Given countless chances to salvage something from this season, Barcelona simply flat lined at the finish line. Criticism point at Lionel Messi for not scoring in their final two league games aren’t off the mark, but blaming him alone while neglecting the part of Tata Martino in his relative failure or how badly Andres Iniesta looked with the season on the line is simply telling half the truth and ignoring the full story.
Finishing second isn’t the end of the world. Finishing without a title (excuse me, Spanish Super Cup) doesn’t mean the team is falling apart. But from two unmistakable highs in 2009 and 2011, there’s no doubt that this isn’t just some down year for the team. This is the end of the line for a lot of players and maybe of a short era in Spanish and European football, before the most successful club over the last 10 years – 3 Champions League titles and six La Liga championships, takes on a whole new different direction.
Barcelona players don’t ever seem like they’re putting their body on the line for the collective goal. Maybe they are, but there is something about their class or simply being stand offish that makes you get a different vibe. Atletico Madrid? It’s all about commitment, aggression and the will to fight and prove everyone wrong. But there’s also tactical discipline, patience on offense, holding up play correctly and flawless execution all season long of set pieces. That set piece practice happened to get them the goal that won the championship.
Lionel Messi wasn’t exactly the most mobile player on the pitch, but he did move from his usual central position. He tried shifting right, which had something to do with Alexis’ goal. We saw him a bit more closer to the midfield, as long as Xavi (coming on way too late) wasn’t playing. But for the sixth time against Atletico this season, he seemed hesitant, too slow and eventually, slightly unlucky as a goal he scored was wrongfully disallowed.
But Barcelona didn’t lose the championship because of that bad decision by the officiating crew. They lost it a week before in a draw with Elche and losing at Granada and drawing with Getafe. Their away form was poor, the famous pressing system that enabled the passing to kill off matches they already led in wasn’t there most of the time, and the same players that won everything together simply weren’t good enough anymore.
This begins with a defense that has been screaming for some help for about three years now. Barcelona’s best option during their draw with Atletico Madrid was moving the ball right to Dani Alves. No attempts at overlapping and creating 1-2 opportunities and opening up Atletico’s tight defense, but simply crossing against a team that’s taller and better at handling these situations. From the most flowing football on the planet to a bad impersonation of Manchester United.
What comes next? Change, without a shadow of a doubt. Barcelona will release quite a few players, while Tata Martino is probably already on his way to Argentina after being overwhelmed with what European football was all about. It turns out that being on good terms with Messi isn’t enough when you’re managing one of the biggest clubs in the world in need of more than just astute press conferences.
The World Cup theory? Who knows. Neymar came on late and couldn’t really conjure any sort of magic. Xavi wasn’t useful, but he did do better than Cesc Fabregas in another awful performance from the Spanish international. We barely noticed Andres Iniesta on the pitch, and those were Barcelona’s best players. At some point, and the fans understood it right away, you simply need to admit that the opponents are better.