COMMENT: Barca’s bad attitude leaves them on brink of UCL elimination

Andy West 12/04/2017
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Since Barcelona’s latest Champions League disaster unfolded on Tuesday night, there has been a lot of talk about what exactly went wrong this time for the Spanish giants.

Much of the blame for the comprehensive 3-0 defeat at Juventus has been laid at the feet of manager Luis Enrique, and specifically his tactics which asked the team to alternate between a back three and a back four, with the result that they did neither well.

Certain individual players have also been singled out for criticism, notably defender Jeremy Mathieu, who was dragged off at half-time for the second consecutive game, and his ineffective second half replacement Andre Gomes.

Javier Mascherano, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Andres Iniesta and Neymar also distinctly failed to cover themselves in glory on the night, and the prevailing wisdom appears to be that Barca suffered in Turin due to their tactics and their personnel – that they need to find a better way of playing and to find several new players to do so.

There is a fair degree of truth in those observations, because it was a confused performance from a tactical perspective, and the squad depth does not compare favourably to, for example, Real Madrid, who can call upon two world-class players in almost every position.

But the biggest explanation for Barca’s capitulation in Italy is neither tactical nor individual – it is a question of attitude.

To be blunt, their start to the game was astonishingly lazy. It doesn’t matter how talented (or not) you are, or how you have been asked to play, if you travel to face a team like Juventus and can’t be bothered to put in a wholehearted effort, you’ve got no chance. And in Turin, especially during the opening 30 minutes, it often looked as though Barca simply couldn’t be bothered.

If that sounds harsh, consider the play that led to Juve’s opener.

First, left-back Alex Sandro strode forward, carrying the ball deep into Barca’s half. Nobody challenged him. He played a short pass to Higuain. Nobody challenged him. Higuain’s crossfield pass picked out Juan Cuadrado, who was in acres of space and – a theme is emerging – nobody challenged him.

Cuadrado ambled into the box, and played an easy pass to Paulo Dybala. And guess what? Nobody challenged Dybala, allowing him to swivel and curl a shot on the turn into the far corner.

Over the 10 seconds or so leading up to the goal, Mascherano, Ivan Rakitic, Sergi Roberto, Samuel Umtiti, Mathieu, Neymar, Iniesta and Gerard Pique were all within five yards of the man with the ball, but none of them even came close to making what could be even loosely described as a tackle or, at the very least restricting the space the man in black and white had to work in.

Although Juventus deserve praise for a well-constructed move, and Dybala’s finish was beautiful, that goal was one of the most disgraceful pieces of collective defending you could ever see at the top level and it was not down to tactical problems or a lack of talent – it was pure laziness on the part of eight different players who could have made a lot more effort to prevent it.

What does this mean? Have Barca’s superstars suddenly become satisfied with their achievements and lost their appetite for more?

Not likely. With the comeback against Paris Saint-Germain, and a few other occasions this season such as the recent league win at Atletico Madrid, we have seen that Barca’s players are still capable of rousing themselves to deliver a fully switched-on performance when they are in the mood.

But too often this season, they have not been in the mood. Ultimately, that has to come back to Luis Enrique, because the manager is responsible for consistently sending out his players in the right frame of mind to perform.

Enrique is already going, but the biggest thing that needs to change at Barcelona this summer is not their tactics or their squad. It’s their attitude.

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Dybala stars as Juventus outclass Barcelona

Sport360 staff 12/04/2017

Paulo Dybala struck two brilliant goals in a stunning first half and Giorgio Chiellini added a rare third after the break as the hosts claimed a commanding advantage ahead of next week’s second leg.

Dismal Barcelona’s only hope is to repeat their feat of the previous round, when they recovered from a 4-0 first-leg loss to Paris St Germain by beating the French side 6-1 at home. But on the evidence of Tuesday night a second comeback looks highly unlikely.

The home side hared out from the first whistle and had their first chance after less than three minutes when Gonzalo Higuain wasted a good chance in front of Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen. Luis Enrique’s men, smarting from a domestic defeat to Malaga at the weekend, were overwhelmed by the early onslaught and they fell behind with just seven minutes on the clock.

The superb Juan Cuadrado found Dybala on the right side of the box and the striker curled an excellent left-foot shot past the helpless keeper.

Barcelona responded well and could have grabbed an equaliser after 20 minutes when Lionel Messi threaded the ball to Andres Iniesta whose low shot was well saved by Gianluigi Buffon.

Moments later, Juventus surged down the left flank and Mario Mandzukic crossed for the unmarked Dybala, who fired his second of the game past ter Stegen to put the Italians 2-0 up.

Barcelona started the second half in much better fashion with Messi rolling an effort inches wide of the upright and Buffon just beating Luis Suarez to an Ivan Rakitic through-ball.

Higuain rolled a weak effort at ter Stegen before Chiellini made it 3-0 after 55 minutes, out-jumping Javier Mascherano to head home only the second Champions League goal of his career.

Knowing a precious away goal could still help turn the tie in their favour, Barcelona began to press with Suarez trickling a fine chance wide then Neymar seeing an effort blocked by the busy Chiellini in the box.

Marshalled by a towering performance by Brazilian Alex Santos, the Juventus defence held out and Messi’s last chance to reduce the deficit came to an end when he spun a free-kick into the Italians’ wall.

MOMENT OF THE MATCH

Paulo Dybala’s opening goal was the result of a brilliant finish, and made sure Juventus did not waste their early advantage.

Coupled with his second goal, which was equally brilliant, Dybala’s performance had observers wondering if Argentina’s “Crown Prince” was dethroning Lionel Messi, the king of Argentinian football for so long.

BEST GOAL

See above. Dybala’s first goal of the night is worth watching over and over again. That finish, from that angle…the 23-year-old showed just why he’s thought of as the next big thing in Argentina.

BEST TWEET

BEST STAT

MAN OF THE MATCH

Dybala. Gigi Buffon pulled off a couple of outstanding saves, but Juventus’ Argentinian wizard deserves all the plaudits – not least because he did it while outshining Barcelona’s own Argentinian wizard. Lionel Messi was definitely the second-best player from his country in this game, and by a wide margin.

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European wrap: Neymar sees red as Barcelona lose

It was a bad night for Barcelona.

Don’t miss any of the action from a busy Saturday of football action!

Here, we round up the key moments:

LA LIGA

Barcelona saw their title hopes wrecked by one of their own, with former Blaugrana forward and youth team graduate Sandro Ramirez netting the opener in a stunning win for Malaga.

Neymar’s second half sending-off, which could see him miss the upcoming trip to Real Madrid, completed a miserable night for the reigning champions, whose title defence is now looking extremely precarious.

Barca took early command of possession and created the game’s first chance when a long ball from Jordi Alba released Luis Suarez, but home keeper Carlos Kameni came out quickly to make a fine one-handed save.

Lionel Messi curled a free-kick narrowly over the bar and Neymar made some dangerous runs down the left, but otherwise nothing was doing for Barca as the home team more than held their own.

The night soon got better for Malaga when they took the lead, with Sandro staying onside to run onto a long ball from Juankar, hold off a challenge from Jeremy Mathieu and send a low shot past Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Luis Enrique made a double change at the break, introducing Andres Iniesta and Sergi Roberto, but it made little difference as Malaga continued to play their game and twice threatened to double their lead through strikes from Juanpi.

Barca’s task was further complicated when Neymar saw red for a rash lunge on Real Madrid loanee Diego Llorente, who had an outstanding game in the heart of Malaga’s defence.

Malaga had a goal for Adalberto Penaranda wrongly ruled out for offside and Roberto was only awarded a free-kick when he was fouled inside the area as referee Jesus Gil Manzano’s erratic night continued.

The visiting ten men huffed and puffed in search of a leveller, but Roberto sent their only chance too close to Kameni and Malaga wrapped up the win in stoppage time with a counter-attacking strike for Jony.

Earlier, Antoine Griezmann’s classy finish five minutes from time dealt Real Madrid’s La Liga title chances a blow as Atletico Madrid rescued a 1-1 draw at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Pepe’s towering header early in the second half looked to have Madrid heading five points clear at the top.

Real lead Barcelona by three points with eight games left, but the two face each other at the Bernabeu on April 23.

BUNDESLIGA

Robert Lewandowski overtook Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the race to be the Bundesliga’s top-scorer this season after netting twice in Bayern Munich’s 4-1 thrashing of Borussia Dortmund.

Runaway league leaders Bayern dominated the clash of Germany’s giants and the win leaves them 10 points clear with six games left as Munich edge closer to a fifth straight league title.

Lewandowski netted either side of half-time at the Allianz Arena to leave him with 26 league goals this season — one more than main rival Aubameyang who failed to find the net on Saturday.

Veteran wingers Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery also netted in Bayern’s morale-boosting win before Wednesday’s crunch Champions League quarter-final, first-leg, tie against Real Madrid.

PREMIER LEAGUE

Marcos Alonso netted a picture-perfect free-kick as Chelsea triumphed 3-1 at Bournemouth to restore their seven-point advantage at the top of the Premier League.

Tottenham Hotspur had cut Chelsea’s lead to four points by crushing Watford 4-0, but Antonio Conte’s men responded to take another step towards the title.

Liverpool remain third after Brazilian substitutes Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino inspired a 2-1 comeback win at Stoke City, while fourth-place Manchester City beat Hull City 3-1.

Chelsea went 2-0 up inside the first 20 minutes at Bournemouth, Diego Costa’s mishit shot ballooning in off Adam Smith for an own goal before Eden Hazard added a second.

Freed by N’Golo Kante’s pass, the Belgian sprinted in on goal, rounded goalkeeper Artur Boruc and slipped in his 14th goal of the campaign.

Benik Afobe volleyed against the post for Bournemouth before Josh King reduced the arrears in the 42nd minute with an effort that fizzed past Thibaut Courtois via a deflection off David Luiz.

But Alonso settled the visitors’ nerves with 22 minutes to go, the Spanish wing-back arcing a sumptuous free-kick over the wall and into the top-right corner, leaving Boruc rooted to the spot.

Earlier, South Korean forward Son Heung-Min scored twice as Tottenham overpowered Watford at a sun-soaked White Hart Lane, with Dele Alli and Eric Dier also on target.

Alli opened the deadlock with a sublime effort in the 33rd minute, arcing a shot into the top-right corner from 25 yards, before his England team-mate Dier battered in Spurs’ second.

Son struck either side of half time – a left-foot curler followed by an adroit right-foot volley – to seal Spurs’ 11th consecutive home win in the league.

Liverpool sit five points below Spurs, having played a game more, after Firmino’s stunning strike secured victory at Stoke.

Jonathan Walters’s header – his seventh league goal against Liverpool – put Stoke ahead shortly before half time.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp made a double change at the break, sending on Coutinho and Firmino for teenagers Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ben Woodburn, and it proved a winning move.

Coutinho, a pre-match doubt due to illness, levelled in the 70th minute and two minutes later Georginio Wijnaldum freed Firmino to thump in a glorious, dipping winner from 20 yards.

Manchester City trail Liverpool by two points, but have a game in hand, after seeing off Hull at the Etihad Stadium to end a run of four league games without victory.

City manager Pep Guardiola, who recalled goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, saw his side take a 31st-minute lead when Ahmed Elmohamady turned in Jesus Navas’s cross for an own goal.

Sergio Aguero made it 2-0 early in the second half, polishing off Raheem Sterling’s cross after a sweeping team move, and Fabian Delph lashed in the hosts’ third.

Andrea Ranocchia replied for Hull, who remain two points above the bottom three in 17th place.

City now have a seven-point cushion in the fourth and final Champions League qualifying spot, although fifth-place Arsenal and sixth-place Manchester United each have two games in hand.

West Ham United eased their relegation fears as Cheikhou Kouyate’s low drive secured a 1-0 home win over third-bottom Swansea City, who trail Hull by two points.

Second-bottom Middlesbrough squandered an opportunity to claim a precious win in a 0-0 draw at home to Burnley.

Jordie Clasie struck from Dusan Tadic’s lay-off as ninth-place Southampton won 1-0 at eighth-place West Bromwich Albion.

LIGUE 1

Radamel Falcao marked his first start in six weeks with the only goal of the game as Monaco cemented their position at the top of Ligue 1 with a 1-0 win at Angers.

Falcao’s goal came just after the hour mark and against the run of play, and Monaco were holding on at the end against in-form opponents at the Stade Raymond Kopa.

The result extended the principality side’s run without defeat in the league to 13 matches and moved them four points clear at the top of the table with a game in hand on Nice, who won 2-1 at Lille on Friday.

Defending champions Paris Saint-Germain – who hammered Monaco 4-1 in last weekend’s League Cup final – can cut their lead back down to three points if they win at home to Guingamp on Sunday evening.

SERIE A

Juventus eased to victory over Chievo and maintained their strong position at the top of the Serie A table.

MOST DOMINATING WIN – TOTTENHAM’S THRASHING OF WATFORD

Mauricio Pochettino’s men are set to push Chelsea all the way in the title race.

Spurs were absolutely faultless against Watford and the game was pretty much as good as over in the 30th minute.

BIGGEST UPSET – BARCELONA

Luis Enrique’s men well and truly spurned the chance to take a firm grip on the La Liga title race.

The Spaniard will be worried that his side looked sluggish and lethargic at Malaga.

BEST CONTEST – THE MADRID DERBY

It wasn’t a classic by any stretch but it was a competitive clash between two evenly-matched sides.

Indeed, the result has blown the title race wide open.

BEST GOAL – EDEN HAZARD

The Belgian’s 14th Premier League strike of the season was very special and summed up Hazard in a nutshell.

Chelsea’s player of the campaign latched onto an exquisite pass from N’Golo Kante, set himself up perfectly with a deft touch to escape the Bournemouth defence and then sold oncoming goalkeeper Artur Boruc with a beautiful dummy before slotting home.

Tottenham’s Dele Alli was obviously very unlucky to miss out, as to Marcus Alonso.

PLAYER OF THE DAY – SON HEUNG-MIN

The South Korean was in unbelievable form during Spurs’ rout over the Hornets.

Son grabbed two goals and an assist, and really should have had a hat-trick too.

BIGGEST BLUNDER – CLAUDIO BRAVO

The Chilean seems to make the headlines (for the wrong reasons) every time he pulls on a City jersey.

He really should have kept out Andrea Ranocchia’s effort and his latest performance has put him under the microscope again.

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