Barcelona Champions League exit had been years in the making

In the space of 90 minutes, Barcelona’s entire Champions League campaign unravelled. Before Tuesday’s quarter final second leg against Roma, the Catalans had been considered among the favourites to win the competition this season. They were 4-1 up and presumed to be semi-finalists. Then the “disgrace,” the “humiliation,” the “disaster,” depending on which Spanish newspaper you picked up on Wednesday morning, happened.

Sergio Busquets described it as the worst defeat he’d ever experienced as a professional. Others called for Ernesto Valverde to pay for the shocking 3-0 loss at the Stadio Olimpico with his job. Barcelona, as their fans see it, should be above this sort of indignity. But this defeat was years in the making. It shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise.

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For weeks, Barcelona have looked tired and weary. They have become too dependant on the brilliance of Lionel Messi. Two weeks ago, they needed the Argentine to come off the bench when he was carrying an injury to salvage a point, and preserve Barca’s unbeaten league record, against Sevilla at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.

This has been the pattern of things for Barcelona since the turn of the year. Time and time again, Messi has dug them out of a hole. Against Roma, though, it was too much to ask of just one player. For once, Messi couldn’t get his team out of the hole they dug for themselves and in that Barca’s weakness was exposed.

Part of the problem comes from the size of Barcelona’s first team squad. Valverde’s preferred lineup is among the strongest in the European game right now, but he doesn’t have much in the way of depth. He has more options than his predecessor Luis Enrique did, but still not enough to rotate his squad in the way Zinedine Zidane does.

This could explain why Real Madrid have won the last two Champions League titles and are on course for a third straight title. Zidane’s side tend to peak towards the end of the season. Their best players are kept fresh for the most important games. Look at how Cristiano Ronaldo was withdrawn with 25 minutes left of the Madrid derby left to play on Sunday. Or how Zidane can pick between Marco Asensio, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Isco, Ronaldo and Lucas Vazquez in the final third. Barcelona don’t have this sort of depth.

“I am responsible absolutely, I am the visible head of the team and it was down to me,” Valverde explained after the catastrophic defeat at Roma. “With their pressure it forced us to knock balls long, we became disjointed and we were not able to win the second ball. Everyone is now affected by this but we need to bounce back because we have two competitions that we want to win.”

In part, this is true. Valverde was cowardly in his approach at the Stadio Olimpico. He waited too long to make changes to his team when the game was quite clearly slipping away from Barcelona. But it’s not entirely his fault that his team run out of team. This has been happening for years.

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