Five reasons why Barcelona sunk while Chelsea soared
Sport360°'s La Liga correspondent Dermot Corrigan casts his eye back over an extraordinary night at the Camp Nou last night as Chelsea upset all the odds to reach the Champions League final at Barcelona's expense.
But while the Blues continue to bask in the glow of their success, made all the more remarkable given that they played with 10-men for over an hour, the recriminations have began in earnest in Catalunya.
As Pep Gaurdiola deliberates over his future, insisting "it is time to make a decision now", we look at five key reasons why Barca failed in their quest to become the first team to retain the Champions League crown.
1. Messi went missing when needed most
Lionel Messi has been dragging Barcelona along all season, but just when he was needed most he failed. Guardiola correctly said afterwards that Barca would not have reached this stage without the Argentine, but after 63 goals in his first 55 games, he did not score in the three most important of the season.
The penalty miss seemed to suck all the life from his body and he finished the game with the worst pass completion rate of any Barca player. The inability to turn Saturday’s game against Real Madrid also badly hit Messi, who missed training on Sunday with a “stomach problem”.
Sport360° has spoken before of the Barca’s ‘Messidependencia’, and if Petr Cech had not astonishingly touched one late shot onto the post they would have gone through, but Messi himself knows that he did not produce when needed most.
2. Supporting cast also absent
Messi’s bad week can be excused as for months now he has been having to do the jobs of many of his team-mates, with some of Barca’s other superstars having slipped a level at the same time.
Xavi Hernández is supposed to make them tick, but has been playing with a calf injury for months. Gerard Piqué’s loss of form has seen him dropped. Dani Alves has been below par recently, Cesc Fábregas’ confidence looks shot and although Andrés Iniesta scored on Tuesday, he has flitted in and out of games. Even the usually dependable Carles Puyol was at fault for Madrid’s opener last weekend.
Alexis Sánchez was Barca’s best player against Chelsea. It is probably no coincidence that he is the only senior player who has not endured four years of hard slog with Barca and/or Spain.
3. Emotionally drawn
2011-12 has been the most emotionally draining of Guardiola’s four seasons in charge. It began with the infamous Supercopa victory over Madrid, when Real coach José Mourinho poked his finger in the eye of Barca assistant coach Tito Vilanova.
Vilanova soon had much more serious worries, and underwent an operation to remove a cancerous tumour in November. He quickly returned to work, but then Eric Abidal again fell ill leading to him having a liver transplant earlier this month.
Both Vilanova and Abidal are key members of the Barca dressing-room - with Guardiola relying on the assistant coach for tactical advice and the defender offering an irreplaceable physical presence at the back.
On Tuesday team-mates watched a possibly concussed Piqué have to leave the pitch early. Besides the physical stresses and strains, so many emotional ups and downs have been difficult to overcome.
4. Guardiola has to take some of the blame
All this heaped even more pressure on Guardiola, and the last week has cast more doubt on his methods. People at the club can repeat as many times as they like that Barca play the best football, and it is unfair that opposition teams only try and defend, but fewer and fewer outsiders are listening.
It has taken four seasons, but teams have figured out what to do against this Barcelona side. You do not waste energy following the Barca players around but sit deep and keep a tight shape, then pick your moments to break out quickly.
Chelsea did this to perfection - with Ramires supplying Drogba at Stamford Bridge and then scoring a beauty himself at the Nou Camp. Barca had no answer.
5. Mourinho gets some of the credit
Barca were unable to find the required spark of inspiration this week as the need to keep pace with Real Madrid throughout the season has worn them out. In one stretch of 22 La Liga games Mourinho’s side won 21.
Although the match lost in the middle of that run was to Barca, Madrid’s consistency over the season ground their Catalan opponents down. Real looked much fresher last weekend, with Cristiano Ronaldo soaring as Messi drooped.
Mourinho himself said this week that a season was like a marathon, his side had run the whole way so far at 1500 metre pace, and now they need to sprint for the finish line. Keeping up with Madrid just proved too much Barca, who have fallen away just as they approached the tape.