Barcelona used to be a force in this competition, but now it wouldn’t be surprising if that glorious sound of the Champions League anthem sent the wrong kind of shivers down Barca players’ spines.
In the last two seasons, the Catalan giants have crashed out of Europe’s top club competition in spectacular style, first throwing away a 4-1 first leg lead with a 3-0 defeat away to Roma in the 2018 quarter-finals, and then even worse – a 4-0 thrashing away to Liverpool after going into that second leg tie at Anfield with a 3-0 lead.
Barcelona are back in action in the Champions League tonight as they take on Napoli in the first leg of a challenging last 16 tie, but there’s good reason to think this club could be facing yet more European heartache this season…
Players still feeling the trauma
You don’t recover from defeats like that one at Liverpool easily, and it’s been claimed this group of players are still traumatised by that night at Anfield, with even the club’s new signings affected by it, according to Sport Witness, citing various reports in the Spanish press.
It remains to be seen if Messi and co. can really put that night behind them, but the nature of that defeat means that no matter how big a lead they have, they may never feel entirely relaxed or confident of their ability to see a game through.
Sergio Busquets has notably not even tweeted since before that game at Liverpool, which gives you some idea of how he’s coped with the result.
You may have heard the name Martin Braithwaite a lot recently, and that’s because Barca got special permission to seal this emergency signing due to their injury ‘crisis’ up front.
It’s debatable if it’s bad enough to justify this controversial raid on struggling Leganes outside of a transfer window, but the signing comes due to injuries to Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele up front.
The club have also confirmed on their official site that key player Sergi Roberto will miss both legs of the Napoli tie, so this squad is already very stretched and these absences are likely to be felt at this high level.
Messi future doubts lingering
As if things haven’t been bad enough on the pitch, there’s this extremely distracting issue going on off it as well, with the future of Messi up in the air in what could be the final nail in Barca’s coffin.
As reported by the Guardian and others, Messi and sporting director Eric Abidal recently had a public spat, and that’s led to speculation that the Catalan giants could lose their most important player this summer.
The Evening Standard claim there is a clause in the Argentine’s contract that could trigger an early exit at the end of this season, despite his contract running until 2021. More Champions League failure would quite possibly push Messi out of the exit door, and based on recent evidence, this is not a club equipped to adequately deal with such a huge blow.
Amidst all this crisis, Barcelona recently hired the rather inexperienced Quique Setien to get the team through all this mess.
The Spaniard certainly impressed in his time at Real Betis, but the size of the job on his hands at the Nou Camp is something else altogether, and there are big question-marks over whether he can possibly meet up to the fans’ lofty expectations whilst navigating all the other issues mentioned above.
Ernesto Valverde wasn’t really up to the job, and in Setien, Barca once again look to be lagging behind many of the other main contenders for this season’s trophy, with elite coaches like Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Maurizio Sarri managing elsewhere. It feels like a long time since this great club had a man befitting of the job in their dugout.