Following their unexpected Champions League exit at the hands of Atletico Madrid, we examine Barcelona’s slump. Is an over-reliance on that famous forward line to blame? Adam Bate reports from the Vicente Calderon…
Sergio Busquets lingered to clap the away fans in the top tier. Andres Iniesta and Jordi Alba joined him. But most of their team-mates shuffled down the tunnel. Barcelona, the defending European champions, had been vanquished by Atletico Madrid.
It will have been a huge blow. For while Barcelona remain favourites to complete a domestic double, such are the expectations placed on this group of players that the season is likely to be laced with disappointment whatever happens now.
That’s the nature of it when Lionel Messi is in your side. When you have Neymar, a man who’d joined him on the Ballon d’Or shortlist in January. Luis Suarez didn’t receive that honour but he’s more than made up for it with his scoring feats this season.
And yet, for all the brilliance of that formidable forward line, it’s Luis Enrique’s reliance on it that’s played a part in his side’s downfall. Maybe that was in the Barca coach’s mind when he insisted on taking 100 per cent of the responsibility for the defeat afterwards.
It’s funny how defeat can shift the tone. While once the goalscoring heroics of that celebrated front three were a source of wonder, the statistics now feel like a note of caution. A warning that was left unheeded.
Messi, Suarez and Neymar have scored 44 of Barcelona’s 53 Champions League goals since the start of last season. That’s 83 per cent. Individually spectacular but when the dip came it came collectively and Barca have suffered as a result.