When your captain and talisman is steadfast in his resolve that this will be the year that the team is going to win the Champions League, the least that’s expected from every player is 100 percent concentration, commitment and effort in every game in the competition.
It’s a given at the top level, but since Lionel Messi uttered those words at the start of the campaign, the Argentinian has been the only one following his own advice in each European match that he’s been involved in.
Aside from the two matches against Inter, the No.10 has scored in every group game in the 2018/19 edition. Some of his colleagues, for example Arturo Vidal at PSV, and Luis Suarez away at Tottenham, have raised their game at times, but barely anyone else.
Against the Dutch side this past week, Barca allowed their opponents to have nine shots on target. Three more hit the post and they had 23 in total.
For a team that wants to be crowned as the Kings of Europe again at the end of the season, that has to be addressed. Ditto the lack of clean sheets.
At present, Messi and Suarez (and occasionally Dembele) are getting their defenders out of trouble, but sooner or later their luck’s going to run out. The Catalans are long past the 2008-12 vintage when if a rival scored three it didn’t matter because you knew Barca were capable of scoring four.
For now, the Blaugrana can go back to concentrating on league matters and not even worry about fielding anything like a first XI against Tottenham. For Ernesto Valverde to even consider doing so would be risky at best.
With the top spot already wrapped up, giving his major stars the night off could well pay dividends.
Suarez has already opined this season that he wished he’d have been rested in more games last term, but it seems as though Valverde has again fallen into the trap of not being willing to rotate certain players for fear of losing. A safety-first policy that really no one should be surprised by.
Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets both looked leggy on Wednesday evening, and whilst it’s true that injuries almost forced Valverde into picking the team he did, there were opportunities to play other players on the night – Carles Alena for instance.
Safely out of one of the toughest groups they’ve had in the Champions League for years, Barca now need to focus and get down to business.
In the knockout stages there’ll be no second chances, and though it will still take a great performance from any one of the other teams left in the hat to beat them, the Catalans really need to up the ante if they want to go all the way to lifting the cup with the big ears at the Wanda Metropolitano.
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