Why Barcelona's Tactical Arrogance Will Cost Them The Champions League

Proper defending or counter-attacking is seen as beneath FC Barcelona. There’s only one way, their way, the right way – FC Barcelona’s way. But what's so wrong with pumping it long when a team wants to park the bus?
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Proper defending or counter-attacking is seen as beneath FC Barcelona. There’s only one way, their way, the right way – FC Barcelona’s way. But what's so wrong with pumping it long when a team wants to park the bus?

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AC Milan vs. FC Barcelona: When keeping it real goes wrong

Having a set of principles is commendable, worth emulating even. However, in some cases sticking to ones principles comes at a high price, or in the realm of professional sports at a loss. FC Barcelona are known proponents of playing football the right way, at least according to the dogma they are submitting themselves to. In the world of FC Barcelona and the majority of its supporters the spectacle comes before the result. One is achieved through the other, and never to be forsaken even it means certain defeat.

Sounds a bit lunatic, right?

It is.

This FC Barcelona team is already historic for their exploits over the last couple of seasons. FC Barcelona are the first Spanish club to achieve the treble, the first football side to mastermind the sextuple inside a calendar year, and the winner of three Champions League titles within the last seven years. Nevertheless, one cannot shake off the feeling that though the Blaugrana won a plethora of titles over the last couple of years -more than any other side in the same timeframe - they forfeited quite a few due to their unwillingness to compromise when the situation called for it.

Last Wednesday an in-transition AC Milan side usurped the heavily favored FC Barcelona in their first-leg encounter at the opening knockout round of the UEFA Champions League. After 90 minutes plus overtime the scoreboard read 2-0 to AC Milan. Most pundits, bookies and fans only gave AC Milan an outside chance to survive the tie unscathed, let alone attain victory. Yet, here we are. The supposedly best side in the world, if not history, failed yet again to deal with an ultra-defensive set-up.

Regardless of how one feels about AC Milan’s game plan – the Italian side’s victory has its merits and is well deserved. After all, the Massimiliano Allegri managed outfit played to their strengths, or rather nullified FC Barcelona’s. Facing this particular FC Barcelona side on equal terms almost certainly leads to annihilation. Hence it’s understandable why AC Milan opted to employ a more cautious approach. On paper the Italian side have neither the personal nor experience to go head-to-head with FC Barcelona.

The Catalan juggernaut is comprised of world-class performers across the board and features the spine (Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, Xavi and Andres Iniesta) that play(ed) a massive part in Spain’s recent dominance in world football. AC Milan on the other hand were stripped naked of world-class players over the last summer. It’s says a lot about the state of AC Milan when the standout performer of what could’ve shaped up to be a disaster campaign is 20 year old Stephan El Shaarawy. Without his goals the Milanese outfit would probably linger in the lower regions of Serie A right now.

The fortunes of these two sides couldn’t be more contrasting. FC Barcelona are the runaway leaders of La Liga, commanding a 12-point lead over second placed Atletico Madrid while AC Milan are 11-points adrift of Serie A pace setters Juventus Turin.

One would assume that FC Barcelona were in a more advantageous position heading into the tie. Unlike AC Milan, FC Barcelona are not required to field a full-strength side week in and week out, allowing the Blaugrana to make good use of their squad depth and rest key players along the way. AC Milan’s resources on the other hand are stretched to the maximum already. The Italian’s can’t allow slipping past the third place they are currently occupying in Serie A, as they would miss out on Champions League football in the next season.

The Milan side applied maximum principle. They achieved the best result by making use of the resources available to them - in this instance by playing negative (read: ultra-defensive) football.

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On the other end of the spectrum FC Barcelona refuse to adjust their approach even when it was clear that AC Milan were going to employ ultra-defensive tactics. Instead of rethinking their philosophy, or heavens forbid, abandon all-out attacking football for once, FC Barcelona firmly held on to their (predictable) strategy.

As pointed out earlier, having principles is commendable, nevertheless this is professional football and success is measured by the games won and trophies accumulated. There’s no prize for playing the most beautiful brand of football. Of course the style in which victory is achieved will always separate mere winners from legends. However, by making an exception to the rule every once in a while FC Barcelona would not risk tarnishing their legacy or, more importantly, their record(s).

The steadfast conviction that the spectacle always comes before the result is quite frankly ignorant, if not proof for the underlying arrogance that has infested FC Barcelona. The Blaugrana believe to be the protectors of ‘good’ football values and would like to claim some sort of moral authority over the infidels that resort to negative football tactics.

Losses to perceived ‘weaklings’ who were not brave enough to face FC Barcelona on equal terms are easily dismissed by players and fans alike while the team is applauded for holding onto its beliefs even in defeat.

There’s a fine line between a healthy dose of confidence and arrogance. FC Barcelona are currently leaning towards the latter. Their overblown belief in their own abilities has made them blind to the possibility that a less talented side could ever get the better of them – even when recent history has repeatedly proven them wrong (Inter Milan in 2009/10, Chelsea FC in 2011/12).

Resorting to sound tactics such as proper defending or counter-attacking is beneath FC Barcelona. There’s only one way, their way, the right way – FC Barcelona’s way. It’s bad enough that FC Barcelona are guilty of arrogance but apparently ignorance has become fashionable at the Camp Nou too.

In the past Inter Milan and Chelsea FC have both successfully defeated FC Barcelona on their way to European glory – by exercising how to park a bus over two matches against the Catalan outfit. Therefore FC Barcelona’s most recent failure in the Champions League should come as a surprise to no one, least of all the Blaugrana players and the technical staff.

Should FC Barcelona once again fall victim to the ‘dark arts’ of football they only have themselves to blame for not learning from past mistakes.

After 90 minutes of football there’s no right and wrong, just winners and losers. Keeping it real only goes so far before it becomes ridiculous.

When keeping it real goes wrong.

Yeah, that phrase was coined in Barcelona.

You can follow Sebastian on Twitter @JubeiKibagame