Have Barcelona lost their 'X-factor'?

Bayern Munich’s emphatic 4-0 victory over Barcelona in Tuesday evening’s Champions League semi-final first leg left commentators and analysts alike scratching their heads.

Were Barcelona that bad? Or were Bayern Munich just that good? Has ‘tikki-takka’ football run its course? And can Barcelona come back from such a huge deficit? Questions, questions, questions.

ITV pundit Roy Kane’s answer was that Barcelona have lost their ‘X-factor’ – no, not the reality show competition invented by Simon Cowell but rather their verve, their tenacity, and, crucially, their dominance over European football.

Firstly, yes Barcelona were poor on the night – Lionel Messi had been a doubt and perhaps should have sat that game out. The Ballon d’Or winner and undoubtedly best football player on the planet simply didn’t look sharp and wasn’t himself. Not even close.

Barcelona’s over-reliance on the Argentine was subsequently abundantly clear – any possession they had was tepid and any remote attacking phase of play lacked imagination and intensity in the absence of a fully fit Lionel Messi.

Their usual midfield nucleus Xavi was ineffectual for long periods in the game and Andres Iniesta was kept quiet and often isolated in wide areas where he is much less dangerous.

Defensively, Barcelona were woeful – even Arsenal were more organized and disciplined against Bayern, in both their games, and that’s saying something.

Gerard Pique looked perpetually nervous, Sergio Busquests looked forlorn at his inability to protect the back line, Victor Valdes embarrassed and exposed, Jordi Alba nervous and even the Catalans’ best player on the night Dani Alves was a figure cut of frustration.

Yes, in a word, Barcelona were poor but Bayern Munich were also very very good. They gave the best team performance of the competition so far, in my opinion. They were organized, dominant, and self-assured at the back – watertight and pre-emptive – so much so that Barcelona barely even had a chance in the first half.

Across the whole team Bayern were communicative, disciplined and focused – it took 11 men playing with consistent and high-level concentration. They pressed Barca so high up the pitch even Valdes was hassled and hurried.

In attack they were simply sublime – Thomas Muller was the best player on the pitch by miles, Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery were penetrative and always looked dangerous and Dante was imposing on each and every set piece.

Barca were very lucky to have not conceded more and Bayern had two or three decent penalty shouts dismissed. Barca were clumsy and lacked focus and directness, which, ordinarily, is the key to their success.

This one result by no means spells the end of Barcelona, nor does it spell the end of tikka-takka football as a style and strategy. Whilst a 4-0 deficit (without an away goal advantage) is certainly going to be difficult to overturn and very improbable, it is not impossible – not for any team and, as we all know, Barcelona are not just any team.

Barcelona have not lost their ‘X-factor’ – they had a very poor game; one which they will be out to redeem themselves from in the return leg at the Camp Nou and, who knows, with their Catalan army behind them, anything is possible. It's also important to remember what Barcelona's 'X-factor' is - it's no mystery, it's Lionel Messi.

image: © mariosp

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