Barcelona and “painful defeat” have linked themselves astonishingly of late.
Losses to rival Real Madrid have leaked into a recent Champions League setback to form a pool of despair that seemed so unlikely – some might even say “unimaginable” – just a month ago.
(One article has seemed to find a middle ground between “unlikely” and “unimaginable,” settling on the slightly less dramatic “alarming” in assessing the Catalan’s surprising slump.)
Whatever descriptive adjective we choose, all signposts around the Nou Camp point to the same arrival point: Who would have thought such darkness could creep into one of the Earth’s most evocative collection of fabulous feet?
Perhaps Tito Vilanova’s unfortunate absence, stacked on top of Pep Guardiola’s still-recent departure, has finally caught up with the Blaugrana. Or perhaps things have finally gone stale for a team whose core has changed so little over the last few years. For whatever reason, the club is 6-4-3 with just one shutout over its last 13 contests.
But with all that … It’s all there for the turning over today at the Nou Camp, where the energy inside the ginormous Blaugrana ground will carry an unfamiliar nervousness. Milan carries a 2-0 lead in the Round-of-16 second leg clash (3:45 p.m. ET on Fox Soccer Channel).
An FC Barcelona collection still blessed with Leo Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi (and that trio just headlines the fabulous cast) remained was a Champions League favorite moving into the Round of 16. Then came the fateful march into and out of the San Siro, where suddenly surging AC Milan left Barca’s European ambition on the skids.
Tactical cracks have developed in the Barca attack as teams have settled into a formula, defending with those two stingy banks of four and clogging the middle against a Barca bunch that seems so dead-set determined to come through there anyway. So how the Blaugrana attack an Italian defensive arrangement, and which players see the field, may say a lot about today’s outcome.
Or, is it something less tactical, as Xavi suggested in a pre-match news conference?
“We have lacked the old movement in attack and the accompanying defensive intensity,” he said. “Perhaps winning so comfortably in the league has caused us to drop our level a little.”
Perhaps. Either way, things won’t be easy today for the Catalan club; Milan is unbeaten in 10 games now, now third in Serie A and nipping at Napoli for second.