When the final whistle blew on March 2 of this year, Victor Valdes, along with many of his other Barcelona teammates, stormed the referee screaming protests. Valdes was yellow carded and possibly got away with not getting red carded, and even humble Andres Iniesta, who normally doesn’t even speak in press interviews, found himself complaining to the referee post-game. What made these players snap? It was nothing more than a simple psychological factor that affects children: dealing with defeat.
The “Greatest team in Europe” had lived up to its name until recently. In the 2008-2009 season Barcelona FC shocked the world and beat Manchester United (still one of the most esteemed soccer clubs in the world) and won the UEFA Champions League final. This victory dubbed Barcelona the best team in Europe. Since that day, when people speak of great teams, it is impossible to leave Barca (Barcelona’s nickname) out of the picture. They played with grace, perfect passing, off the ball movement that is unmatched by any other club team, and flawless execution. Other teams didn’t stand a chance. That year Barcelona also finished first in their league and won their league cup, topping off a glorious trifecta. This year (2012-2013 season) Barca is eleven points clear at the top of the table, however, their recent run of play… well, it hasn’t been their best.
The downhill slide began when Barcelona and Real Madrid faced off in the El Clasico in late February, the first of two games against Madrid in a five-day span. Barcelona fell, 3 goals to 1. Just days later, Barcelona played against Italian team AC Milan in the UEFA Champions League, and lost 2 to nothing. Two days after that Barca played Madrid again and fell 2 to 1. Before this recent run of play, Barca had only lost two games in their league.
Why this sudden streak of poor performances? The talent on the team has done nothing but increase since the legendary ‘09 season, so it certainly can’t be that. The team gained Arsenal midfielder Fabregas, defensive midfielders Song and Marchena, and stellar forwards Alexis Sanchez and David Villa. The only thing that has changed since the ‘09 season is that Barcelona fired their coach, Pep Guardiola, at the end of last season. The new coach, Tito Vilanova, missed the last few games (including the last three consecutive defeats) due to an illness, so Barca was coached by a back-up for these games. Is he to blame for the recent defeats at AC Milan and twice against Real Madrid?
The answer, quite simply, is “no.” With talent like Barcelona has (including a back-to-back FIFA Player of the Year winner in Lionel Messi, to name only one) coaching should not affect their play enough to cause them to lose three games in a row. Also, by the time players get to the professional level, coaches basically only pick the starting lineup. However, this can also not be blamed on the back-up coach, because Barcelona has talent in their substitutes as well.
There can be no one person blamed for Barca’s recent play. It is not Messi’s fault for not scoring enough goals, it is not Victor Valdes’ fault for conceding goals, and it is not Carles Puyol’s fault simply because he is the captain. It all comes down to this: Barcelona has never had a fantastic defense; they can’t mark up and they are awful at free kicks. However, this has not mattered because Barcelona’s attack has been so prolific that defending wasn’t necessary. So far this season, Barca has averaged almost three goals per game. That statistic is truly incredible. For some reason, though, they haven’t been scoring anywhere near that mark in the last three games. In fact, they scored two goals, combined, in the last three games. Why? Because opposing oteams have got them figured out.
Real Madrid has played Barcelona enough times to realize how they play. Barca likes possession, and they will pass the ball around until they null the other team to sleep and then slice right through the defense with a few quick passes and then score. They like to keep a high defensive line, and they like to press the ball constantly. The best thing to do against such a team, as displayed perfectly every time Barca has lost within the past three years, is to defend doggedly, then hit Barca with a quick counter attack. Madrid, as well as Milan, executed this plan to perfection when they played Barca, and it payed dividends. Milan packed all but one field player into their own defensive box and frustrated Barca into giving away the ball. Once that happened, Milan lost no time in launching an attack of their own, and they exploited both Barca’s poor defense and their poor attitudes. Madrid mirrored this tactic in the first game, and after that victory they felt so confident as to rest their most known player, Cristiano Ronaldo, for the first hour of the second game against Barca. This move summed up Barcelona’s week: they were playing so poorly that their rivals rested their star player.
Essentially, Barcelona has lost these last three games for two main reasons: their opponents are getting smarter, and Barca simply doesn’t know how to deal with losing.
tail end editor