How Barcelona can win the Champions League this season
- A look at a few ways how Barcelona can triumph in the Champions League for the first time in five years.
- Lionel Messi and company are desperate to get their hands on European football's biggest prize which has eluded them since 2015.
The UEFA Champions League is a competition that Barcelona are desperate to win. Barcelona have had several near-misses in European club football's blue riband competition, particularly in the last two seasons.
In the 2017-18 quarterfinals against AS Roma, Lionel Messi and company let slip a three-goal advantage in the return leg. The same scenario repeated itself last season at Liverpool’s Anfield in the semifinal second leg where Barcelona squandered another three-goal first-leg lead to end their interest in the competition.
In the immediate aftermath of the Liverpool defeat, the leadership qualities of Ernesto Valverde were questioned. He was eventually sacked after Barcelona’s ignominious defeat in the Copa del Rey final against Valencia, a few days after their Champions League exit against Liverpool.
It has to be said that although the former Athletic Bilbao man delivered two consecutive La Liga titles, which should never be taken for granted, the Blaugrana faithful have always subconsciously associated Ernesto Valverde’s stint with emotions of pain and humiliation.
Quique Setien now has the opportunity to change this situation for Barcelona. On that note, we take a look at how Barcelona can win the Champions League this season and bury their disappointments of the last two seasons in the competition.
How Barcelona can win the 2019-20 Champions League
#1: Barcelona's away form needs an immediate improvement
It is no secret that Barcelona have been woeful in their away matches this season. With five draws and as many losses coming away from home, the Blaugrana have not been in title-winning form this season. Setien must find a solution quickly if Lionel Messi is to win his fifth Champions League title and equal the record of his great rival Cristiano Ronaldo.
In this regard, we must also remember that Barcelona's last two Champions League disappointments came in crucial, high-stakes away games, with Barcelona failing to hold on to a lead in both matches. The Stadio Olimpico and Anfield are difficult grounds to visit, with hostile atmospheres created by passionate fans unnerving most opponents.
Barcelona have been victims of such partisan away environments in the competition. But with the remaining Champions League games coming at neutral Portuguese venues during this pandemic season, the away 'hostility' will be absent with games set to take place without spectators. That can only be beneficial for Barcelona.
#2: Barcelona need to rotate their key defensive personnel to keep them fresh
Gerard Pique is no longer the 21-year-old youth who burst onto the scene at Camp Nou under Pep Guardiola, fresh from his stint at Manchester United. He is now 33, and although he possesses the defensive wisdom that comes with experience, Pique has much more prone to fatigue, muscle injuries and mental weariness in recent times.
Under normal circumstances, that would not have been a problem. But with games coming thick and fast since the restart, Pique has felt the strain, which was in full display at the Balaidos against Celta Vigo when his tired lunge on Rafinha cost Barcelona two points; Celta held Barcelona to a 2-2 draw.
Jordi Alba must also be wrapped in cotton wool. His bombing runs down the left channel have been instrumental to Barcelona's success over the years, and has also produced some iconic Lionel Messi moments. Alba's replacement, Junior Firpo, is nowhere near as effective but he must be given more game-time to keep Alba fresh for the big games.
#3: Barcelona need to reduce their overreliance on Lionel Messi
In any team sport, the reliance on a single individual almost always backfires. Thankfully for Barcelona, that has not often been the case with Lionel Messi who has regularly come up with solutions in the form of goals or assists and has always been the hub of Barcelona's creativity.
Such has been the impact of Messi in Barcelona's play that the Catalan club have often struggled when their inspirational captain has an off day or is missing from the action altogether. He has done it many times before, including a few times this season, but Messi cannot do it every single game without his teammates coming to the party.
Messi, who is now into his 33rd year, is not what he used to be a few years ago. The diminutive Argentine is now more immune to fatigue and needs to be adequately rested from time to time. His recent performances have shown the strain of playing too many games in too short a time span.
Messi is one of the few Barcelona players who has started all the Catalan giants’ matches since the restart; he has registered 450 minutes or five full matches of competitive football in 13 days. In an usual season, most footballers play that many games in a duration of 35 days, but that has not been the case in 2019-20, especially for the Barcelona captain.
Considering the amount of travelling required to play away matches, and also the training sessions in between, the effects of playing too many games gets exacerbated. Even for the fittest professional athletes, that much physical rigour is bound to have an effect.
Therefore, the younger Barcelona players need to step up. In this respect, the likes of Ansu Fati, Ousmane Dembele, Riqui Puig and Ronald Araujo have to play crucial roles. If Setien thinks that he can play his aged superstars in all of Barcelona's matches and get the desired results every time, he is probably living in fool's paradise.
#4: Barcelona need to shed their tactical inflexibility
One of Setien's biggest positives is that unlike Barcelona's former manager Ernesto Valverde, he admits his tactical mistakes and work to rectify them.
For instance, in Barcelona’s goalless stalemate with Sevilla at the Ramon Sanchez Pizuan, Setien made just three substitutions, when he had the option to bring on two more players. Also, that night, Barcelona looked narrow in attack and sorely missed width in their game, an issue that could have been addressed by the introduction of Ansu Fati.
In the next La Liga game, the Barcelona manager learnt from his mistake and played Fati in the game against Athletic Bilbao. That shows the manager’s willingness to be flexible. Setien later said after his side’s 1-0 win over Bilbao:
“Ansu and Riqui gave us dynamism and allowed us to have longer periods of possession”. - Setien
If Setien had introduced these two youngsters in the game against Sevilla as well, maybe the La Liga table would have looked different.
However, the duo did feature from the start against Celta Vigo at Balaidos. It is an indication that Setien has begun to trust his young players more and is willing to incorporate them into his plans, which can only augur well for Barcelona's title prospects in La Liga as well as the Champions League.
The short break after the La Liga season may provide the Blaugrana with much-needed respite to recharge their batteries before they turn their attention to the Champions League.Published 29 Jun 2020, 13:27 IST