IT was deemed an “impossible” feat to achieve. Turning around a 2-0 first leg deficit in the UEFA Champions League round of 16 was unheard of and no team in the competition’s history had ever done it before. All the odds were against FC Barcelona.
“Will Barça do it?” experts and critics asked around the world as victory became all but unthinkable. Naysayers were confident that not even the great Barça would be able to flip this script with a doomed hero narrative.
But history was meant to be rewritten and the Blaugrana was wise enough to realize that destiny has always been in their set of hands. Not even the tactful AC Milan, with its entire defense prowess and Italian counter-attack football, could choke Tito Vilanova’s men into submission regardless of what the score board said.
And so, with history beckoning, a quietly confident Barça welcomed Milan to its home turf ready to put on a display of epic proportions. And man did they show off!
The Camp Nou reclaimed the title of being a “slaughter house” as Milan was flushed out of the Champions League 4-0 (4-2 on aggregate) while the boys in blue and scarlet waltzed into the history books yet again.
Glory, glory Barcelona!
Joy understandably filled the hearts of the 98 787 fans that filled the stands (minus the few that were actually pro Milan) after a nightmarish two weeks. Losing two games back-to-back to arch rivals Real Madrid and the astounding loss to Milan in the first leg had certainly left a bitter taste in each Barça supporter’s mouth. And the triumph virtually erased all the bad memories of the astute squad being doubted and its play tactics being called into question.
Stand in manager Jordi Roura must have also breathed a heavy sigh of relief following the harsh criticism that painted him as nothing else than the assistant that prepares post-match DVDs for Vilanova to analyze with the team.
Winning the tie was a tremendous achievement – one the boys should be extremely proud of. It silenced all the critics who claimed that “the end is here” for Barça adding that its cycle of success was on the decline – basically saying the team is screwed! But, there has been lots of truth to most of this unforgiving analysis and the Catalans have more to learn from their awful streak of bad matches compared to their success against Milan.
Merit behind the harsh criticism
Let’s not be naive about this particular win because it does not mean that Barça’s deep seeded troubles have now magically disappeared. Even die-hard Blaugrana fans will concede that there are areas within the team that need urgent attention or else they will lead to the team’s much anticipated demise.
Looking back at the recent losses to Madrid and Milan five jarring factors are clear:
** Barça’s defense is in tatters and it needs to be resuscitated as soon as possible. Relying on Carles Puyol has left them in a lot of uncomfortable situations because, let’s face it, the guy may be passionate – but he’s old and makes way too many mistakes
** The team plays the most beautiful tiki-taka football in the world – but having majority of ball possession counts for nothing if you can’t create goal scoring opportunities and actually convert them
** Everyone understands that Messi is the main man whom play is created for at Barcelona, but good coaches like Roberto Di Matteo, Jose Mourinho and Massimiliano Allegri have found ways to neutralize and alienate him out of the match which leaves him frustrated. When this happens the rest of the team switches to panic mode because they have not been wired to find another way to victory without relying on him and they quickly run out of steam. Perhaps David Villa should be utilized more often?
** Not having a tactful coach on site to lead the team from the front has hampered the squad’s morale
** Most importantly, to this day Barça is still one dimensional in the way it plays despite that gut wrenching loss to Chelsea last season. Whatever happened to having plan B, C, D and E if need be?
Ultimately true champions discover the most priceless lessons not in victory, but in defeat. If there ever was a time for introspection for Barça, it’s right now. It’s going to take extraordinary measures and constant fine-tuning of the squad to remain “the world’s best football team”.