Spanish football expert and author of Barca, Graham Hunter, addresses the big questions for the Paddy Power Blog after Barcelona’s big defeat to Bayern Munich.
￼The two questions I’ve most-often been asked since the Champions League semi-final demolition of Spain’s representatives by the physique and technique of the Bundesliga are:
- “Is this a total power-shift in European football?”
- “What the hell do Bayern need Pep Guardiola for? I bet he wishes the season hadn’t gone like this.”
The latter idea shows how short some memories are or, at least, how some people simply judge on what they last saw rather than delving deeper into a subject.
Nobody of sane mind would ignore the brutal way in which Barcelona’s current deficiencies were exposed by the Bavarians, nor can there be anything other than admiration for the relentless way in which Jupp Heynckes’ team has pursued what may, surprisingly, become the first treble in their remarkable history.
With all due respect to Dortmund, who will traipse in second to Bayern in the Bundesliga and who gave up their German Cup defence to the same team, it is the AllianzArena club which is world number one.
No question so, having made that clear let’s not forget that it’s only 12 short months since Bayern felt exactly like Barcelona do right now.
Just 12 months since a Bavarian disaster
They lost the German title to Dortmund by 11 points, calamitously failed to put Chelsea to bed in the Champions League final and blew the German Cup final 5-2 to Jurgen Klopp’s side, despite Martio Gotze not playing and Roman Weidenfeller needing to be substituted after half an hour.
That night Bayern used Neuer, Lahm, Alaba, Boateng, Schweinsteiger, Ribéry, Robben, Gómez, Thomas Muller plus the currently injured Toni Kroos and Holger Badstuber. Most of the troops who just trod all over Barcelona.
In Bavaria the season was seen as something approaching a disaster, certainly deeply humiliating. Just 12 months ago. Meanwhile, Dortmund had played like dumplings in Europe. Bottom of their group, five points behind third-placed Olympiakos, they’d been beaten home and away by Marseille, mustering only four points and conceding 12 goals in a group Arsenal won.
I’d wager that nobody of any vision or sense condemned either of the Bundesliga’s big two as “finished”, or believed that those events signalled an end to the general rise and rise of German football.
Four points for the dim-of-wit…
￼Thus it’s time, despite the brutality of the results for Barcelona and Real Madrid, to make sure that any conclusions drawn about Barcelona this week are reliable rather than rabid.
- It’s at least relevant contextually that in Carles Puyol, Javier Mascherano, (Jordi Alba) and Eric Abidal, Barcelona were missing four world-class defensive footballers who, if fit, would at minimum added power, experience, pace and aggression to the woeful work which brought them a seven-goal aggregate defeat.
- The world’s greatest footballer was as good as absent from all 180 minutes of the matches.
- Sergio Busquets may not be to everyone’s tastes but when he plays well, Barcelona rock. Like Messi, also because of injury, he was as good as absent from the tie.
- Tito Vilanova, a first-year rookie who has just returned from a near three-month battle against cancer made a number of downright weird decisions which analysis of the cataclysmically bad defeat begs for more information.
Now, wait, I know that the short-of-attention and the dim-of-wit will already be misinterpreting all this and getting ready to tweet in rage. So let’s recap.
Bayern were superb. Bayern are currently much more powerful, quick and competitive than the Spanish champions-elect.
The seven-goal margin didn’t flatter them. But if people want to rip Barça’s current squad and their likely future to shreds then a touch of restraint, context and caution are needed.
I know what you bought last summer
Bayern bought Dante, Mandzukic and Javi Martinez last summer and radically strengthened themselves. This route is available to Barcelona. With a proper centre-half added, with height introduced to one of the full-back positions, an aggressive, hard-working, top-class centre forward and the majority of the current squad fully fit Barcelona will be, at least, competitive again and contenders to not only give Bayern or Dortmund a decent game but to win the Champions League next May.
However, here are the trends which are more persuasive, more influential. Bayern’s strategy and intelligence, to me, are very reminiscent of the brilliant building of Barcelona from 2003 onwards when the Joan Laporta era, even with the odd blip, returned flair, power, success and thrills to the Camp Nou. There is a philosophy, there is ambition, there is consistency and both transfer records and wage structures are being broken.
They have seriously damaged Dortmund by snaffling Gotze and if they add Robert Lewandowski too it’s a huge double whammy. Pep Guardiola was hired not to have a decent season in 2013/14 or to fight off Dortmund. No, the Catalan has been put on the staff in order to try to increase the chances that Bayern repeatedly win the Champions League and become Europe’s dominant force for a handful of years. The fact that he’s inheriting a powerful side is unquestionably in his favour — not an obstacle.
Have Barca not spotted their problems?
At Barcelona you get a strong impression that notable problems: player fatigue, the absence of height, power and pace and the absolute glaring requirement for one, perhaps two aerially excellent defenders, are being ignored. Or worse, is it feasible they haven’t been identified?
Moreover the determination to prioritise the purchase of Neymar appears blind to the fact that however good the Brazilian may be he’s far from anything like the most important kind of signing Barca need to make right now.
Also, it’s a signing which has the hallmarks of something which could undermine Leo Messi’s sense of well-being at the Camp Nou.
Barcelona took a right hook to the jaw this week. It landed because they’ve dropped their guard and been leading with their chin. But so long as the decision-making process at the Catalan club now starts to match the quality of thinking in Bavaria it’s only a knockdown, not a knockout.
- Read football insight with real passion — more from Graham Hunter on the Paddy Power Blog
- Mischief makers: Have you read Guido Fawkes, Not Big Sam, FourFourTom, Joey Barton and Paul Galvin yet?