I remember seeing Barcelona lose very important games recently. I remember the game against Chelsea at Camp Nou, a very painful game for Barça fans. I remember seeing Pep Guardiola kicking and screaming trying to keep his players motivated, I remember the entire team leaving their soul on the pitch, and then Torres shattered any hope left with a last minute goal. Something very different happened last Saturday at Camp Nou when they lost to Valencia 3-2. There was no soul, there was no intensity, there was no motivation.
Few months ago, when questioned about his team’s style, Gerardo Martino said that he didn’t understand why he was being criticised if his team was winning. At the moment I felt that Martino didn’t understand this team and its philosophy. In the recent past they had won everything, but it wasn’t about winning. It's about how they did it.
The style was so beautiful that they said you could mute your TV and watch Guardiola’s Barça with some classical music in the background. Many times I saw Guardiola standing in his area, demanding their players for more intensity, even in that glorious night when they beat Real Madrid 5-0 at Camp Nou. That was the Pep team. In the first of many motivational videos created by Guardiola, the message was clear, “We are attackers who defend, we are defenders who attack”, there are no traces left of that philosophy at Barça.
I'm not against a change in Barça’s style. It’s become fairly predictable and key players have already seen their best days, but the evolution process should move forward and not backwards. I have seen some good games of Martino’s Barça, but compared to the “Pep Team,” even Martino’s good days are not enough. I will focus on Martino today because he said in the press conference after the game that he wanted to see more intensity from his players, but isn’t it his job? Isn’t he failing if he can keep his players motivated?
In the 65th minute, when nothing was going right, Martino decides to bring Andres Iniesta in. Why was Iniesta on the bench in such a crucial game is beyond my understanding, and even worse, he decides to take Xavi out. It wasn’t Xavi’s best game, and he hasn’t been consistent this season, but when Xavi and Iniesta connect they can make magic happen. Why not give them a chance?
Twelve minutes before the end of the match Cesc Fabregas, who gave us another forgettable performance, was substituted by Cristian Tello. If it was up to me Fabregas wouldn’t be starting, not over Sergio Roberto, or another young player that is willing to put more intensity. Countless are the times that I saw Fabregas lose the ball and not even try to get it back. I am not going to put the blame on one single player, everybody had a bad night, maybe I would rescue Busquets. Messi became alive when Iniesta came into the pitch, but it was not enough. Valdes went from hero, in the recent past, to zero in this game. When the referee signalled the end of the game, Barcelona still had one more substitution to make, but it didn’t matter. No one really thought they could come back.
I don’t believe Martino is the only responsible for this catastrophe, but as a manager he offers very little answers to the many questions that this team arises. When Guardiola left the team lost intensity, but they had Tito Vilanova’s tactical savvy to rely on. Today, they have lost both, and it seems that they are being led by a manager that has lost his compass. The players are even more responsible. Their lack of compromise with the team is worrying. Many will try to say that the recent events are affecting the team, but they did have 30 minutes of brilliance and then they disappeared.
So the final question that arises is, can Barcelona come back from the dark side? We can only wait and see, but today there is a new leader in town, Diego Simeone's Atletico Madrid.