Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Pique: Anfield opened scars of Rome for Barcelona

SoccerNews in La Liga 24 May 2019

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Barcelona’s Anfield anguish had roots in the rubble of their Champions League collapse at Roma last season, according to Gerard Pique.

Long-serving defender Pique was unable to stem the tide as Liverpool ran roughshod over Ernesto Valverde’s side, winning the second leg of their semi-final 4-0 to overturn a 3-0 deficit from the initial encounter at Camp Nou.

It means that, as Liverpool prepare for next weekend’s final against Tottenham in Madrid, Barca’s season is shrouded in a sense of anti-climax despite them going for back-to-back doubles in Saturday’s Copa del Rey final against Valencia.

Valverde has been backed by the club to continue in his post despite similar quarter-final disappointment versus Roma last term, where a 4-1 first-leg lead was squandered in the Italian capital.

“When something like this happens, everything or almost everything has gone wrong,” Pique told El Pais.

“I think that on a mental level, some people were affected by what happened in Rome because we had it very recently.”

Divock Origi opened the scoring early on for Liverpool and the Belgium forward settled matters after a quickfire second-half double from substitute Georginio Wijnaldum.

“With the first goal, which was very fast, unconsciously you see the image of Rome. Then two more came very quickly and it looked too much like what happened a year ago. 

“Surely it was a mental block, but football was also missing. We missed everything. And they pressed very high, very intense, Anfield also played its role … we were not able [to deal with it]. 

“Sometimes it happens. It was a very hard day. It has been hard to get up emotionally because the days passed and you do not forget the defeat. 

“It is a fall that will last over time. But we must take a step forward.”

Netherlands midfielder Frenkie de Jong will be part of any step forward when he joins for €75million from Ajax ahead of next season.

Ajax captain and centre-back Matthijs de Ligt has also been linked with making the switch to Camp Nou and Pique believes the common footballing philosophy established by Johan Cruyff at each club remains significant.

“They are players who understand our football because we have drunk from the same source, which is Cruyff’s,” he said.

“I do not know what will happen, but De Ligt has many qualities because of how young he is. And De Jong has a lot of potential and future ahead of him.”

Valverde’s sometimes pragmatic approach to matches and an increasing reliance upon the mercurial Lionel Messi has led to accusations Barcelona have moved away from this Cruyffian vision – something Pique feels is wide of the mark.

“The fans and Catalans are very demanding and we like to do things perfectly,” he said. “It is no longer about winning but how you win. 

“In [Pep] Guardiola’s time we played the football that we have always liked and we all know. This debate will always be, whoever the coach is. 

“But I can assure you that it is the same style that Valverde wants to play. I am in the locker room and that is what he transmits to us. 

“But it not only depends on him but also on those who are on the field. Now we are pushed by many more rivals and it is more complicated.

“Before it was easy to use the goalkeeper [to build play from the back] and now it is almost impossible. You look at three against three up front and for that sometimes a long ball is good. 

“There are many nuances in football that we tend to centralise on the coach or a player when it is a sport of many variables.”

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