Welcome to the club

What was it WH Auden said again?

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone …

Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

And they are mourning right now in Barcelona. But is it for a defeat to Chelsea in the Champions League semi final? Or is it because they fear Pep Guardiola will now walk away?

For the first time this season, Guardiola has indicated he will speak with both Tito Vilanova and Sandro Rosell in the next few days to clarify his future.

Coming off the back of defeats to Real Madrid, which has more or less confirmed Los Blancos as La Liga champions, and elimination at the hands of Chelsea in the Champions League, the future looks bleak. With his preference for 12 month rolling contracts, there is always a degree of speculation about his future each year. It has now been significantly intensified.

In light of these disappointments, will Guardiola overreact and make a rash decision?

I doubt it.

In his four years in charge of Barcelona, Guardiola has made very few rash decisions. It’s not a trend I see him starting now. Two seasons ago, Inter arrived at Camp Nou and put up the defensive shutters and left victorious in the tie. Barcelona came back stronger the following season, reclaiming the Champions League.

If he chooses to go now, it will be because he believes he has taken the team as far as he can and because he believes the hunger within the players is no longer there. It will not be a kneejerk reaction over the past week. These games may have confirmed his decision but they will not be the only factors. There is also the strain and pressure of managing Barcelona and the effect this has upon him privately.

Guardiola is now coming to the end of his fourth season in charge. He has won a remarkable 13 competitions from 17 entered. Win the Copa del Rey in May and the tally moves to 14 wins in 18 competitions.

Remember the great Bela Guttmann and his advice? “the third season is fatal”.

Guardiola is beyond that but what more can he win and achieve with Barcelona?

The Champions League this season represented something of a holy grail. To become the first team in the modern day Champions League to win and defend the trophy. To replicate the magnificent achievement of the great AC Milan team under the stewardship of Arrigo Saachi, the last team to successfully defend the old European Cup.

Remember, Arrigo Saachi, arguably the last great tactical innovator only lasted 4 seasons in charge of his great AC Milan side before they burned out, consumed by his intensive training and the aggressive pressing style of play on the pitch.

Are we witnessing that with Barcelona?

There are certain key components of the team that have changed. Evolution is necessary of course and Guardiola has actively sought to improve the team’s tactics to overcome the obstacles opponents place in front of them.  However, certain key elements have altered and changed the dynamic of the team.

The intensive pressing to regain possession is still there but it has dropped down a notch. With Messi operating deeper, there are sometimes only two forward players doing the pressing and so it becomes easier for opponents to evade.

Opponents have more time on the ball in midfield which leads to more accurate forward passes. This is a real issue for a Barcelona side which attempts to compress the game by holding a high offside line.

A few seasons ago, Chelsea defeated Barcelona in a Champions League tie and Rijkaard and Henk Ten Cate discussed what Barcelona required to become champions of Europe. Surely we should go for more athletic types and move away from these small players? Wisely, and with assistance with Txiki Begiristain, Barcelona chose their current path. And with another elimination at the hands of a powerful, physical Chelsea, the questions over a Plan B will resurface again.

At this junction, irrespective of who manages Barcelona, the club must remain true to it’s style, remembering Cruyff and his influence and his belief in cherishing “style” over all else.

There have been defeats before and Barcelona has bounced back. There will be further defeats in the future.

When questioned after the game about what he would tell a child who has cried for Barcelona for the first time after the exit to Chelsea, Guardiola calmly responded “Welcome to the club. You will cry more times”


Barcelona vs Chelsea – 3 Short Observations

Three short observations on the Barcelona vs Chelsea game last night:-

Chelsea‘s Organisation

The two goals Barcelona scored both occurred when Chelsea lost their shape and Barcelona were able to exploit it.

Firstly, the corner kick which led to Busquets goal was cleared but too many Chelsea players lost their discipline and tried to charge Dani Alves when he collected the ball about thirty yards out. The ball was slipped to Cuenca and Barcelona were in behind Chelsea.

Secondly, following a Chelsea attack, the players did not retreat quickly enough and tried to press too high. Once Messi received the ball and broke through the midfield, he was able to run directly at the back four before playing in Iniesta for the goal.

Two moments in the game when Chelsea lost their organisation temporarily and were punished. However, it also demonstrated how difficult Barcelona were finding it to break down the Chelsea defence.

With a mass of bodies,Chelsea prevented Barcelona from going around them and made Barcelona attempt to play through them. Chelsea retained their shape even when down to 10 men with a back four and five in midfield, Drogba switched to playing as an auxiliary left back in the second half.

The discipline, organisation and workrate shown by Chelsea was very impressive and ultimately, very successful.

Why won’t Barcelona shoot?

As it says on the tin.

Barcelona very seldom shoot from about 25 yards, preferring to continue passing to create an opening. But when that opening does not arrive they need to shoot from distance more often. Mascherano had two shots from outside the penalty area and Messi shot from the edge of the area which struck the post after a slight touch from Cech.

Why does nobody want to shoot?

This was an area that I had assumed Fabregas would help resolve following his arrival from Arsenal. As the most attacking of the midfielders at the Gunners, Fabregas frequently shot at goal in and around the area.

When he joined Barcelona, Fabregas was criticised by some of the coaches for his direct style and there was talk of him bringing “anarchy” to the team due to his English “indiscipline”. Perhaps Barcelona could have used some of that anarchy last night.

Where is the Plan B?

In the second half especially (although somewhat understandable given that they were only playing with 10 men),Chelsea were camped around their own penalty area.Barcelona had 82% possession yet could not break them down.

Does it sound familiar?

Have the lessons from Inter not been learned? Do they need a Plan B?

True, Barcelona were only a refereeing decision away from knocking Inter out (Bojan perhaps unfairly penalised for handball before he scored) and last night had Messi not missed a penalty or Ivanovic blocked the shot from Iniesta, Barcelona would have progressed.

However, the similarities between before games in terms of Barcelona being faced by a wall and unable to break it down were abundantly clear.

There will be countless arguments now over why Barcelona need a Plan B. In typical tabloid fashion this will be the big target man i.e. Llorente.

Llorente may well add something to this Barcelona team but now is not the time for the club to panic.

Let’s place it in context.

Chelsea had 4 shots on target in 180 minutes of football and scored 3 times. That is quite remarkable. Over both games,Barcelona had 47 attempts at goal to Chelsea’s 11.

Do Barcelona actually need to change anything? Surely the statistics prove who the better team is?

But, in cliched football parlance, at the end of the day it is the result that matters.

Or is it?

A decent footballer once said “There is no greater prize than being acclaimed for your style”

And that is why Barcelona cannot and must not deviate from their current methods. They must remain true to the style of football installed by Cryuff and refined and improved under Guardiola.

When questioned after the game about what he would tell a child who has cried forBarcelonafor the first time after the exit to Chelsea, Guardiola calmly responded “Welcome to the club. You will cry more times”