Early Champions League exit highlights problems at Barcelona

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For the first time since Frank Rijkaard walked the sidelines at Camp Nou, Barcelona is approaching a crossroads, with today’s loss to Atlético Madrid underscoring the club’s evermore precarious future. But whereas before the club could pull somebody like Pep Guardiola from the ranks and right its course, the next chapter in Barcelona’s history looks less certain. Both on the field and off, an era of dominance may be coming to an end, giving today’s early exit from Champions League a bigger, more concerning context.

For most clubs, a quarterfinal departure wouldn’t be considered early, but when a club’s made six straight semifinals, it develops expectations. Particularly considering the only thing that stood between Barcelona and the final four was an opponent from Spain that’s not Real Madrid, Champions League becomes an even more telling test. While Atlético had proved its quality in four previous appearances with Barcelona, the Blaugrana had also showed its inability to conquer that new challenge. Now, that challenge has seen the Catalans out of Europe.

The problems extend back to league play, too. After running away with the title last year, Barcelona’s been pulled into a three-team race for first. The club’s early exit from Champions League may actually help in that regard, leaving it the only Liga contender not balancing European concerns. While Atlético and El Real extend their squads in a quest for European glory, Barcelona can focus on retaining La Liga.

Still, if previous years’ success is the benchmark, this season remains a cause for concern. The regression many thought would arrive sooner has started to surface in 2014. Be it by age (Xavi Hernández, Carles Puyol), increased injury concerns (Andrés Iniesta, Lionel Messi, Gerard Piqué), or departures (Víctor Valdés), one of the greatest teams in club soccer history is finally coming back to the pack.

That plight’s only exacerbated by problems off the field. At a time when Barcelona desperately needs to inject new talent, it may not be able to do so. Recently hit with a transfer ban for illegally signing underage players, Barcelona will be out of the next two transfer markets. Provided an appeal doesn’t diminish that sentence, Barça won’t be able to replace the departing Valdés. It won’t be able to bring in some desperately needed central defenders, and if it’s unable to reload, the midfield all of a sudden looks thin. With the core of the team set to play at this summer’s World Cup, a set of legs run ragged by the international schedule (and, Spain’s consistently runs in major tournaments) won’t get reinforcements.

source: Reuters
Sandro Rosell, left, resigned as Barcelona president in January. He was replaced by Josep Maria Bartomeu, right. (Photo: Albert Gea/Reuters.)

You can blame the Sandro Rosell regime for that, just as you can blame the departed president for the Neymar fiasco and the increasingly murky relationship between Qatar and a team that used to ar UNICEF across its chests. While fans all over the world romanticize the member-owned model, places like Argentine club scene and Catalonia (among others) get to deal with its repercussions.

After being chosen to replace Joan Laporta in 2010, Rosell moved the team toward the precarious, amoral place it occupies now. While the altruism of Barcelona used to strike an annoying cord, that elitist high-groins is still favorable to a tenure that’s left Barcelona no different from Europe’s other obscenely large clubs.

In that sense, what’s happening at Barcelona isn’t about today’s loss, though the departure from Champions League does gives us a chance to take stock. Just as Manchester United’s loss to Bayern leaves us asking what’s next for the Red Devils, Barcelona’s also reflects the club’s current woes. Not even claiming Liga and Copa del Rey titles will completely assuage the feeling that the season has been a step back.

In two months, Gerardo Martino may be gone, and while Barcelona will have a number of quality coaches pining for the job, others will see a two-window ban, aging core, and squad with holes as a reason to stay away. Be it Martino or somebody else, whomever’s in charge come July will have to deal with the miles another World Cup has put on Hernández, Iniesta, Dani Alves and Messi. And they’ll have to do so without being able to reinforce the core.

One loss in Madrid didn’t cause any of these problems. It only highlights the extent of them, and in that light the crossroads may not be a good one. It implies the club has options, yet locked into what it has, Barcelona may need to see this out. It may be helpless to prevent an end of an era.

Men in Blazers podcast: The Leicester fairytale goes on

Men In Blazers - Sept. 22
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Rog and Davo revel in another chapter of the Leicester City fairytale, break down Liverpool’s shock dismantling of Manchester City and discuss Arsenal’s slip against West Brom.

Listen to the latest pod by clicking play below.

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Pellegrini updates status of Joe Hart’s hamstring injury

Joe Hart, Manchester City FC
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Joe Hart was forced to leave Manchester City’s 1-0 defeat to Juventus in UEFA Champions League play on Wednesday due to a hamstring injury, which he seemed to incur while making a spectacular one-on-one kick-save late in the second half.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Man City manager Manuel Pellegrini confirmed after the game that Hart’s injury is indeed a hamstring issue, and went on to say that he would need further tests once the team arrives back in Manchester to determine the severity and how long, if at all, City and England’s no. 1 would be out of action.

Man City, currently third in the Premier League on 26 points, will host eighth-place Southampton at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

Three things we learned from Manchester United vs. PSV

Jesse Lingard, Marouane Fellaini
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Manchester United missed the chance to clinch a spot in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday with a draw against PSV Eindhoven and now their hopes of making the knockout round hang in the balance.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]  

Louis Van Gaal‘s side failed to take their chances and now have a do-or-die clash at Wolfsburg in two weeks time. If United win, they are in. Anything less and a PSV win in their final group game means it’s the Europa League for LVG and his boys.

Tense times. Here’s three things we learned from yet another 0-0 draw for United.


With Wayne Rooney playing in the hole and front three of Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard and Memphis interchanging, it was the formation and personnel many of United’s fans were calling for. Well, it didn’t quite work out. With Martial and Lingard both guilty of squandering chances and Memphis failing to get into the game, LVG will be left scratching his head as he watched his side draw 0-0 for the fourth home game this season and for the third time in their last five matches at Old Trafford.

[ MORE: Champions League schedule ]  

United looked labored in attack with Wayne Rooney unable to dictate play from a No. 10 role and the PL side had to resort to long balls up to Marouane Fellaini in the final 30 minutes to try and win the game. Surely they’re better than that? At times in the first half the fluidity was there as the aforementioned quartet all went close. However, they ran out of ingenuity and as boos rang out at full time, it was clear the United faithful was, once again, unhappy with their teams attacking output.

“We are not ruthless enough – we have to score more goals as a team, they were able to nearly hit us on the break a few times,” Rooney said. “It is a learning curve but we cannot go on saying that. We have to change these games into victories.”


After a tough stretch of games on heavy pitches, the way United rallied and grabbed a late winner at Watford last weekend was impressive. However, those battling displays full of grit and detetmination seem to be catching up on them. Fast. In the second half it was noticeable that Davy Propper and Andres Guardado had a growing influence on the game as Morgan Schneiderlin gave the ball away on multiple occasions and Bastian Schweinsteiger was subbed out. True, Fellaini came on in his place so United sacrificed a holding midfield spot for the final 30 minutes, but by that point the tide was already turning.

United looked tired, lethargic and failed to get proper service to their front three and a frustrated Rooney kept dropping deeper and deeper to try and get the ball. With Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera out injured, plus Juan Mata only given six minutes at the end, the main reason United failed to win this game was the lack of drive in midfield and the fact that the entire team simply seemed to run out of steam. With a tough slog of seven games in the next four weeks coming up, tiredness at this stage of the season is a worrying sign.


Yeah, so, in case you hadn’t noticed by now, United are in a bit of a pickle by not clinching a last 16 spot on Wednesday. That means they head to Wolfsburg on Dec. 8 having to win to top the group and bad news United fans, the German outfit have yet to lose at home in the UCL or Bundesliga this season. They’ve won eight of their nine home games, scoring 23 times and conceding just five. It will certainly be an uphill battle at the VW Arena.

“Going to Germany is always tough,” Rooney said. “We have to believe in ourselves and have confidence we can do that, it’s not the way we wanted but that is the way it is and we have to believe we are good enough to get three points.”

Chris Smalling reaffirmed United’s belief that they can go to Wolfsburg — even if they fell behind to Wolfsburg at home in the home game but rallied to grab a victory — and win but the Red Devils certainly haven’t made it easier for themselves.

“We had more than enough to win the game and make the difference in the final game. Coming in we saw Wolfsburg as the toughest game – and we have given ourselves a lot of hard work,” Smalling said. “We needed to move the ball quicker – and if we got the first goal it would’ve made it a lot easier. We go there with hope because we have beaten them here.”

UCL roundup: Real Madrid nearly blow 4-0 lead; PSG roll in Sweden

Luka Modric, Real Madrid CF
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A roundup of all of Wednesday’s action in the UEFA Champions League…

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Juventus 1-0 Manchester CityFULL RECAP

Mario Mandzukic scored the game’s only goal (WATCH HERE), putting Juventus back atop Group D as Man City tumble into second place. With just one game left to play, City sit two points behind last year’s CL runners-up and risk going into the runners-up side of the draw for the knockout stage, which could mean a date with Barcelona, Bayern Munich or Real Madrid in the round of 16.

Manchester United 0-0 PSV EindhovenFULL RECAP

The red half of Manchester has even more to worry about, however, as Man United failed to qualify for the knockout stage on Wednesday by drawing 0-0 with PSV Eindhoven. With one game left to play, United sit second, just a point ahead of the Dutch side, with a difficult away trip to face Wolfsburg looming in two weeks’ time. PSV, meanwhile, will host CSKA Moscow on Dec. 8.

Shakhtar Donetsk 3-4 Real Madrid

Rafa Bentiez is truly special, isn’t he? From 4-0 up, to holding on for dear life and a 4-3 victory over Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk, Benitez’s position may, somehow, be even more untenable today than it was following Saturday’s 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Barcelona. Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice (WATCH HERE), and Luka Modric and Dani Carvajal provided the other two goal before three goals from minutes 77 to 88 put the final result in serious doubt.

Malmo 0-5 Paris Saint-Germain

Zlatan Ibrahimovic made his triumphant return to his boyhood club and marked the special occasion with — what else? — a goal (WATCH HERE). PSG were up 2-0 after 14 minutes thanks to goals scored by Adrien Rabiot and Angel di Maria, so the result was never really in doubt. Ibrahimovic added the third before Di Maria and Lucas Moura ballooned the lead in the game’s final 25 minutes.

Elsewhere in Champions League action

Group B

CSKA Moscow 0-2 Wolfsburg

Group C

Atletico Madrid 2-0 Galatasaray
FC Astana 2-2 Benfica

Group D

Borussia Monchengladbach 4-2 Sevilla — WATCH FABIAN JOHNSON’S GOAL HERE