In the many years of FC Barcelona as a global avatar, an era that began with a curly-haired Brazilian genius, the mind strains to think of a worse display.
This ass whipping was pure. The Bayern 7-0 had a couple of goals that should have been disallowed, a wounded team buckled by injuries and mentally fried. No such succor today. Luis Enrique rolled out what he considered his best side and he was wrong. That team got played off the pitch. It offered nothing, did nothing.
For the third PSG goal, Angel Di Maria, a player so soft he should have toilet paper named after him, waltzed through the Barça midfield like it was a training match. Today, the “no midfield” crowd was right.
For the fourth goal the PSG right back strolled up the pitch, unmolested, unbothered, setting up Cavani for the coupe de grace. Nothing. Again, nothing. PSG didn’t even look that exultant at the end of the match, almost as if they felt a bit guilty about what happened.
There aren’t tactics for armchair quarterbacks to dissect, there aren’t near-misses or shots that should have gone in, runs that were almost there. This team offered nothing in the face of a better effort by a better team, and got played off the park. PSG was fast and physical, getting to every 50/50 ball, winning every challenge. On one goal, Messi was dispossessed easily in midfield, just stood there. Julian Draxler undressed Sergi Roberto, as the right side of the Barça defense again became a happy hunting ground for an opponemt.
The sole reason the final score wasn’t worse was Ter Stegen who, along with Neymar, came to play. The rest of the team was laconic, lackluster and lackadaisical, playing the match as if sleepwalking, a hopeful outcome. Because if they were really trying out there, then this result is even grimmer than it seems. This isn’t the first time sleepyhead Barça has happened, but it is the first time it has happened on such a stage as this. Great players understand the moment, they bring their best.
Barça, a team festooned with great players, brought nothing.
Andre Gomes over Rakitic was, in hindsight, a mess of a decision by Luis Enrique. Gomes’ deficiencies meant that everything got lopsided and Busquets and Iniesta had to do too much. Again. This time the opponent was too good, too aggressive, too lethal and Barça got the crap kicked out of it. Yes, it’s easy to see what Luis Enrique’s hope was with Gomes. But nothing about how Gomes has played this season supported that hope.
At the post-match presser, anticipating the blame game, Luis Enrique said, in essence, “Blame me.” We will and we should. But if you blame only him, that is a misguided view. If a chef gives you an egg and tells you how he would like you to make an omelette, and you screw it up, whose fault is it? Yes, the chef has some culpability. Maybe he didn’t tell you the exact temperature, or watch you measure out the oil, or warn you as the scorch marks grew. But what is your responsibility in that pile of eggs that sits in the bin?
Luis Enrique was naive in believing that his players, a group that has done so much, won so much, would be enough yet again. He was naive for believing that Gomes would be able to help Busquets and Iniesta exert the kind of match control that would have made the decision to start the spendy Portuguese midfielder pay off.
But PSG wasn’t interested in tactics, history or theory. It was a fist of a team ready to take advantage of the flaws of a theoretically superior opponent, But legacies don’t play matches. Players do. How much glee must Unai Emery have felt to finally, after so much torment over the years at the hands of Barça, to have had his team completely destroy his torturers.
Lusi Suarez swapped shirts with Cavani at the end of it. Only one of them can claim that the shirt was match worn. Suarez offered nothing. Messi offered nothing. Busquets and Iniesta were overwhelmed, Gomes offered nothing. The Barça team was a rumor.
Armchair tacticians will natter about how the midfield created nothing. If the run dictates the pass, then what does stagnancy demand? A glowering, stationary Suarez is easily isolated and easily controlled. Messi can run at a wall of defenders all that he likes. PSG walled off Neymar, removing any threat from the only other Barça player who showed up. And the goals came, goals the ease of which must have surprised the PSG players.
It was supposed to be harder than this.
Busquets said after the match that it wasn’t desire or effort but tactics. Tactics let Di Maria sashay through the Barça midfield like a copse of trees. Tactics made Rabiot look like a world-beater. “Tactics” is like when Xavi talked about superior possession stats in the wake of Bayern pounding in goals. “Tactics” is the paean for a dude who got his ass whipped.
“Out fight plan made sense. The opponent just punched harder.”
There is no absolution. Nor for your heroes, not for anyone. Ter Stegen will remember the goals that he let in, not the sparkling saves that he made. Neymar will be uninterested in his playing with effort and verve. Nor should he be. He was part of the team, part of the problem. At the end of the Rijkaard time, that team almost looked like it was trying to find ways to lose. It never looked as bad as Barça did today.
It will take something magnificent, something otherworldly for the team to come back from this, because it wasn’t a fighting loss, like Celta. It was an uncontested walkover. And it hurt.
It hurt because these are great athletes, great players, people who have brought us supporters so much joy. There was hope, because there is always hope. The team started slow, but it has before. It has never looked outclassed before. That is the bleak part, that the team looked like it had no answer to the questions that were being asked of them.
Tactics are one thing, but at some point, when everything is a mess, what happens? Barça has the players to improvise an answer to that query. Not at Parc des Princes.
If it hurts us, imagine what it does to them. As people sit, grinding knives on the petrified husk of a team they used to celebrate, that is worth thinking about. It sucks to see our team get beaten like that. What do the players see when they are allowed a moment of stillness with their thoughts, on the bus to the airport? We can snarl and castigate, but in reality we don’t know shit. Analyze, critizice, but it’s all just wanking. Including this piece.
Nothing made sense. Iniesta was as ineffective as I have ever seen him. Nothing made sense. Everyone held the ball too long because nobody was moving, nobody was creating soace and options for teammates to play into. There was no midfield. There was no nothing. Tactics?! Blaming this hosing on tactics is like blamimg an avalanche on a thrown rock. Okay, but that is only a fraction of the problem.
Luis Enrique will feel terrible about his selection and naivete, and he should. But if players don’t do a mirror check, then nothing will have come of this evisceration.
At present, people are lining up to say, “Told ya so,” to take pride in dire predictions being right. They should be ashamed. There isn’t any joy in this. You shouldn’t be happy about your grim soothsaying coming to pass. Not if you love and feel this football club. Being right isn’t as important or as pungent as the stench of what happened today.
Treble, double, this team has vrought pride and joy to a fanbase that isn’t all that worthy of its excellence. This is supposed to hurt. Football isn’t about just the good times, it isn’t about turning on a team you love because of some agenda. Criticize, scream, analyze. They were absolute shit today. Okay. Beginning of the end? Maybe. And maybe it should be. Maybe it’s time to consider a lot of things in the cleansing fire of this destruction.
But this team also deserves our respect for what it has done for us as supporters. When a great player retires and the supporters know that he has played his last match, he is sent off with a standing ovation, irrespective of his performance on the day. That’s respect. At that moment it doesn’t matter what he did for the team lately. It matters what he has done, and he is honored for that.
This doesn’t need to sound like a eulogy. But perhaps this beating will usher in a different era, just as the Bayern loss did. Perhaps. A new coach will come in the summer, and people will talk about demamding that new face return to tradition, whatever in the hell that means, squinting at the past through rose-tinted spectacles.
That new coach will have the same problems of an aging spine, opponents who have adapted to the style of play. He will have to solve those issues, have to create a new way of approaching things. Drawing Xs and Os on a board won’t gin up a fountain of youth or bring back a lost step. Guardiola’s system worked because everyone ran like dogs. That isn’t possible any longer. Luis Enrique’s system worked because it fed the ball to a trio of geniuses. That doesn’t work any longer. What will the successor do, and how quickly will it not be good enough for an impatient fan base?
Against PSG, Barça didn’t lose. Barça got beat. In every facet of the game. You can have your idols, but if you exempt them from criticism or examination, then you weren’t paying attention. If you think it was one person’s fault, coach or player, then you weren’t paying attention. Everybody failed. Miserably.
Luis Enrique is going to leave this summer, and if today is what his players have to offer him, then he should. Being a team is not letting your teammates down. It’s doing the job that you know you can do. If a tactical wrinkle doesn’t work, you improvise. You fight. If a team stops fighting — and it’s the seeming lack of fight that hurt more than the scoreline — whoever the coach is, he should leave.
But if the players don’t understand the role they had in a debacle, they are as blind as the supporters who think that a new coach will fix everything. Players who have done so much, won so much, understand the game so clearly, aren’t that blinkered. They get it, even if supporters don’t. The players have earned the right to be shit. Not even the most wizened supporter has earned the right to shit on them. That just isn’t how it works. You don’t get to pick and choose what part to pardon of a team that has failed as completely as Barça did against PSG.
Support isn’t blind. But support and respect are different, part of the same family. You can say the team was horrible today and its coach messed up completely. But you can also respect and support the team. We don’t get to run out on them when things go badly. Thick and thin. We owe them that in recompense for all that they have given us, even if they give us nothing else.