Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Mourinho, Barca and much pain in Spain

Last week, Real Madrid and Barcelona woke to severe but expected Champions League hangovers as neither side could overcome their first leg handicaps and in Barcelona's case the situation merely got worse and ended in utter humiliation. The ramifications for both clubs will be sizeable.

It would be premature to call this the end of an era for Barcelona, they do after all retain a wonderful group of players crowned by the best of them all, Lionel Messi. They are also about to be crowned champions of Spain yet again, a league that they have won at a canter. What has altered however is the perception of Barcelona, the awe and fear has gone, and woven in to their downfall are both Chelsea and Jose Mourinho.

It was Mourinho's Internazionale that first showed that Barcelona could be beaten by good organisation, deep depending and swift counter attack (and a little luck). Chelsea then produced one of the backs to the wall performances of all time over two legs last season to knock out Barca again.

Both Chelsea and Inter did so en route to winning the Champions League and in both instances leave Barca scratching their heads as to how they had been beaten. Since losing to Chelsea last year, Barca's CL form has been dreadful.

Clubs that played them at their own game (until Bayern in these past two legs) were invariably dispatched. For the first few El Classicos that Mourinho played against Barca he struggled to find a formula to beat them suffering a 5-0 humiliation in the process. Slowly however he gained a foothold and came to terms with them.

Teams have realised that through organisation, hard work and belief, Barcelona can be beaten. Both Celtic and AC Milan enjoyed triumphs over Barca this season and many argued that PSG were the better side over two legs against them. Barcelona's away record in the CL has been nothing short of awful.

The other problem that Barcelona have had is a recent lack of any cohesive tactics. Under Guardiola, they were a whirling dervish of a team, attacking from angles with runners coming from everywhere and all underpinned by slick breakneck speed one touch passing.

It did however start to go astray when they began to believe their own hype. Suddenly they didn't need proper defenders, nor did they need a proper centre forward. The 'false nine' became derigour, Javier Mascherano overnight became a central defender. Barca didn't need to conform to normal tactics as they simply had the ball and you didn't.

What however had previously been executed so impressively had become a shapeless mess. Against well organised teams and in Bayern's case, a well organised and highly talented one, Barca had no apparent strategy other than 'keep ball' and many have said over the years that they have no plan B.

Such a talented side could not possibly be called a one man team but without Messi, it is clear that Barca can struggle. The other problem has been Barca's transfer policy and the blame for that must sit with Guardiola.

Over the past couple of seasons, Barca's big signings have been Alexis Sanchez, Javier Mascherano, Cesc Fabregas and Alex Song. If everyone is fit, it is unlikely any of them would be starters. Barcelona only have one true centre forward, David Villa and have zero cover at centre back if Puyol and Pique are not fit.

They may have argued that they do not require traditional centre backs but the reality is that when their only two centre backs are both fit, they both play so they obviously do think they need centre backs. Barcelona have a wonderful squad but it is hopelessly unbalanced and they are guilty of many of the transfer mistakes that Arsene Wenger is so castigated for.

Barcelona are far from finished but the squad requires urgent attention and there must be question marks over whether the lieutenant is the right man to lead. Again, much or at least some of the reason for Guardiola's departure rests with Mourinho who systematically wore him down over the past two seasons.

Over in Madrid we are seeing a now familiar occurrence. That of Jose Mourinho engineering his own exit. His plan undoubtedly was to walk into the sunset having delivered 'number ten' to Real but that will not now be the case.

His post CL exit press conference was classic Mourinho, deflecting from what had been an abject failure by Real Madrid in the first leg in particular. Rather than talk about Real failing to dispatch what - given Real's level of investment and talent - should have been beatable opponents, the press conference centred on the Mourinho's need to feel loved and that 'lack of that love' for him in Spain.

It is that lack of love that Mourinho will spin as the reason for his departure and not that his now usual three year tenor has reached its' end. Given what has just happened to Barca, being the Real manager right now should not seem such a terrible job but Mourinho dances to his own tune and he now appears to be paving the way for his exit in the same way that he did at Chelsea and at Inter.

All signs seem to point to be to his returning to Chelsea where he has 'unfinished business'. The writer of this blog is an unashamed Chelsea and Mourinho fan and despite having huge misgivings about the whole thing would still love it to happen. It would however be a backward step for all concerned.

Mourinho is at home on the Kings Road but he is not a stayer and it has taken over five years to remove most of the ghosts from his previous reign. Davie Moyes would be the unromantic but better choice.

Since then, Mourinho has raised the stakes higher by taking a huge swipe at Iker Casillas in a press conference. That has had the effect of causing the hitherto unthinkable of having a Portuguese player - Pepe - turn around and stick up for Casillas in turn. The squad is most certainly against him, it's just now a case of sorting out his departure.

One thing is for sure, it promises to be a very busy Summer for Spain's big two - No Nonsense.