Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 24 October 2019

Barcelona victims of their own success as Liverpool loss 'smudges' another season of domestic domination

An eighth La Liga title in 11 years and on course for a fifth successive Copa del Rey, but the Champions League implosion is fresh in the memory

The 57,088 crowd which turned out for Barcelona’s final home game of the 2018-19 season was 41,000 less than their last home match against Liverpool.

There were two reasons: the league had already been won, but also fans were so disgusted by the 4-0 midweek capitulation to Liverpool that many booed when the Catalans took the field through a guard of honour formed by Getafe players. Others chanted "Barca until death" and kept up their vocal support throughout the game.

We can argue this two ways. Barca have retained the Primera Liga title, their eighth in eleven years. Messi has won 10 of them. They have won seven Copa del Reys in that time, too. It’s an incredible dominance of a league with some of the best teams in the world.

Never in their history have Barca been so pre-eminent, yet to younger fans it has become the norm. They can’t remember Barca’s one title between 1974-1991 or waiting until 1992 for a first European Cup.

Barca are 18 points clear of Real Madrid, a team they have scored 24 more goals than and conceded 10 fewer. They are in the final of the Copa del Rey, a competition they have won four times in each of the past four seasons. They reached the semi-final of the Uefa Champions League.

For any club in the world this would be a success, but Barca’s manager, Ernesto Valverde, has been subjected to pernicious abuse since the Anfield defeat, his suitability for the job doubted.

Philippe Coutinho, who will be out for 10 days, isn’t far behind him in the criticism, while Ivan Rakitic was vilified for having the temerity to smile for a photo. Barca would love to recoup their money on the Brazilian right now but they will struggle.

Valverde, a decent man and accomplished coach, likened the abuse to a child’s tantrum. He has a point, but it was the manner of the 4-0 defeat which did it, especially the fourth goal scored from a hastily taken corner, the type a children’s football team might have conceded on an off day.

Luis Suarez said they were like "schoolboys". Valverde’s Barca side isn't loved like its predecessors, but then those teams, especially those of Pep Guardiola a decade ago, were comfortably the best in the world. The core of those players came from the youth system.

No team can compete with such standards, no subsequent manager has the stock of youth talents to plunder. The criticism persists, from the predictability with which Valverde makes changes in the same minutes week after week to suggestions of a loss of Barca’s essential style.

The hammering at Liverpool wasn’t a one-off either. Barca’s European elimination came in similar style to Roma last season when they won convincingly at home and fell apart away. They also suffered heavy defeats in Munich in 2013 and Turin in 2017.

Former right back Daniel Alves described the criticism as "opportunistic" but admitted that the club perhaps looked to buy star names rather than develop players. These issues which people forget about when the team are winning shoot to the fore when they lose.

Even Lionel Messi, who really wanted to win the Champions League this term, was criticised for being too dominant a figure in deciding which players Barca signed – that and a poor Anfield performance.

“This has been a good season that has been smudged,” said Valverde, who has no intention of resigning. And how too many Barca fans feel like throwing the ink all over the page. How are they going to cope when they don’t win the league?

With the Catalans nine points clear of Atletico Madrid, Sunday’s game at Getafe meant little to them, but it meant everything to Getafe, the tiny side from south of Madrid who are fourth three points ahead of the pack with two games to play. Getafe have never been this high before, never played Champions League football.

Barca won 2-0 - Arturo Vidal with the first from a scramble after 39 minutes. Messi thought he had made it two 65 minutes after chipping goalkeeper David Sorla, only for the effort to be saved on the line. A 90th minute own goal from Djene Dakonam made it two.

Barca have won the league, they are favourites to win the cup, they have beaten the rest in Spain, yet many of their fans are not happy, especially those online. They have their reasons, but success has also spoiled them.

Updated: May 13, 2019 11:57 AM

SHARE

SHARE

Editor's Picks