn’t been overly convincing thus far.

People expect change too quickly, Valverde has done a lot of positive work since he arrived, and perhaps it’s unfair to expect them to win the Champions League so quickly. He has made mistakes, his unwillingness to rotate star players in La Liga matches has come back to haunt him, several first team players looked tired in the latter stages in Rome, as soon as Kostas Manolas’ goal went in, Los Cules were too flat to respond.

At 30 years old, there is a concern that Barcelona are wasting Messi’s brilliance by not putting a team around him that is capable of winning the European Cup. He was deeply unhappy at the end of the 2016/17 season and it took a lot of promises to persuade him to sign a new contract. Barcelona will win La Liga this season, their seventh title in 10 years, yet they need to return to the continent’s summit once again.

Is Valverde tactically versatile enough to oversee such a performance? That remains to be seen, yet he deserves to be given the time to succeed or fail. Those in charge at the club must take more responsibility for the on-pitch failures.

Midfield is an area that needs addressing, Verratti is unlikely to be available this summer, and Ivan Rakitic has done a fine job in a double pivot alongside Sergio Busquets this season, although you wonder if Los Cules need to return to a 4-3-3 formation to really begin to dominate the big teams in Europe once more.

Ander Herrera may well be available this summer after losing his starting place at Manchester United, but it’s difficult to see just how he improves the team. Barcelona’s issue isn’t necessarily depth, although Valverde doesn’t have faith in a number of his rotation options, there needs to be more world class players around Messi.

Dembele can easily develop into such a talent, but in the immediate future Barcelona must be proactive in the summer transfer window if they are to avoid another disappointing Champions League failure next year.


Written by Chris Winterburn

Follow Chris on Twitter @cmwinterburn

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