Bojan holds his head after a missed chance.
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It is hard to criticise a team who have scored 83 goals in La Liga this season for lacking the firepower to see them through but, against Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan, reigning European champions Barcelona showed that their fluid attacking style has weaknesses.
After the heights of the sextuple last year, this season’s Barcelona had a lot to live up to, but the decision to sell Samuel Eto’o to their eventual conquerors in Europe could be one that comes back to haunt them.
On 62 minutes, with Barcelona needing two goals, coach Pep Guardiola decided to bring off €40 million+ man Zlatan Ibrahimovic for a kid - Bojan Krkic - who missed a glorious chance late on. It was a patent admission that his gamble to sign the inconsistent Swede in the summer – losing 34-goal Eto’o in the process – had failed and that analysis was backed up further when centre-back Gerard Pique was employed as a striker.
For all Barcelona’s fluid passing, neat movement and attacking prowess, they lack a Plan B. It is a criticism that has often followed the great attacking sides in the game, especially those who remain faithful to one particular style of play. However, truly great sides need to be adaptable and when a bus is parked in front of goal, they need to find a way past it.
Guardiola’s decision to employ Pique up front bore fruit with the Spaniard’s wonderful goal in the 84th minute, but he had the opportunity to make changes once Inter had been reduced to ten men an hour earlier. After Thiago Motta’s dismissal for what can only be described as a ‘face push’, Guardiola had licence to attack and change his formation, but he chose not to until the break.
Even when it became obvious that Barca goalkeeper Victor Valdes was going to have an easy night, Guardiola still only brought on Maxwell to give the side more width when he replaced Gabriel Milito at left-back. Then, when he did make his second roll of the dice, Ibra was withdrawn and Thierry Henry overlooked for 22-year-old Jeffren Suarez.
What may prove to be Henry’s last appearance on the Barcelona bench could also be viewed as the moment that the Barcelona boardroom discovered Guardiola’s limitations as a coach. He will learn from the experience, yes, but perhaps the realisation that he cannot rely on his two main central strikers will force his hand in the transfer window this summer.
Incredible when you consider the money that Barcelona spent last season, but the cost of £40 million to bring in Valencia’s David Villa (a man who has proven at both international and club level that he is the real deal) suddenly looks cheap in comparison.
Of course the other name that the club will be chasing this summer will be Cesc Fabregas. The talent of the Barcelona midfield is there for everyone to see, until the evidence is placed before you that they do not possess a genuine goalscoring midfielder. Inter were able to upset the balance of the Barca passing game and cause Lionel Messi to drop so deep that he was miles away from goal (where he is not at his most dangerous), but more was perhaps expected from Xavi.
One moment, when he turned brilliantly to get free of the persistent Wesley Sneijder before opting to pass badly to Messi rather than shoot, suggested that a player of the Fabregas mould would find himself most welcome at Camp Nou, even if it means battling the absent Andres Iniesta for a place in the side.
Ultimately, Inter must take credit for holding off their opponents with a defensive display that Mourinho can be proud of. The master tactician made sure that he played upon Barcelona’s weaknesses and, rightly, has a European final to look forward to as a result. For the Catalans, the focus turns to the league – failure to bounce back from this painful experience would render the season a failure too. They may need a Plan B to do it though.