Champions League QF Preview: Barcelona against Bayern
If you are looking for German-language analysis and news about FC Barcelona, barcawelt.de is the place to be. Before the top match of the quarter final in the UEFA Champions League, we spoke to Alex Truica, who works as a freelance journalist and editor-in-chief at Barçawelt. Alex tells us why FC Barcelona have changed coach mid-season, how Quique Setién has performed so far and what he expects from the match against FC Bayern.
Miasanrot.de: Barcelona were top of the table when they changed coach. Why did Valverde have to go?
Alex Truica: For many reasons. It all started with the Champions League defeat to Liverpool, when Valverde was already supposed to get the sack, but for whatever reason didn’t. The team would have needed a new coach in the summer, a new face in the dressing room, new tactical impulses, a new way of playing, but they didn’t get them. Instead, right from the beginning of the season it became clear that the 4-0 defeat at Anfield had left deep scars on the team, especially the mentality. Barça lost 1-0 in the opening match at Bilbao (after conceding a goal in injury time), which made things worse. From then on, the team hardly impressed in any away games, delivered bad performances and results especially on the road – both in the domestic league and in the Champions League, particularly in Dortmund and Prague. All told, the first half of the season was not good, if not almost catastrophic when measured against the high standards of the club. The idea of dismissing the coach then ultimately solidified in the 0-0 draw in the Clasico in December, when Barça sometimes looked like the away team at Camp Nou. It was then that those in charge finally realised that with Valverde as coach this season would (probably) not end well. Bartomeu explained after Valverde’s dismissal in January after going out in the semi-finals of the Supercopa, that they had realised that they needed to “change the dynamics” and that the team needed “a boost”. But both came half a year too late.
Miasanrot.de: Quique Setién took over from Valverde and has not (yet) won a title. How do you rate the half year under him and what has changed, especially in terms of playing style?
Alex Truica: The overall approach has changed slightly: Barcelona now want to have the ball even more than before, want to defend with the ball – in classic Barça style – and wear down their opponents with possession and ball circulation. Valverde was more conservative, with Barça defending in classic style without the ball, dropping back as the situation demanded; Setién is more radical in this respect. Setién also straight away tried to implement a back three but quickly discarded the idea. Finally, he switched to a 4-3-1-2 with a diamond in midfield to be able to use Messi and Griezmann together better in central attacking positions. Griezmann was totally wasted on the left wing under Valverde, but he is no longer a winger. Setién has established this as well as a higher (and more effective) pressing in attack.
However, two things made his job much more difficult: firstly, he had no preparation periods whatsoever upon taking up the job, and secondly, Barça had to play the season in a three-day match rhythm when football came back because of the coronavirus interruption. A poorly composed, small and over-aged squad, fatigue and injuries meant that the team could no longer implement and carry out Setién’s pressing, for example. This made the whole game more static, slower, sluggish, uninspired, and ultimately more boring. For example, Barça hardly plays transition football anymore under Setién. That is not his style. By now, the visible differences between Setién and Valverde in how the team plays have largely diminished.
Miasanrot.de: The Spanish and German media are now expecting an extremely strong FC Bayern, who may even be the favorites in this game. How do you assess the situation before the game?
Alex Truica: If you have watched the performances of both teams over the last eight to nine months, you’d have to conclude that Bayern are the favorites. I’ve already mentioned it: Barça’s squad is thin, the backbone of the team is old and in some cases long past its prime – we’re talking about Suárez, Rakitić, Busquets, Piqué, Alba, and of course Messi. Barça completely lacks a fast, tricky winger such as Dembélé who has been injured all year round. The only one they have is 17-year-old Ansu Fati, which in itself speaks volumes about the poor squad planning. Barça have only convinced in a few games after the restart, and for the most part the Catalans have seemed like quite an ordinary team – but they have the genius Messi up front. He’s the man through whom everything goes, so Barcelona are very predictable. Bayern seem more balanced to me as a team, they’ve got a lot more weapons, they’re more unpredictable, maybe even more committed and hungry. Barça is old and tired.
Miasanrot.de: Sometimes you get the impression that Barcelona have lost their identity on the pitch. What do you think about this theory?
Alex Truica: They’ve not necessarily lost their identity, but rather the ease, the joy of playing, the inspiration, perhaps even the last bit of hunger and greed and faith in themselves. In the current constellation, this team is beyond its peak and needs a fresh injection of blood and a comprehensive change. Not just the team, by the way, but the entire club. In 2021 there will be elections for the next president, then the club will be reorganized. Then the urgently needed transformation will happen.
Miasanrot.de: What will be particularly important for Barcelona on Friday?
Alex Truica: Lionel Messi. What else? If he doesn’t have a good day or is taken out of the game by Bayern, there’s no real hope for FC Barcelona to progress to the next round.
We would like to thank Alex Truica very much for the interview and his time.