Content Editor at Free Super Tips, Alex was born in the shadow of Old Trafford and is an avid Man Utd fan. After graduating from university he combined his love of football, writing and betting to join FST and now closely follows goings-on in all of the top European leagues.
The Champions League returns this week and many of the giants of European football have a bit of a point to prove. None more-so than Barcelona, who head to London in poor form for this Wednesday’s clash with Tottenham at Wembley. Ernesto Valverde’s men are still top of La Liga so nobody will be pressing the panic button just yet but their longest winless streak in the Spanish top flight for almost two years has certainly been enough to see a fair amount of criticism heading in their direction, much of which has come from their own supporters.
Needless to say a big week lies ahead for Barcelona who have two difficult away games heading into the international break. Failure to win at least one of them would raise fresh doubts in a week when new skipper Leo Messi has publicly stated that improvement is needed from the Blaugranes.
Boos at Camp Nou – Barca’s nightmare week in La Liga
HT: Barcelona 0-1 Athletic Bilbao.
A poor first half with a lack of creativity and chances. pic.twitter.com/2Z073ydHFY
— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) September 29, 2018
While Barcelona won the title last season, losing only one match late in the campaign once they’d already wrapped things up, they rarely played the sort of brilliant football that they’ve become known for over the past decade. Largely dependent on Messi for moments of inspiration, they laboured in many games but ultimately got the job done with a consistency that none of their rivals came close to matching.
While clearly another domestic double was cause to celebrate, critics of the style of play were always waiting in the wings, ready to make their voices heard should results start to tail off. That has happened over the past week with Barca going three league games without a win for the first time since late 2016. Attempts to rotate the team have continued to backfire and have been major factors in Barcelona’s ability to take just two points from games against Girona, Athletic Bilbao and Leganes. On paper none of those games should really have been a major test for the Spanish champions with two of them at home home and the other away to the side propping up the division.
Valverde was largely criticised last season for not rotating in La Liga with tiredness viewed as one factor in their dreadful Champions League exit at the Quarter-Final stage in Rome. He is clearly trying to give more players a rest this term but the back-up men aren’t delivering. Sergio Busquets and Messi were the latest players to be given a rest at the weekend but again Valverde was forced to bring his star players off the bench to salvage a point from the game with Athletic Bilbao, with Messi predictably the inspiration in their late fightback.
It wasn’t enough to stop the boos though, a pretty rare sound at Camp Nou over the past decade. In truth frustrations have been boiling for a while, not just with some of the performances but the club’s incompetence at board level. Many Barca fans remain angry at the failure to sign Antoine Griezmann while the club’s handling of the Catalan independence issue remains a major sticking point for some fans.
A Point to Prove away in Europe
The last Barcelona player other than Messi to score an away goal in Europe was Gerard Piqué back in September 2016. [brfootball] pic.twitter.com/TGV16EogLY
— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) October 2, 2018
After the week they’ve just had, Barcelona will almost be grateful to get on a plane and get away for a few days. However they will be starkly aware of the challenge that awaits them in London. The likes of Messi and Valverde have spoken about making the Champions League a major priority this season and the decision to rest the Argentine at the weekend was another indicator of that.
Barcelona are also very aware of just how bad their record is in away Champions League matches in recent years and they will be desperate to prove a point here. They’ve won just 1 of their last 7 on the road in the competition, scoring just twice in the process. At times against the elite sides, they’ve been completely overrun in midfield. Their struggles perhaps stem from a 3-1 defeat at Manchester City in 2016. Since then, they’ve lost 4-0 at PSG, 3-0 at Juventus and 3-0 at Roma as they inexplicably squandered a 4-1 1st Leg advantage to crash out of the competition last term.
This is their first opportunity this season to show they are no longer a soft touch away to tough European opponents. If they are going to genuinely succeed in their main season objective of winning the Champions League, they will need to show far more than they have done in recent seasons on their travels in this competition and they will certainly need to play better than they have done over the past 10 days in La Liga.
Read more – Champions League 2018/19 Guide
A decisive month ahead
🗓 | FC Barcelona’s fixtures for the month of October.
Tough month for Valverde and co. pic.twitter.com/Ran2jusye8
— Culé Source (@CuleSource) October 1, 2018
So far this season, Barcelona have had a fairly kind of schedule which is why they will certainly be disappointed not to be in a stronger position in La Liga, particularly with the Madrid clubs having dropped plenty of points too. They are yet to play a league game against any of last season’s top eight while even in the Champions League, their campaign kicked off with on paper their easiest fixture, a home game against PSV. However things are about to get a whole lot tougher with their five October matches, all genuinely challenging ones.
The most mouth-watering of months see Barcelona head from Wembley to the Mestalla where they will take on fellow Champions League participants Valencia on Sunday. Victory in at least one of those two matches will at least ease some of the pressure heading into the international break but things don’t get any easier when they return. The month does at least end with three home games but the opponents are in-form Sevilla, Inter Milan in the Champions League and then the big clasico clash with Real Madrid.
While it’s too early to be a season-defining month, by the end of it we should have a much clearer idea of what kind of season Barcelona are going to have. They need some of their big players to step up with the likes of Gerard Pique and Luis Suarez having unconvincing seasons so far. They will also certainly need their fringe players to start settling into this side a bit quicker although it’s doubtful many of them will see much action in the big upcoming games given how they’ve toiled in recent weeks against supposedly inferior opposition.
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