The President speaks of “great hope and great anticipation”. That always sounds good, of course. In the case of Josep Maria Bartomeu and FC Barcelona before the restart of the Champions League, one should not suspect a position of strength behind these words. More like a whistle in the forest.
Before Bayern may wait in the quarter-finals, Barça can only lose in the second leg of the second leg in the evening against SSC Napoli (9 p.m.; stream: DAZN; live ticker SPIEGEL.de; first leg 1: 1). The ailing president his last chance at a halfway glorious place in the club’s history, the coach Quique Setién the supposed to stay in the supposed dream job, the team the befitting end of a great era.
Do the highly decorated heroes around Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez, Gerard Piqué or Sergio Busquets get together again for a common epic?
For the first time in years, Barça sees itself as an outsider
“Anything can happen in a compact format,” says Vice-Captain Busquets. If they survive Naples, the mode at the final tournament in Lisbon will suit them: they are convinced of that in Barcelona. After traumatic away defeats (0: 3 in Turin 2017, 0: 3 in Rome 2018, 0: 4 in Liverpool 2019) they would be spared the inferno of hostile stadiums. In addition, rounds over just one match protect the physique of the old masters and give outsiders better chances. Yes, outsiders: Barça sees itself as such, for the first time in many seasons, but not just since yesterday. As early as February, captain Messi said: “At the moment it’s not enough for us to win the Champions League.”
When the championship was lost after the penultimate league game against Osasuna, he defeatistically recalled his own words: “It has now been shown that it is not even enough for the league”. Somebody must have made it clear to him afterwards that sarcasm was not a leadership quality, because after the last game, a 5-0 win at Alavés, the otherwise taciturn Argentine reported again: “We internally criticized ourselves and took a step forward in terms of attitude and commitment done. ”
A discussion between Messi and coach Setién caused white smoke to rise, the 5-0 flanked the new optimism of purpose. However, it must be mentioned that Alavés was the team with the second fewest points after the Corona break. Just like now to stories of “very good training units” (Setién) the hint that it was already said before the league restart. But then there were several games in which Barça looked vulnerable at the back and hardly created any chances. Until Alavés, Messi himself had only met four times in ten games.
There is a lack of pace in the attack – in principle this has been the case since Neymar’s departure, because Ousmane Dembélé, who was intended as a substitute, never really picked up speed in the rare appearances between his many injury breaks. After eight months of ailment, he was training again this week. For the squad against Naples it was not enough. Setién has only 13 professionals who are registered as first-team players.
As a bad omen, mistakes in squad planning and personnel management culminate just at the fate match. In central defense, for example, bulletins about the health of a troubled Ronald Araújo suddenly gained increased news value. The second-team defender is the only alternative to the regular Piqué and Clément Lenglet. The notoriously injury-prone Samuel Umtiti is malad, back-up Jean-Claire Todibo was loaned to Schalke.
Nobody can help out from midfield: the situation there is even more tense. As we know since the first leg at the end of February, Busquets are missing and Arturo Vidal is suspended. Nevertheless, no one managed to keep the Brazilian Arthur Melo in line. The ball distributor, hailed not so long ago as the new Xavi, was transferred to Juventus against its original will because the income was needed to balance the business balance. However, it was agreed that he and Miralem Pjanic, who was moving to Catalonia in return, should end the season at their previous clubs. Finally Arthur was seen yawning in the stands. He did not come to the first corona test after the league ended.
Suddenly Riqui Puig becomes a bearer of hope
The club have opened disciplinary proceedings, but that doesn’t change the fact that there are now only four options in midfield against Napoli. Frenkie de Jong, who last started eleven games ago due to a muscle injury. Ivan Rakitic, whom the club has already pushed to the exit door several times. Sergi Roberto, who has to alternate with Nelson Semedo as the right full-back. And Riqui Puig, promoted by the second team.
Riqui, 20, symbolizes hope at the low point of the midfield that was once so identity-shaping for Barça. With his playing style and a height of 1.69 meters, he is reminiscent of in-house legends such as Xavi or Iniesta. However, he also has to deal with resistance similar to that at the beginning of their careers.
Probably the most beautiful eulogy that a coach has ever given him does not come from his opponent for nothing: Naples Gennaro Gattuso praised him as a “spectacle” after a friendly against Barça in the summer of 2018, when he was still coach of AC Milan. “Boys like him border on poetry.” But until recently, Riqui was ignored in-house. The boy from the hinterland of Barcelona could be further if he had not only been used more regularly in the emergency situation of the past few weeks. He has not yet played a minute in the Champions League.
Nevertheless, according to surveys, 90 percent of fans want to see him in the starting XI today. People now trust the debutant more than the old man.