The Catalan club held a 4-1 first-leg advantage ahead of the return match in Rome on Tuesday night, but goals from Edin Dzeko, Daniele De Rossi and Kostas Manolas secured an unlikely 3-0 victory for the Italian outfit and sealed their place in the last four on away goals.
As a result, Barcelona’s treble ambitions have been scuppered and questions have been raised about their mentality, as the Spanish side failed to progress past the quarter-final stage for the third successive season.
Ernesto Valverde’s team look on course to reclaim La Liga as they hold an 11-point lead over Atletico Madrid with seven matches remaining, but that has not stopped the Spanish press from condemning their poor performance at the Stadio Olimpico.
The headline of newspaper Mundo Deportivo read “The fall of Rome” and the Catalan-based publication continued with a picture of Valverde on his haunches adding: “Barca KO’d in the quarters” and “Dzeko, De Rossi and Manolas all score for superior Roma”.
In an editoral, Mundo Deportivo also critically analysed the Barcelona boss’ resistance against squad rotation, stating: “Europe saw a Barca that was unrecognisable, without spark, without shaft, without endurance, conditioned by the pressure and the intensity of Roma.
“In 2018, Barcelona has played 24 games. And in these three and a half months, Valverde has opted for an almost fixed block to which he has given little respite.
“Nine players have been starters in over 15 games. Valverde has continued to trust some men beyond the limit.”
Madrid-based newspaper AS used a picture of the third goal for their front page, while also commenting: “Roma were better than Barca from pitch to pitch”.
Marca, Spain’s biggest-selling sports daily, had the headline of “Total failure in Europe”, which was accompanied with a picture of a dismayed Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets and Gerard Pique, while also referencing the exit of Manchester City under former manager Pep Guardiola.
Marca also launched a scathing attack on the management style of Valverde, which read: “Ernesto Valverde is conservative. He doesn’t like to risk much and on Tuesday night that approach took its toll.
“Valverde has put everything on winning La Liga and by focussing on avoiding losing a championship that was already won he has burnt out his players. The lack of freshness was clear to see in Rome.
“Valverde’s conservatism was also seen through the way the team was set up, as they were more worried about conceding goals than scoring their own away goal to kill the tie. The poor management of the substitutions was the icing on the cake.”
Catalan-based publication Sport branded the defeat on their front page as: “Failure without excuses”, while their match report headline read: “Blaugrana embarrassed in Champions League”.
After the 3-0 defeat at Stadio Olimpico, which sent Roma through on away goals, Ernesto Valverde paid lip-service to shouldering responsibility but in the same breath pointed to a disappointment with his players.
“A week ago we scored four goals with the same line-up,” Valverde said. “We coped with their game and played ours. It went right. This time it did not.”
But perhaps that was part of the problem. Barca won 4-1 at the Camp Nou with a performance that did not deserve the result.
Two own-goals and a late Luis Suarez strike masked what had been a disjointed display, low on fluency, high on mistakes, which on that occasion went unpunished.
Of all the trailing teams heading into the quarter-final second legs, few would have predicted Roma to be the ones celebrating progress to the last four. But there were clues, and Valverde missed them.
Barca have flattered to deceive in recent weeks.
They were outplayed for large spells by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge but snatched a 1-1 draw. A 1-0 win at home to Atletico Madrid, which all-but secured them the title, was efficient rather than emphatic, decided only by a stunning Lionel Messi free-kick. And against Sevilla a fortnight ago, Barca trailed 2-0 in the 87th minute before Suarez and then Messi, as a substitute, engineered a dramatic late escape.
“Without personality, without playing well, without Messi and without cause for disagreement, Barca were shipwrecked in the Olimpico against an immensely superior team that knocked the Barca players off an artificial pedestal,” wrote Madrid’s daily newspaper AS on Wednesday.
Perhaps that is too strong.
Barca are still unbeaten in the league – although with what now appears an even trickier game at home to Valencia on Saturday – and 11 points clear at the top.
If they overcome out-of-form Sevilla in the Copa del Rey final later this month, they will likely be toasting a domestic double at the end of the season, possibly as La Liga’s first ever invincible team.
But Roma’s triumph, ensuring Barca’s third straight quarter-final exit in Europe, should at least serve as a wake-up call, reinforcing the need for changes in the summer.
Andres Iniesta admitted he might have played his last Champions League game as he ponders a move to China. He would need to be replaced or, more likely, properly succeeded by Philippe Coutinho.’
LACK OF FLEXIBILITY
Sergio Busquets played through the pain of a toe injury, exposing Barca’s lack of a competent back-up for the Spaniard in central midfield, which will have to be addressed.
Samuel Umtiti’s future needs to be resolved, as stalling contract talks have affected his form, and there is room for improvement at right back, where Sergi Roberto has not convinced.
But Valverde must also acknowledge a lack of flexibility, born largely out of his own tactics.
Resilience, organisation, an excellent goalkeeper in Marc-Andre ter Stegen, and Messi, have taken Barca a long way this term but when they needed to adapt against Roma, they were found wanting.
“They played their game and we did not know how to react,” Busquets said. “We did not know how to create chances. We weren’t in the right positions and in the end, they got the result.”
Victory over Valencia, who sit third, ahead of Real Madrid, will quickly change the mood. Barca are on the cusp of breaking Real Sociedad’s 1980 record of 38 unbeaten league games, set in a run that stretched across two seasons.
But even with successes still to come, they would do well to let the rout in Rome linger a little longer.
“You have to endure the pain – there will be some tough days,” Valverde said.
“We have to try to win the two competitions. A defeat like this hurts a lot, but you have to look forward.”
“Messi will join us in this initiative, and Suarez certainly,” Fernando Marin, the joint bid co-ordinator, told AFP on Monday.
“We told him (Messi) about our aims, and he feels it’s doable.”
Argentina’s minister of sport Carlos Mac Alister said “it’s important to know we have the support” of such high-profile players as Argentina’s five-time world player of the year Messi and Uruguay striker Suarez.
“In 2030, we won’t be there any more, Messi will.
“He showed great desire to help us. He will surely be the flag-bearer for the World Cup.”
The very first World Cup in 1930 was held in Uruguay and won by the hosts, who beat Argentina 4-2 in a memorable final at the Centenary Stadium in Montevideo.
Paraguay were also one of the 13 participants, but the World Cup has grown immeasurably since then and now features 32 teams, although that number will rise to 48 at the 2026 World Cup.
In 1930 there were 18 matches, but that will become 80 in a 48-team tournament, making it far more difficult for a single nation to host alone.
Before then the World Cup will be held in Russia later this year and then Qatar in 2022. The bid city for the 2026 edition has yet to be decided.
The joint bid has the support of the heads of state of the three countries, all of whom were president of a football club before leading their country.
Argentina’s Mauricio Macri used to head Boca Juniors, the country’s most successful club; Tabare Vazquez was in charge at Uruguay’s Atletico Progresso; while Paraguayan Horacio Cartes was once the boss at Club Libertad.
The joint bid would see Argentina host eight of the 12 groups in the opening phase, with Uruguay and Paraguay given two each.
The initial idea centred around a joint Uruguay-Argentina bid, which was announced in July.
Paraguay were added to the bid in October with the backing of the South American federation, CONMEBOL.
Uruguay and Argentina have both hosted the World Cup before, winning on home soil in 1930 and 1978 respectively.
They have also both won the global football showpiece a second time – in 1950 for Uruguay and 1986 for a Diego Maradona-led Argentina.
No other potential candidates have expressed an interest in hosting the 2030 tournament, but China are rumoured to be preparing their candidature.
Provided by AFP Sport