Barcelona lost the first leg 2-0 to AC Milan. They followed that disgrace with consecutive Clasico defeats against Real Madrid. Some might say the Catalans are officially “in crisis.” We’d argue that’s overstating things a bit.
Don’t read too much into the Champions League. Look. The tournament has prestige. Winning it is a feat. But, given the format, it is hermetic and often discordant from a team’s broader form. Chelsea finally lifted the trophy last season, with arguably the worst team of the Abramovic era.
If disparaging Barcelona, one must praise AC Milan with the same brush. This is a Rossoneri team that sold its best players in a naked cash grab last summer, sits 12 points off the pace in Serie A, has lost four times at home and gets funding when Silvio Berlusconi needs popular support. Milan are not ascending, nor are they a paragon of club-construction.
Barcelona came out flat in the first leg. AC Milan put on a vigorous show without the ball. A spot of luck (an uncalled handball) earned the team a strong result. Sometimes the cigar is just a cigar.
Barcelona had nothing to play for against Real Madrid. These matches were utterly meaningless for Barcelona. The Copa del Rey is irrelevant. Even after Madrid gained ground in the league, Barcelona still have a 13-point advantage in the Primera Liga with a +55 goal margin. Pride is a factor, but nothing blunts an edge quite like knowing that’s all losing will cost you. Real Madrid, in a more pressing crisis, needed those matches to build momentum.
Barcelona are not without faults. The Catalans are too “Messi dependent.” What that means is they don’t have a wide forward in support who can play off him and cause a ruckus in his wake. David Villa is “David Villa,” though he’s still coming off a major leg injury and not an ideal partner when fit. Alexis Sanchez, expected to fit that role, has been a bust. That solution could be Neymar, eventually.
Cesc Fabregas has been an issue for Barcelona since he signed. He causes the same trouble for Spain as well. He’s too good to leave on the bench, but Xavi and Iniesta play better without him. Quibbling, they also could use a sprightly center back. These are problems, but they are also “mold found in my lavish beach house” problems.
Barcelona face a season where they only cruise to the league crown. If that’s the nadir, or only a mild disappointment, this club can manage.
It will still be a tough ask, though. Milan enter the away leg with a 2-0 lead. One would term that position “commanding.” Bareclona need to attack, but with that perpetually present caveat that if they let in one goal they will have to score four. No team has ever come back from that specific position in the Champions League. But these Barcelona players have overcome their share of “no team has ever” statements. This is the same Milan team that took a 4-0 lead away to Arsenal at this stage last year and conceded three in the first half.
The Other Match. Schalke play Galatasary, providing another equally valid place in the quarterfinal. The German club earned a strong 1-1 result away in the first leg. They have carried that enthusiasm to the Bundesliga, where they have won three on the trot and have climbed back into the Champions League places.
The thing about Schalke, though, is their defense is atrocious. They have allowed a goal in 19 of their last 21 matches. Didier Drogba remains one of the best big game killers in the sport. He will hope to redeem a penalty kick miss from last weekend.
[Photo via Getty]