Barca’s fragility casts doubts on Champions League credentials
Their 3-1 defeat by Levante on Saturday reopened old wounds from Anfield and Rome and suggests they have not learned from either of those collapses.
Levante scored three times in seven minutes after half-time exposing Barcelona’s inability to regroup during a spell of intense pressure — a familiar weakness since coach Ernesto Valverde came to the helm in 2017.
Most clubs in Europe would gladly take winning two league titles and a Copa del Rey in that time but Barcelona are a team concerned with details, the small margins that could define a good season or a great one.
Barca plays Slavia Prague on Tuesday in the Champions League, when victory at Camp Nou against Group F’s weakest team will ensure the frustration and failings from Levante swiftly fade.
But fragility persists that can be exposed by elite opponents when it matters most, as Roma and then Liverpool so emphatically proved in the last two Champions League campaigns, when three-goal first-leg leads were squandered by the Catalan giants.
Barcelona has shown they lack steel when they are uncomfortable, not least away from home, where their record under Valverde has been disappointing.
‘We always respond’
In Valverde’s three seasons, they have won only 25 out of 44 league matches on the road. By comparison, Manchester City have won 35 out of 44. In the Champions League Barca have only won five out of 13 away games.
“It is true we are not getting the same results away as we are at home but after the first few games we have managed to put together a good run,” Valverde said on Saturday.
“We have lost a match and that’s it, it’s true that we must analyse it but we know when we lose that criticism is strong. We always respond and this time it will not be different.”
A habit for conceding in streaks, which resurfaced at the City of Valencia Stadium, is also nothing new. Since the start of last season, Barcelona have shipped two goals within 15 minutes on seven occasions, six of them away from the Camp Nou.
This after they threw away a 4-1 lead in 2018 to lose to Roma in the Champions League quarter-finals, and 3-0 lead to Liverpool in the semi-finals earlier this year.
“It might be down to a lack of concentration,” said Antoine Griezmann on Saturday.
Asked if the problem was due to their football or their attitude, he said: “It is a bit of everything. We must make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Some have suggested Barcelona lack leaders although few could argue the likes of Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique, Luis Suarez and Sergio Busquets do not command respect.
There is a vulnerability in midfield, where Barca have struggled against teams on the counter-attack, particularly when players pour through directly and at pace.
“In the first half I didn’t like us very much,” said Levante coach Paco Lopez. “But at half-time, we said we had to be more adventurous, more direct and we did it.”
Prague is unlikely to pull off a similar trick on Tuesday but if Barcelona is seen as having a soft underbelly, it will only enhance the belief of rivals in Spain and Europe.
“Every team plays us like it’s one of the biggest games of the season,” said Valverde. “We have to find an answer.”
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