By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
It is occasionally argued Barcelona do not need a coach. So deeply ingrained is the Catalans' passing game, it is claimed, at any one time, each player knows exactly where his team-mates will be, where to play the ball and what to do next - like a kind of telepathic tiki-taka. It sounds good in theory, but Wednesday's damaging defeat at AC Milan proved that argument is simply not valid.
Barca looked lacking in motivation at San Siro; the Catalans had the ball but did little with it and barely shot at goal in the entire 90 minutes. The stars failed to shine, Lionel Messi was consumed by anonymity instead, team lethargy replaced the normal vibrant, energetic side. It was desperately disappointing, their poorest performance in recent memory - and the worst possible time to produce such a dire display.
This Barcelona side have had bad nights before, of course, including another in Milan back in 2010, when Pep Guardiola's team lost 3-1 to Jose Mourinho's Inter. That Italian side, however, was far superior to the current AC Milan team, and such results were the exception rather than the norm under the Catalan coach.
Guardiola has since moved on to take a sabbatical, making way for his assistant Tito Vilanova in the Camp Nou dugout, but the current coach is receiving treatment for cancer and is expected to be away from the team until at least the end of March.
In the meantime, the project may suffer. With Coach One and Coach Two in New York, it is left to a third man, Jordi Roura, to fill in, and the interim boss was unable to inspire or ignite his charges in Milan on Wednesday.
|TOUGH TESTS AWAIT FOR JORDI ROURA
|Sevilla (h)||La Liga||23/02|
|Real Madrid (h)||Copa del Rey||26/02|
|Real Madrid (a)||La Liga||2/03|
|AC Milan (h)||C. League||12/03|
Tactically, Tito too offered plenty of assistance to Guardiola in the big games. Barca miss Pep's motivation but, right now, they do not even have a full-time coach. Vilanova phones in instructions from New York, where his short breaks between treatment means he must rest and cannot return to Barcelona due to the long flights. But he is not there in person - and it showed on Wednesday.
Barca looked lacklustre, appeared content to play out a draw and ended up paying the price. Now, their hopes of winning the Champions League depend initially on turning around the tie at Camp Nou in mid-March. It may prove a step too far, even for this team - and especially given their lack of a true leader on the sidelines.
There are no such concerns in La Liga, where Barcelona's commanding lead over both Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid, plus the relative weakness of most of their rivals, means they are unlikely to be caught, but the Catalans' next three weeks may define the success of the current campaign.
After a Liga clash at home to Sevilla on Saturday, Barca host Real Madrid in the teams' Copa del Rey semi-final second leg match at Camp Nou, having drawn 1-1 in the first game. They then meet Madrid again in La Liga (and although this match is unlikely to have any bearing on the title race now, they will not want to lose a Clasico) before the return against AC Milan at home on March 12. Tito will be away for all of those games and, when he returns, he could find his team are left only with La Liga.
Barcelona have let it be known Roura is simply a stand-in and Tito remains the boss. That will not change. The club will give their coach as long as he needs to return to his role, yet there was concern at the nature of the side's surprise loss in Milan on Wednesday. The idea is now to close ranks behind the scenes and at Camp Nou confidence remains at the prospect of passing to the last eight of the Champions League - as well as the final of the Copa del Rey.
Tito's treatment comes first, yet Barcelona's players have admitted they have been hit hard by their coach's illness and, in Roura, they are now playing for their third trainer in less than nine months, It is far from an ideal situation. On pure talent, the Catalans should be beating all of their rivals, but against the top teams they are currently missing the tactical input and motivation of both Guardiola and Vilanova. The former will not be coming back in the foreseeable future, but the club must hope the latter is able to return sooner rather than later and, it will be hoped at Camp Nou when he does, it will be with the chance to lead the side to three titles this term instead of only one.
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