Spanish giants Barcelona head into this evenings Champions League knockout stage clash with AC Milan 2-0 down from the first leg at the San Siro.
The Catalan side were heavy favourites to progress into the quarter-finals and they are now teetering on the brink of going out the competition.
The first leg came as a surprise to most people, including probably everybody connected with AC Milan.
AC Milan’s form has dramatically improved in recent months and the performance was an example of how much it’s improved.
Even with the improvement in form I doubt that even the Milan players believed that they would achieve such a good result and have such a lead to take to the Nou Camp. I certainly didn’t believe they would defeat Barcelona.
It may be a difficult task for Barca to get back into the tie, but it is definitely not impossible though, especially when they have the likes of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi in their team.
They have a team of quality players. However, they haven’t been performing at the top of their game in recent games. I can’t really fault Messi’s contribution to the season. The Argentinian has already scored 49 goals this season and the records just keep stacking up.
Barcelona does have a slight dependency on Messi at the moment though. When Messi is shut out, which is very rare, the team tend to struggle just as they did against AC Milan in the first leg defeat.
The message at the moment for teams playing Barcelona is stop Messi and you stop Barcelona.
However, Spanish internationals Iniesta and Xavi have fallen well short of their previously set high standards and it’s noticeable in the teams’ performances.
Xavi hasn’t had the same impact on games this season as he has in seasons gone by. Despite not being at his best Xavi has still managed to be a steady influence in midfield, but hasn’t produced his best form this season.
Iniesta has had a similar sort of season, where he hasn’t been at the top of his game. The pair have won every trophy there is to win in football and you have to wonder if they still have the hunger to give their all and play at the top their game.
No matter how good the players are a good team always has to have a good manager to give them instructions. Barcelona lost Pep Guardiola last summer and replaced him with Guardiola’s assistant Tito Vilanova, who had been doing a superb job until he was diagnosed for the second time with parotid gland cancer in December.
Since then the Barca boss has been recovering from surgery and treatment. His presence has been sorely missed. His assistant Jordi Roura took the reins of the team, but obviously doesn’t have the same influence on the team.
Even the likes of Xavi, Iniesta and Messi need managing at times. Without that management performance levels can dip and they have.
Barcelona have been in a similar sort of situation to which they now find themselves in a few times in recent seasons, most notably against Inter in 2010 when Barca were two goals down from the first leg. The Blaugrana could only manage a one goal victory at the Nou camp against ten men Inter and went out of the competition.
Last season they went out at the semi-final stage when Chelsea brought a one goal lead to the Nou Camp and then proceeded to draw with the Catalan giants 2-2 on their own patch, against ten-men yet again after Chelsea skipper John Terry was sent-off.
The omens from those failures don’t really bode well for the team from Catalonia, but they must find a performance from somewhere if they are to progress in the competition.
In recent games Barcelona haven’t looked like the team that have been heralded as the one of the best teams ever. They have looked off the pace and lacked the sharpness of seasons gone by.
This season almost has the feeling of the beginning of the end of the great Barcelona side so heavily lorded in recent years. If Barcelona are to change that feeling then they have to turn this tie around and progress into the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
Can Barcelona progress to the quarter-finals of the Champions League?