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.