Barça does not convey the feeling that it can conquer this Champions League, and even less knowing that its next rival on Friday August 14 (9 pm) in the quarterfinals of the Final 8 in Lisbon is an intractable Bayern in 2020, but at least you are earning a respect as a team that knows how to compete in adverse circumstances. Being aware of the limitations, specific in the case of the Barça team, is the first step. And Quique Setién and his players parked their style against Napoli on Saturday and embraced the current reality.
Between some things and others, no physique to intimidate at high pressure and no players to dominate the game through possession. The solution, the football that nobody wants to see at the Camp Nou: team retracted, ball for the rival, defensive concentration, always Messi to invent something up front, triumph with some clarity (3-1) and classification. In a packed stadium, such a pass would have been accompanied by whistles. But for once the closed door forced by the coronavirus pandemic suited the Cantabrian coach and his pupils very well.
It was not an easy game for the Barça team, which ended the post-confinement ‘mini-League’ melted, also without the title prize, and which faced the match with only eleven professional players from the field. Busquets and Vidal were sanctioned; Umtiti and Dembélé, injured; Arthur, declared in absentia; and Braithwaite, without UEFA discharge because he was signed in February. Setién, in a first show of intentions, lined up all of the first team except Junior. He did not bet on two already reliable and shameless homegrown players like Ansu Fati and Riqui Puig. He did not say so, but they are two daring players, too much for what the game asked for: control and correct decisions.
A superlative Messi marked the differences in the first half with a great goal, another extraordinary canceled by a VAR hand (and maybe not even that) and closed it by stealing a ball from Koulibaly and causing a penalty so cathedral that it was an insult that the Turkish referee Çakir had to consult the television monitor. Luis Suárez transformed it into a goal. Of course, the Argentine came out lame from the play and in the second half he was no longer the same. To Barça, although he suffered, he no longer needed it. The good news is that the medical examinations only reflect a blow and the ’10’ is expected to be at the top against Bayern. And that can be a differential factor.
Setién, championed to extremes of ‘cruyffismo’ sometimes wrong, is undergoing an unexpected transformation. Even at a press conference he stated: «We are not good enough to control the game the whole game against a great team like NaplesYou would like to do it, but that is impossible. Possibly he was referring to the fact that Napoli had been preparing this match thoroughly for two months, changing their way of playing and reserving players because winning the Coppa against Juventus gave them a place in the Europa League without the possibility of entering the Champions League area, paying his lousy first round.
Gennaro Gattuso’s team competed until last Sunday in Serie A, while Barça had not played for three weeks, one of them on vacation. He arrived with a rhythm and clear ideas, thinking that he would find a Barça with widely separated lines in his delirium of this last season. But there were no spaces or pathways. The Barça had ‘Italianized’ and it is suspected that against Bayern, with Busquets and Vidal, perhaps with Dembélé for the cons, something similar will happen.
It is not the usual excellence of Barça since the ‘Guardiola era’, but Frank Rijkaard won the 2006 Champions League with a similar idea. Of course, with a better physical condition of the squad. In any case, the previous Barça, as Messi said, did not give him to win titles. Maybe this one either, but it will be less naive because no longer defends a philosophy without the right players and physique.