It was one of the most dreadful performances in recent FC Barcelona history as El Blaugrana were eliminated by Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals with a 1-0 loss (2-1 on aggregate) at the Vicente Calderon on Wednesday night.
First off, let me say congratulations to Diego Simeone, Club Atletico de Madrid and all of their fans. Cholo has done a terrific job all season long, and his team was clearly the better team not just on the night, but in the entire quarterfinal. Congrats to all the Atleti fans as well. As we know, Atletico Madrid has some of the best fans in the world-not just in Spain and not just in Europe. I'm a proud Culé, but I have to say the Atleti fans were brilliant. Felicidades and I'll be rooting for you, Atleti, for the rest of the Champions League campaign.
A few weeks ago, I wrote an article called "FC Barcelona: Fin De Ciclo (2008-2014)" which did not sit well with some people. I was criticized for overreacting about FCB's struggles, as I made the case that this Barcelona era of 2008-14 is over, and how next season will begin a new era.
I'm not here to say "I told you so", per say. I'm here to say that confirmation of the Fin De Ciclo is now complete.
Barcelona was absolutely embarrassing against Atletico. They didn't have any creativity, lacked hustle, where smothered by the Atleti defense, were terrible on defense, and looked lost throughout the game. It didn't feel like we were watching the FC Barcelona we are all accustomed to watching. Unreal.
It was very appropriate that FC Barcelona wore their black kits, because we saw the confirmation and the end of an era, thus be in mourning.
While La Liga and the Copa del Rey are still titles to win, this season feels like a bit of a disappointment. Yes, winning La Liga and the Copa is what I and all Culés want, but let's face facts: we have been spoiled these past few season. But we do expect effort, and on Wednesday night against Atletico, it seemed like Barcelona lacked effort and had ran out of options. A truly embarrassing performance.
This loss does not feel as bad as the CL losses to Inter Milan in 2010 or the loss to Chelsea in 2012. Part of the reason is that for many Barcelona fans, we believe our team was better than the opponent in both occasions. This may be fair or unfair to say. But I don't think there is one true Culé that can honestly say that FC Barcelona deserved to move on to the CL semifinals after Wednesday night's performance against Atletico Madrid. Atleti was the better team, and completely deserved the win and to move on to the semis.
The Defense...what defense?!
Once again, the Barcelona defense was dreadful. David Villa should have gotten a brace on the night. The goalposts and crossbars were better defensively for FC Barcelona than the actual FCB defense. It's a nightmare to think that this FCB defense may not improve for next season due to the transfer ban. All Culés will now be praying to the football gods that Barça's lawyers can convince a Swiss judge to suspend the ban.
The failure of the defense is the Barça board's failure. Former president Sandro Rosell, sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta, current president Josep Maria Bartomeu and the rest of the FCB board failed this club by not signing a centre-back these past years.
And that is just one of many reasons why this FCB board needs to go.
Tata running out of time
In my "Fin De Ciclo" article back in March, I said this about Tata Martino:
"I like Tata, but I feel he's not cut out for the job. It's too big for him, and there's nothing wrong with that. Tata is a solid manager, and he'll be fine."
I stand by that statement. I like him, but his tactics did not work against Atletico, he barely got past Real Madrid at the Bernabeu, he has struggled with lineup changes, and quite frankly this team needs a tougher motivator to lead and motivate this team next season. I know Tata was a quick hire after the Tito Vilanova illness matter, so I don't blame Tata for all of this team's faults. But it has always felt like Tata is a bit too much of a "player's manager." That's not always a bad thing, but this FC Barcelona team needs a manager that is a bit more of a disciplinarian.
Tata surprised us when he took out Andres Iniesta against Atletico Madrid, which even surprised Don Andres himself. Tata's team lacks depth on the bench, but you don't take out one of your best players in desperate times. It's not like Andres was tired. Once again, Tata puzzles us. I don't blame the defense's struggles on Tata because that's more on the FCB board not signing defenders. But some blame must be given to Martino. He is the manager, he was asked to change a few things to make this team more aggressive, and he has not accomplished that. Tata went "all in" with the "Xavi-Cesc Fabregas-Iniesta all together" lineup, and that lineup finally ran out of luck against Atleti.
I'm not saying Tata should be fired right now. All I'm saying is that Tata Martino is not the right fit at manager for the future of this club. I hope Tata leads FCB to a Liga title and a Copa title, but this team is in a transitional phase, and in order to make a full transition, a new manager to motivate the team will be needed.
As I said before: I'll always support Tata Martino. But unfortunately for him, Tata is the man caught in the middle of the changing of FC Barcelona as we know it.
Time to finally admit this team was never good enough to win this season's Champions League
In the first "Fin De Ciclo" article, this was said by yours truly:
"La Liga will be tough, and let's face facts: I don't see how this Barcelona team can win this season's CL title. Anything is possible in the one-game Copa Final, but the FCB defense is a mess and the offense is lacking ideas and motivation to reach the CL Final and win it."
I wish I would have been wrong, but me and many other true Culés saw this coming. Wednesday's loss to Atletico just finally confirmed what true Culés knew all along, as well what bandwagon/"praise Barça all of the time" fans were in denial of all along: this Barcelona team was not good enough to win the Champions League. They never had a real good shot at it. With Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, and even Chelsea and their defense waiting in the semis, Barcelona would have either struggled to get goals, struggled to stop the opponent's attack, or both. Yes, I wanted my team win the Champions League, and if they could have continued to play like they did against Manchester City, they could have won it. But unfortunately, that did not happen. That's football.
Lack of creativity and effort on offense once again ruins FCB
When Tata Martino was hired last summer, one thing many football pundits said about him was that his tactics would make Barcelona press more on offense. And for the first part of the competitive season, he helped do just that. But slowly, the pressing faded away, and the team was once again back to square one with a need of a Plan B. A backup plan was needed against Altetico, as the team even struggled to get the ball to its forwards. Many times, the forwards just stood there, waiting for the midfielders to do all of the work. Credit goes to Atletico for defending well, but let's be fair: many teams have done what Atletico did on Wednesday night and have been successful against Barcelona in recent years. It's been Barça's responsibility to be more creative and change, and they haven't done that on offense.
I'm not saying I want the tiki-taka to go away. What I-like many Culés-want is for this club to have a Plan B, be more creative and be less predictable on offense. Ball possession is great, but it doesn't mean a thing if the team can't even get a shot on goal. And the burden to carry the attack and create goals can't all fall on Lionel Messi. The sad part is that this struggle is not something new to us. These games with lack of creativity on offense were around even during Pep Guardiola's era (see Inter in 2010 and Chelsea in 2012). Barcelona tends to become, yes, predictable.
Many Culés complain about opponents "parking the bus" and yes, it is frustrating. Some call it parking the bus; others call it good defending. But you know what, it has worked for some opponents, and other teams will continue to use it because they know that, for years now, FC Barcelona has not had and does not have a working answer to it.
It's finally time to get an answer to it.
If the transfer ban is suspended, changes are required. If the ban is upheld, next season will require players to take much more of the responsibility to end the lack of creativity and effort, which may require a new manager to motivate the players with new ideas and new tactics.
Xoel's Final Word
It was a disappointing match to watch as FC Barcelona was eliminated by Atletico Madrid on Wednesday night. But the best team won the game and the quarterfinal, so once again congrats to Atleti.
Barcelona will continue to fight the rest of the competitive season as the Copa del Rey final is coming as well as the Liga is still theirs for the taking. But let's be clear: changes are needed for this club's long-term success.
As much as some don't want to admit it, the Fin De Ciclo is here for this FC Barcelona era. As I once said, true Culés have been a part of seeing the end of FCB eras. Over the last 20 years, we've seen Johan Cruyff leaving as manager as well as Romario's exit, the end of the Rivaldo/Patrick Kluivert/Luis Enrique era of the late 1990s-early 2000s, the end of Frank Rijkaard/Ronaldinho/Deco era (2003-08) in the 2007-08 season. These eras last five or six season. Barcelona falls, but they always get back up strong.
Next season, there will be a new era with some new players (return of loan players; transfer ban decision) and maybe a new manager. Yes, it'll take some time to get used to changes, but Culés, let's not fear change because change is needed for the betterment of FC Barcelona.
I'm disappointed with the loss, but still very proud of my team and proud to be a Culé. I love Futbol Club Barcelona, and I and all other true Culés will stand by our club-in the good times and the bad.
O le le,
O la la,
Ser del Barça es,
el millor que hi ha!
Xoel, The Voice of FC Barcelona