Going into this action-packed season, a lot was expected from this revamped Barcelona side. With the departure of players such as Paulinho, Lucas Digne and Gerard Deulofeu came the arrival of a host of hot prospects such as Arthur, Clement Lenglet, Malcom and Jean-Clair Todibo in January. With so much activity in the transfer market, and an ambitious Ernesto Valverde looking to do even better than he had in his debut season as Barca manager, the 2018/19 campaign certainly looked to be one to keep a close eye on for the Blaugranes faithful.
Valverde certainly had a first season to remember, leading his table-topping side to a massive 93 point tally in their La Liga victory before winning the Copa del Rey by convincingly thumping Sevilla 5-0 in the final. The one major trophy that eluded Valverde’s side was the Champions League; the same competition that would provide the Blaugranes with so much heartbreak in the months to follow.
Barca’s season kicked off with a high in the form of a 2-1 Super Cup win over Sevilla, which was followed by four consecutive La Liga victories over Alaves, Valladolid, SD Huesca and Real Sociedad. This promising start to the campaign was topped off with a 4-0 win in their opening Champions League game against PSV, which was a much-needed three points in a tough group also consisting of Inter Milan and Tottenham Hotspur.
The Blaugranes’ bright start to the season was soon quashed with a disappointing 2-2 draw against Girona, an embarrasing 2-1 loss to Leganes, and yet another frustrating draw to Athletic Club at home.
Soon after, the Blaugranes found themselves faced with the toughest run of fixtures imaginable. In just under a month, Barca were set to face Tottenham Hotspur, Valencia, Sevilla, Inter Milan and bitter rivals Real Madrid. In one of their highest points of the season, Barca beat all the odds and apart from a draw with Valencia, defeated each one of their other opponents. This included a 5-1 thrashing of Real Madrid and a 4-2 away win over Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League.
With their league form back on track, Barca still had Champions League reverse fixtures against PSV, Inter and Spurs to worry about. Despite a late Malcom opener, Barca drew 1-1 at the San Siro with Inter before scraping a 2-1 win at PSV thanks to a Pique tap-in courtesy of a Messi free-kick. The group was wrapped up with a 1-1 draw with Spurs at the Camp Nou, where a seventh-minute Dembele opener was cancelled out by Lucas Moura’s late equaliser. This saw Barca emphatically top Group B with 14 points, while runners-up Spurs only scraped together eight points.
In the weeks that followed, with focus shifting to the Cope del Rey, Barca’s form became somewhat shaky. Although they hammered Levante 5-0 away from home in La Liga a few weeks prior, the Blaugranes lost 2-1 in the first leg of their Round of 16 clash to the same opposition, although they did field a weaker side. This saw the Blaugranes having to rely on their regular first team to defeat Levante 3-0 in the second leg, thus carrying them through to the next round.
In their quarter-final matchup against Sevilla, the Blaugranes yet again faced the same issue. When fielding a number of backup players in the first leg, Barca lost 2-0. Yet again, Barca’s first choice stars had to come to the rescue in a decisive 6-1 victory at the Camp Nou in the second leg. This created much cause for concern in the Barca camp, as if the Blaugranes’ bench could not perform adequately when called up to start the game, then the regular starting 11 players could not be rested if need be.
Soon after their clash with Sevilla came a hard fought 2-2 draw with Valencia, and what followed was a semi-final Copa del Rey clash with Real Madrid. After a 1-1 draw at home in the first leg, the Blaugranes pulled out all the stops in an emphatic 3-0 victory at the Santiago Bernabeu to book a spot in the finals.
Turning back the clock by a week, and Barca were held to a goalless draw with Lyon in their Champions League round of 16 clash. In their second leg, the Blaugranes utterly dominated proceedings with a 5-1 thumping of the French side. In the quarter-finals, Barca outclassed a high-flying Manchester United with 1-0 win at Old Trafford followed by a 3-0 victory in the Camp Nou. The fact that Barca were fresh off a 2-0 win over close rivals Atletico Madrid in La Liga made this performance that much more impressive.
In pole position to win the league and on their way to the Copa del Rey final and Champions League semi-finals, this is where Barca’s hard work finally came undone. After thumping Liverpool 3-0 in the first leg, a spot in the Champions League final should have all but been secured. Unfortunately, what followed was a 4-0 humiliation at Anfield and thus a shock exit from the competition. This result sent shockwaves around the world of football in what was easily Barca’s lowest point of the season.
This result clearly damaged the Barcelona squad who, after defeating Getafe 2-0, drew 2-2 with Eibar and then lost the Copa del Rey final to Valencia. From being in a prime position to secure the treble, Barca were only able to retain their La Liga title, losing just three times in the league.
All in all, this was a curious season for the Blaugranes, who displayed promise in all competitions. A lack of concentration in the reverse fixture against Liverpool and a mental collapse in the weeks that followed is what prevented the Blaugranes from achieving glory, as their victories over so many top sides this season including Real Madrid, Liverpool, Manchester United, Atletico Madrid, Tottenham, Inter Milan and Lyon showcased their talent and big game mentality.
What really seems necessary now is that Valverde and his side learn from the mistakes made in their low points this season, work on improving their existing strengths, and develop their youth and squad rotation players so that Messi and the other big stars are allowed time to rest in the coming season.