Barcelona has unquestionably been the top club in world football over the past few years, its domination so complete, their precision and skill unmatched and talent unquestionable.
In recent times however, the club's domination as far as European competitions are concerned has come into question especially with the recent defeat against AC Milan. The Catalans have an uphill task, yet no one would write them off for such is their attacking prowess.
The success of Barcelona has been mainly attributed to their extraordinary dribbling and passing skills, they retain most of the possession controlling the pace of the game and giving the opposition very little time on the ball.
A very slow secure build up play and a killer final through ball courtesy of pass masters Xavi and Andres Iniesta to Messi who does not need an invitation to score, has brought so much success.
Barcelona are by no means a one man team, yet the mesmerising Messi makes us forget the other 10 players around who are equally good in what they do. Teams like Manchester United have struggled to cope with this Barcelona outfit going down twice in the finals of the Champions league.
Jose Mourinho is one of the few to match them. He managed to lead Inter Milan to their Champions League title in 2010 after defeating Barcelona in the semifinals en route to the title. Inter Milan were somewhat evenly matched in talent to the rampaging Catalans.
However last season ten-men Chelsea demonstrated that Barcelona could be beaten in their own backyard, and all it needed was courage, grit and determination. They bit down and simply refused to give up, backing up into their own penalty box.
Barcelona tried to pass their way to victory without trying to deliver into the box a through ball that someone could get on the end of, and one catastrophic mistake ended up with Torres scoring the easiest goal of his career, knocking the defending champions out of the competition.
This season again, in the group stages this time, in what would be a famous victory for Celtic, the Scottish club managed to secure a miraculous 2-1 score line at Celtic Park despite having a measly 16% possession.
The latest 2-0 defeat against AC Milan has clearly demonstrated that they can be beaten and there are chinks in the armour that can be exploited. What these teams did differently and to great effect was to close down the attackers quickly, and choking the supply lines with telling effect. The defenders were solid and the midfielders held their positions up the field to intercept the buildup play even before it started, leaving the attackers free to capitalise on any lapses.
A concern this season for Barca has been the dependence on Messi to deliver with Pedro, Alexis Sanchez, and Cesc Fabregas contributing much less to the cause than last year. Messi alone has scored 46 % of Barcelona's La Liga goals and Vilanova's side over-rely upon the talismanic Argentine. This puts undue pressure on this superstar.
Barcelona have conceded at an average of 1.1 goals per game and they have managed to keep far less clean sheets, 11 in 35 games overall. In the absence of the Puyol-Pique partnership Barcelona have consistently struggled to do their defensive duties, depending on their front line fire power to see them through.
With teams keen to hold firm in defence, and aiming to score on the breakaway counter attack, a weak defensive line is the biggest headache that Barcelona has at this moment. They would probably do well to reconsider their defensive strategy which would probably be the focus next time they face Milan. For even a single goal conceded could make life really difficult - if not insurmountable.
Manchester United fans would be overjoyed if Barcelona were knocked out and would consider it a big boost to their treble hopes. AC Milan fans would remember the last time Barcelona and Real Madrid did not make it to the last-eight, they walked away with the trophy in 2007.
However nothing is set in stone and with Barcelona in the fray you are never sure because if anyone is capable of pulling off an upset it is the Catalans. It will be a whole new ball game at Camp Nou, yet the cracks in Barca's fortifications are clearly visible for everyone to see and it is up to Milan to strike and profit from these apparent weaknesses.
Only time will tell if this is a temporary slip-up due to regime change and the poor form of players, or a permanent and highly unlikely downward slide for the top dogs of Europe. At this point however it seems that the Barca reign as undisputed Kings of Europe is over.
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