A star-studded Barcelona line-up going down 4-0 in the Champions League is not the kind of result that will pass without consequences.
On Tuesday night in Paris, the Spanish giants – and their manager Luis Enrique in particular – were given a massive wake-up call in the form of a humiliating 4-0 Champions League defeat at the hands of Paris Saint-Germain.
It was a result no one could have expected, as the likes of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez were well and truly humbled by their French opposition.
Barca now face the incredibly difficult task of trying to overturn that result in the second leg at Nou Camp on March 8, and the outcome could very well determine the club’s immediate future.
Writing off Barcelona is always dangerous, but the reality is stark: no team has ever come back from a first leg four-goal deficit in the Champions League era, and that fact will weigh heavily on Enrique’s shoulders in the coming weeks.
Certainly Enrique is the man who will find himself in the firing line if Barca should fail to reach the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time since 2007. That is the reality for any manager at one of Europe’s super clubs, where only the best will do. And it certainly won’t be Messi or Suarez with their heads on the chopping block.
The result could turn out to be just an anomaly, but the way in which Barca were exposed suggests the problem may be more serious than that. There can be no doubt about their performance either – they were outplayed on almost every level.
— Thore Haugstad (@Haugstad1006) February 14, 2017
PSG offered far more up front in terms of shots on target and goals scored, but they dominated every other aspect of the game as well: bossing the midfield, chasing harder and covering more ground, and neutralising their opponents’ potent strike force with apparent ease.
It was, first and foremost, a tactical victory, as evidenced by the simplicity with which most of PSG’s goals arrived. It seems unthinkable that Barca could be carved open almost at will, but that is exactly what happened.
From Spain, many fans and commentators who have been skeptical of Enrique’s time in charge are now getting their knives out. Some feel Enrique has little to offer other than hope his star strike force deliver the goods. Certainly in Paris there was no Plan B to speak of when Plan A started to go horribly wrong.
The inferior opposition Barca frequently faces in La Liga do little to expose such weaknesses, but in the competitive cauldron of the Champions League, such frailties quickly bubble to the surface.
None of this is good enough for the fiercely demanding Spanish public, or the Spanish media. Following the loss, one Barcelona newspaper described the team as “shipwrecked without a manager”, while pro Real Madrid publications were happy to add insult to injury, calling the result Barca’s “biggest debacle of the 21st century”.
Immediately after the game, Enrique became incensed at the line of questioning from Catalan broadcaster TV3’s reporter over his lack of tactical changes during the match.
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) February 14, 2017
It seems likely this is the beginning of the end for the former Spain international, who has seldom appeared truly comfortable with the job. He is out of contract at the end of the season, and has frequently stated he does not see himself occupying the position for very long. As it turns out, his exit may arrive even sooner than he expected.
But even if Enrique is replaced, the after-effects of his time in charge could still be felt going forward, as many have accused him of undoing Barcelona’s classic possession-and-passing style of play, first devised by Johan Cruyff and later continued by Frank Rijkaard and Pep Guardiola, in favour of a more disjointed and less patient approach which relies heavily on getting the ball to their star trio as quickly as possible and hoping for the best.
Against PSG, Barca looked like a group of individuals, not a cohesive team, and while that may be enough to brush aside most of their opposition in Spain, it clearly is not against the best in Europe – no matter how brilliant some of those individuals are.