Champions League

Barca's fragility casts doubts on Champions League credentials

2019-11-04 10:00
Luis Suarez
Luis Suarez (Twitter)

Madrid - They may be one of Europe's most devastating teams at their best but another collapse in La Liga last weekend has shown Barcelona can be a soft touch.

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 play 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 have 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 are unlikely to pull off a similar trick on Tuesday but if Barcelona are 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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Fixtures
Tuesday, 26 November 2019
Lokomotiv Moscow v Bayer Leverkusen, Lokomotiv Stadium 19:55
Galatasaray v Club Brugge, Turk Telekom Arena 19:55
Juventus v Atletico Madrid, Allianz Stadium 22:00
Atalanta v Dinamo Zagreb, Atleti Azzurri d'Italia 22:00
Manchester City v Shakhtar Donetsk, Etihad Stadium 22:00
Real Madrid v Paris SG, Santiago Bernabeu 22:00
Red Star Belgrade v Bayern Munchen, Stadion Rajko Mitic 22:00
Tottenham Hotspur v Olympiacos, Tottenham Hotspur Stadium 22:00
Wednesday, 27 November 2019
Valencia v Chelsea, Mestalla 19:55
Zenit St. Petersburg v Lyon, Saint Petersburg Stadium 19:55
Liverpool v Napoli, Anfield 22:00
Barcelona v Borussia Dortmund, Camp Nou 22:00
Slavia Prague v Inter Milan, Eden Arena 22:00
Genk v Red Bull Salzburg, Luminus Arena 22:00
RB Leipzig v Benfica, Red Bull Arena 22:00
Lille v Ajax, Stade Pierre-Mauroy 22:00
Tuesday, 10 December 2019
Red Bull Salzburg v Liverpool, Red Bull Arena 19:55
Napoli v Genk, San Paolo 19:55
Ajax v Valencia, Amsterdam ArenA 22:00
Benfica v Zenit St. Petersburg, da Luz 22:00
Lyon v RB Leipzig, Groupama Stadium 22:00
Inter Milan v Barcelona, San Siro 22:00
Borussia Dortmund v Slavia Prague, Signal Iduna Park 22:00
Chelsea v Lille, Stamford Bridge 22:00
Wednesday, 11 December 2019
Dinamo Zagreb v Manchester City, Maksimir Stadium 19:55
Shakhtar Donetsk v Atalanta, Metalist Stadium 19:55
Bayern Munchen v Tottenham Hotspur, Allianz Arena 22:00
Bayer Leverkusen v Juventus, BayArena 22:00
Club Brugge v Real Madrid, Jan Breydel Stadion 22:00
Olympiacos v Red Star Belgrade, Karaiskakis Stadium 22:00
Paris SG v Galatasaray, Parc des Princes 22:00
Atletico Madrid v Lokomotiv Moscow, Wanda Metropolitano 22:00
Saturday, 30 May 2020
TBA v TBA, Ataturk Olympic Stadium 02:00
Logs
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