A question of attitude for Barca

Posted by Dermot Ledwidth

For those of us who have not played football, or any other sport, at the highest level, it is impossible to understand how much motivation plays in any given performance. That extra desire to achieve or to reach a goal -- literally, in the case of football -- is so obviously key and accounts for so much.

While it is difficult to explain how a team that is unbeaten all season can give a performance like the one Barcelona gave in the Amsterdam Arena on Tuesday, surely it tells us that factors such as desire and perspiration are at least 90 percent of all that is required, even at the highest level.

-Superb Ajax stun Barcelona
-Pique bemoans Ajax 'disaster'
-Lack of commitment from Blaugranas?

Ajax were out of the blocks like a caged animal. This was their one big chance, a team of young players trying to make a name for themselves against the best club in world football in recent years, a last push to get the required points on the board to qualify for the last 16.

Barca, of course, already had that guaranteed and only needed one point to ensure they will top Group H. Psychologically, it must be incredibly difficult for a player who is regularly playing games that count for something twice a week, to suddenly be playing for something as irrelevant as pride and Champions League prize money.

One stat that gives us the measure of Ajax’s desire is the number of kilometres covered during the match. The Dutch managed to cover in excess of 5 kilometres more than Barca, not so remarkable and hardly a factor on which to base a victory in football, until you take into account that they played 42 minutes with one fewer man.

Even supposing that Barca’s more measured passing football means they regularly run less than the opposition -- possession being key, as if you do not have the ball, you have to run to get it -- it is still pretty telling that 10-man Ajax could put in so much more effort and is ultimately why they managed to weather the storm in the second half.

Defeat is not something this Barca side is used to, so Tuesday’s reversal in Amsterdam will come as a shock to those players who started the season with 20 games unbeaten in all competitions. However, there were already signs of tiredness against Granada on Saturday from many players who had big trips the week before with their national teams.

Barca are also suffering from injuries, but no more than any other club, and sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta said before the match that they could not use that as an excuse.

The fact was Ajax wanted to win more than Barca on Tuesday. Gerard Pique admitted so himself as he walked off the pitch, saying, "There is no excuse, it was a disaster. The attitude wasn't right, the whole team know that."

This is the same Barca side that last week celebrated 52 weeks at the top of the charts in Spain, number one ahead of Atletico and Real Madrid for a whole year. And the main target at the moment is to stay there in the league. The Champions League can wait.

Regardless of losing the unbeaten run and not equaling a record set by Pep Guardiola of achieving 21 undefeated matches, Barca can learn from this setback. It undoubtedly came at the best time, and now they must focus on Sunday’s difficult trip to Bilbao.

Athletic Club away will certainly be a test of the attitude Pique talked about. In the new San Mames, the Basques are unbeaten in six matches, making a game away at Athletic as big a test as they come in La Liga at the moment.

On Monday, Ernesto Valverde’s side showed the attitude that Barca lacked on Tuesday, to come from a goal behind and win 2-1 at Malaga. They remain a point from Villarreal in fourth and a Champions League place.

Indeed, that was the fourth time Athletic have come from behind to win this season. That shows mettle, and it’s something Barca need to look out for on Sunday. If the Blaugrana turn up in Bilbao with the same attitude as that shown in Amsterdam, it would be a huge mistake.

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