Fc Barcelona do not have history on their side when they take on Liverpool at Anfield this evening. The last time a team lost the first leg of a Champions league tie at home and subsequently went on to overturn the deficit in the away leg to proceed to the next round was Ajax in 1996. There have been fourteen occasions since then that a team, having lost the first leg at home, have gone on to be knocked out.
No team has ever successfully defended a Champions league title (in its current format) either.
Rafa Benitez has been eager to pile the pressure on Rijkaard’s men and the former Valencia coach reckons that the Catalans are ‘scared’ of facing Peter Crouch. H e probably has a point. There is no one quite like him in Spain and Barcelona are particularly susceptible in defence when it comes to an aerial attack.
“When we played against Betis, they couldn’t manage against Crouch because they aren’t used to it” said Benitez. Unfortunately, Barcelona aren’t used to it, nor are they very good at it.
The assorted scribes in Catalunya have been getting themselves into a collective spin over whether or not Rijkaard should deploy a 3-4-3 formation in place of his typical 4-3-3. The four man midfield surprised everyone a fortnight ago when Barcelona overturned a 1 goal deficit in the second leg of their Copa del Rey tie against Zaragoza. Many feel this is justification enough for a repeat this evening whilst others are clinging to the romantic associations the formation has with Cruyff’s ‘Dream Team’.
However, many feel that Rijkaard should stick to the winning formula and as Eric Bañeres has argued, the 4-3-3 was good enough last season for a side that was lauded as the best in the world and it should be enough to beat an ‘ordinary’ Liverpool. Furthermore, with three at the back, Barcelona will be vulnerable down the flanks and if they allow Liverpool to get into deep lying wide positions then they are inviting plenty of crosses into a vulnerable penalty area that Crouch will surely exploit.
It’s not a question of the formation but of the application.
If we see a Barcelona that plays with anywhere near the intensity of last season then the tie is certainly well within their grasp. However, if Barcelona play the way they have been of late, including against Sevilla on Saturday, then it won’t be Crouch that ends their European campaign but themselves; they are their own worst enemy at the moment.