The away loss to AC Milan suffered by Barcelona was an interesting one, but not entirely surprising to students of the game, who recognised the great work done in closing down spaces, in particular by Massimo Ambrosini, but with the architect of the current side due to return to active service in Germany next season it seems like the house that Pep built may be starting to wobble. Failure to beat Milan in the second leg would mean elimination from the Champions League and Spanish Cup in a short period of time, and while I’m sure players like Cesc Fabregas will be happy enough to get a league title under their belt, this represents a disappointment by the standards the club live by.
What started with the Chelsea games in the Champions League, or maybe even Liverpool before then, has turned into a full-on crisis for the Catalan giants as even massive teams like Real Madrid are willing to swallow their pride and just sit in defence when Barcelona have the ball in order to frustrate the passing style. As magical as Xavi is, and as difficult to stop and Iniesta and Messi may be the instinct to always hold the ball rather than take a risk or two may be holding them back at the highest level, where the counter-attacking is deadly. Week-in, week-out smaller teams will swoon and collapse in the face of the speed of movement, but it seems like what isn’t the strongest Milan team in recent years were also capable, and Real are starting to make a habit of beating Barca.
Some of the trouble can be attributed to the loss not just of Guardiola but also his replacement, Tito Villanova, who is currently in New York receiving treatment for throat cancer which he and the club hope will allow him to return to work relatively soon, but it is clear those people who said Guardiola walked into a plum job, and that anyone could succeed with those players was slightly mistaken. It is normally hindsight that gives us the best opportunity to judge and view any given time, and looking back it is already clear that the Guardiola era will surely go down as one of, if not the greatest achievements in European club football. The question of how long it can last in Pep’s absence is being answered before our eyes.
Image credit: the sport review