Barcelona might be twelve points clear at the top of La Liga, and just 90 minutes away from a second successive Copa del Rey final but, judging by the reaction of the masses following a shock 2-0 defeat away to AC Milan at the San Siro, all is not well at the Camp Nou. The 4-3-3 system that has brought the Blaugrana so much success over the years is apparently no longer effective; a newer, more direct system therefore must be considered and of course, a drastic reshuffle of the squad should also be a priority. Forgive me however, if I’m a little skeptical of this supposed master-plan.
Sure, Wednesday’s defeat was probably the worst performance by a Barcelona team since the infamous 4-1 defeat at the hands of Bernd Schuster’s Real Madrid back in 2008; but since when has one solitary defeat been enough to change our belief in this team? If anything, by emerging victorious on that warm summer’s evening at the Santiago Bernabeu, Los Blancos paved the way for three years of unprecedented Blaugrana success. Joan Laporta bid adieu to Frank Rijkaard, welcomed in Pep Guardiola as his successor and the rest was history. There were changes, both to the squad and to the tactics, but the principles remained the same. Possession, pressure, teamwork; if Guardiola’s reign as coach taught us anything, it’s that tiki-taka can be unstoppable no matter the situation and more importantly, no matter the opposition.
FC Barcelona 2-0 SL Benfica – 6th April 2006 – UEFA Champions League, Quarter-Final, Second-Leg
Following a stalemate in the first-leg at the Estádio da Luz, Barcelona needed a victory at the Camp Nou if they were to secure their place in the semi-finals. Following an early penalty miss from Ronaldinho, the Camp Nou crowd were beginning to feel anxious, especially as Ronald Koeman’s side were perfectly content to sit back, absorb pressure and take advantage of any opportunities on the counter-attack. Even after the Brazilian put the Blaugrana in the lead, Benfica continued to defend and Koeman’s tactics nearly paid dividends as former-Barça star Simão was played clean through on goal by Fabrizio Miccoli, but the Portuguese winger couldn’t direct his shot past Victor Valdés. Despite that scare – Benfica would have progressed courtesy of the away-goal ruling in the event of any score draw – Barça remained true to their ideals and pressed forward in search of a second-goal, which Samuel Eto’o eventually delivered in the 89th minute.
FC Barcelona 5-2 Olympique Lyonnais – 11th March 2009 – UEFA Champions League, Round of 16, Second-Leg
Barcelona simply out-classed Ligue Un champions Lyon, running away 5-2 winners at the Camp Nou after Thierry Henry’s header secured a 1-1 draw in the first-leg at the Stade Gerland. Despite a defiant performance from Claude Puel’s team, Lyon just couldn’t cope with Barcelona’s movement off the ball and thanks to goals from Thierry Henry (2), Lionel Messi and Samuel Eto’o, the visitors were effectively out of the tie by the 43rd minute. However, two strikes either side of the half-time whistle, the first by Jean Il Makoun and the second by Juninho, gave Lyon a glimmer of hope. In spite of those two goals, Guardiola urged his side to continue surging forward and the Blaugrana reaped their rewards, as Seydou Keita grabbed their fifth of the evening in injury-time.
FC Barcelona 4-0 Bayern Munich – 8th April 2009 – UEFA Champions League, Quarter-Final, First-Leg
Full of confidence after their 6-3 aggregate victory over Lyon in the previous round, Barcelona put themselves within touching distance of the semi-finals with a stunning 4-0 win over Bayern Munich at the Camp Nou. The reigning Bundesliga champions made history in the Round of 16, hammering an unbelievable 12 goals past Sporting Lisbon over their two –legged tie, but Die Bayern had no answer for Guardiola’s passing machine, conceding four first-half goals to Lionel Messi (2), Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto’o. Barça were not prepared to settle for their four-goal lead either and would have increased their lead if not for a magnificent instinctive save from Hans-Jörg Butt who denied Messi his hat-trick. The heavy defeat proved too much for Bayern to overcome in the second-leg, and it also contributed to the dismissal of Jürgen Klinsmann; who was promptly replaced by current Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes.
FC Barcelona 4-0 VfB Stuttgart – 17th March 2010 – UEFA Champions League, Round of 16, Second Leg
Forgive me if this scenario seems a little familiar: Barcelona, following a somewhat disappointing 1-1 draw away from home in the first-leg, progress to the quarter-finals courtesy of a thoroughly impressive second-leg victory at the Camp Nou. Just like they did a year ago, Barcelona simply proved too strong for German opposition, coasting to another 4-0 win, this time against a Stuttgart team boasting the likes of Aleksandr Hleb, Sami Khedira and Jens Lehmann in their starting XI. Guardiola boldly demoted record signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic to the bench, despite his equaliser in the first-leg, and unsurprisingly the Blaugrana benefitted, roaring into an early two-goal lead thanks to goals from Lionel Messi and Pedro Rodriguez. Messi completed his brace on the hour-mark and Bojan completed the rout on 89 minutes after a nice pass from Ibra.
FC Barcelona 4-1 Arsenal FC – 6th April 2010 – UEFA Champions League, Quarter-Final, Second-Leg
After a spirited comeback, speared by Theo Walcott, allowed Arsenal to salvage a 2-2 draw in the first-leg of this quarter-final tie at the Emirates, Barcelona had a lot to prove in the second-leg at the Camp Nou if they were to secure their place in the semi-finals. Given that their talismanic captain Carles Puyol missed the match through suspension, Barcelona were without a clear leader on the field and looked to be heading out of the competition thanks to Nicklas Bendtner’s opener. Step forward Lionel Messi. Liberated by the absence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, La Pulga delivered the performance of his career (so far), putting Barcelona back in control with a sublime first-half hat-trick and he even secured the victory with a fourth goal in the second-half.
FC Barcelona 5-1 Shakhtar Donetsk – 6th April 2011 – UEFA Champions League, Quarter-Final, First-Leg
An ill-tempered Round of 16 victory over Arsenal booked Barça’s place in the quarter-finals, where many expected them to dispatch the challenge of Shakhtar Donetsk and set-up an El Clasico semi-final tie with Real Madrid. Then again, no-one quite expected Barcelona to make it look so easy. Coached by wily veteran, Mircea Lucescu, Shakhtar created a number of chances at the Camp Nou (note: this is why we should be reluctant about Valdés leaving), but they couldn’t keep up with a clinical performance from the Blaugrana. Andrés Iniesta put Barcelona ahead with a goal after just two minutes, and Dani Alves doubled Barcelona’s lead around the half-hour mark after a nice assist from Iniesta. Gerard Piqué got the third, and while Messi may not have scored himself, but he also had a hand in Barça’s fourth, setting up Seydou Keita to score just moments after Yaroslav Rakitskiy had grabbed a goal for the visitors. Messi then had a goal disallowed, before Xavi rounded off the win (and the tie) with a fifth in the 86th minute.
Real Madrid 0-2 FC Barcelona – 27th April 2011 – UEFA Champions League, Semi-Finals, First-Leg
Just to prove that Barcelona can also deliver the goods away from the Camp Nou, I thought I’d include this result – after all, more than any of the other matches listed here, this is the performance Barça should be looking to emulate. Just one week prior to kick-off, Real Madrid produced a defensive master-class to nullify the potent Barcelona attack and win the Copa del Rey in extra-time. So, as expected, Jose Mourinho sent out his team to defend – they "parked the bus" if you will. Only, I thought that Barcelona couldn’t defeat teams that "park the bus", and I thought that Lionel Messi was useless against defensive teams? Anyway, Real Madrid looked set to contain the Barça attack again, right up until the 61st minute when Pepe received his marching orders for a dangerous foul on Dani Alves. Now down to ten men, Real Madrid continued to defend for their lives, only to be undone by superb work by substitute Ibrahim Afellay. The Dutchman wasn’t about to settle for shots from outside the box, instead he forced the issue, taking on Marcelo and sending in a teasing cross which was converted at the near post by Lionel Messi. It was the Argentine’s tenth goal of the competition, and it wasn’t long before he grabbed his eleventh, taking on the entire Madrid defense en route to a spectacular second goal.
FC Barcelona 7-1 Bayer Leverkusen – 7th March 2012 – UEFA Champions League, Round of 16, Second-Leg
Admittedly Barcelona were already ahead heading into this second-leg against Bayer Leverkusen, but this was yet another sensational Round of 16 second-leg performance from the Blaugrana. The game will forever be remembered as the game where Lionel Messi raised the bar (again) to score five goals in a single UEFA Champions League match, but more than that, it was an all-round master-class from the hosts. With the Camp Nou crowd behind them, Barça raced into a two-goal lead by the half-time whistle, and thanks to a brace from substitute Cristian Tello, not to mention Messi’s second-half hat-trick, Barça were safely through to the last eight.
If any team can overcome a 2-0 deficit in this competition, it’s Barcelona.