Messy without Messi

Posted by Francesc Tomas

Barcelona were defeated 3-0 by Bayern Munich at the Camp Nou in the second leg of the Champions League semi-finals. The Blaugrana, who enjoyed 58 percent of possession, created 15 goalscoring chances and attempted 10 shots, five of them on target. The aggregate 7-0 scoreline allowed the Bundesliga champions to qualify for the European Cup final at Wembley.

Barca's disastrous 4-0 defeat collected in the away leg of the Champions League semi-finals in Munich made achieving a comeback at the Nou Camp incredibly difficult, but not many within the Blaugrana community dared to go as far as denying the possibility of their team qualifying for yet another European final. In their minds, if there was ever a team who could achieve such miracle, it was definitely this Barcelona.

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But when head coach Tito Vilanova announced the starting line-up, to everyone's surprise, there was one particular name missing: The inspirational Lionel Messi or, from a more analytical point of view, the diminutive striker who has managed to carry the team through the season with 58 goals and 16 assists in 48 matches.

There, in a nutshell, was the key to the game. Over before it even started. The absence of the tiny Argentinean forward was far too much for his team-mates to handle, causing them to take to the pitch with an evident mental disadvantage, as if the very slim chances of achieving the difficult task ahead had instantly vanished.

Unfortunately, their pessimistic attitude brought further misery to the Camp Nou. Despite sporadic efforts to break the German back-line by speeding up the ball flow across midfield, the painful truth is that the overall effectiveness of their passing game just wasn't good enough to achieve anything positive against a terribly powerful side, who are currently enjoying one of the best seasons in their 113 years of history.

The aggregate 7-0 defeat is extremely harsh on Barcelona, but Bayern's superiority in every facet of the both games was simply unquestionable. Congratulations to Bayern for instantly bouncing back and reaching yet another Champions League final only a year after their painful home defeat against Chelsea.

What next for Barca?

Considering the severity of the defeat and the amount of people watching it around the globe, major decisions seem inevitable in order to take Barcelona back to the very top of European and world football.

One of the key areas for improvement is finding out why, for the second consecutive year, the squad has reached the decisive moments of the season with a seemingly endless list of either injured or visibly-below-par players.

The lack of forward thinking when designing the squad last summer and, most importantly, Vilanova's inability to gradually add fresh La Masia blood on a regular basis must certainly take some of the blame.

Considering the huge number of talented players who have established themselves in the first team after successfully completing their development at youth level in recent years, it is frustrating to see how Cristian Tello, Martin Montoya, Marc Bartra and even Thiago Alcantara have been largely ignored unless a moment of major of need came along.

And then, of course, there is the incredibly obvious need to sign a couple of fresh, reliable and experienced players who can instantly boost the overall quality of the starting eleven.

There have been far too many experiments within the Blaugrana central defence and, despite having watched every single second of Blaugrana football this season, I still don't know which back-four the coach prefers.

While injuries to key players could be simply blamed on bad luck, the truth is that more effective measures should have been put in place in order to avoid the team's continuous defensive weaknesses, especially when you consider the struggles Barca's more veteran defenders have faced in the recent past.

The other major point that needs immediate attention is liberating Messi from some of the immense pressure that he is under. Raw numbers tell us that his current attacking partners have largely failed to step up to the challenge and, to put it bluntly, haven't been up to the required standard.

Barcelona must spend as heavily as needed in order to bring another focus to their attacking line, someone capable of bringing defenders away from La Pulga by providing the team with a real, constant goal-scoring threat from either the wings, or whatever position they may fulfil by rotating freely across and beyond the final third.

PS: Please note that I have decided to not include my regular player ratings for this match. To be perfectly honest, I felt the majority of Blaugranas were far from their best and don't see how pointing fingers at them individually would improve the situation at this point. I strongly believe that, at times like this, it is best to stay together and support the team.

Looking forward to re-focus on La Liga on Sunday against Real Betis.

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