Messi needs help and five things Barcelona must do following Roman collapse

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A look at where it all went wrong for Ernesto Valverde's side in the Italian capital and how the problems can be addressed to avoid a repeat next term

Barcelona have been here before. Tuesday night's Champions League loss and European exit at Roma may have come as a huge shock, but it is also the latest in a series of disappointments for the Catalan club in the continental competition in recent seasons.

Since winning the treble under Luis Enrique in 2014-15, Barca have been knocked out three times in a row at the quarter-final stage and this latest defeat opened up some old wounds for the Blaugrana.

Battered and beaten by a rampant Roma side at the Stadio Olimpico, Ernesto Valverde's team can have few complaints. Tuesday's 3-0 loss saw the two teams draw 4-4 on aggregate, with the Italians progressing on away goals.

But there can be little doubt that, over the two legs, the better side went through. So after a season in which Barca had gone unbeaten in La Liga and the Champions League up until Tuesday, what went wrong for the Catalan club? And how can they make sure something similar does not happen again in a year's time? 


1. Back-up for Busquets and a better bench


If Sergio Busquets is missing or not right, Barcelona are never the same side. The Spain midfielder brings balance to the Blaugrana and adds defensive stability as well. And although he played 85 minutes in Rome, he did so with the aid of a reinforced boot following a troublesome toe injury.

Busquets is one player – along with Lionel Messi – for whom Barca do not really have a back-up and such reliance upon him can take its toll. The 29-year-old rarely rests and that may be why he picked up his recent injury in the first place.

In the summer transfer market, Barca need to identify a player who can cover for the Catalan. Sevilla's Steven N'Zonzi is an option the club have considered in the past and he is the kind of quality back-up who could share some of the load with the World Cup-winning midfielder.

Barca could also do with a stronger squad in general. Two of the players who came on in Rome, Paco Alcacer and Andre Gomes, are probably not of the required standard for the Blaugrana, while Paulinho has faded after a promising start to the season and was not even used by Valverde at the Stadio Olimpico. Better back-up options are required at this level.

Federico Fazio Sergio Busquets Barcelona Roma Champions League


2. Help for Messi


Messi did not have his best game on Tuesday night, but the Argentine attacker cannot do everything by himself. He has lifted this team above mediocrity on so many occasions, dragging Barca to the brink of the title and to the final of the Copa del Rey. But in Europe, it is not enough.

In his first meeting with Valverde last summer, Messi told the incoming Barca boss: "I need a team around me." On Tuesday night, however, the collective effort fell short and the 30-year-old cut a frustrated figure as he was starved of service and also the ball.

The brilliance of the five-time Ballon d'Or winner may be enough in domestic competitions, but against the top teams and coaches in Europe, it is not, and that has shown in exits against Atletico Madrid (twice), Juventus and now Roma, as well as in last season's 4-0 loss to Paris Saint-Germain.

Lionel Messi Barcelona Roma Champions League

If Messi can be stopped, so too can Barcelona and following Neymar's summer switch to PSG, the Blaugrana are still searching for the right way to end their dependence on the Argentine attacker.

The 4-4-2 system may have made the team more compact, but it has also brought fewer goals in Europe (17 in 10 games), with just six for Messi, only one for Luis Suarez and an incredible five own goals for.

At this level, a better attacking plan is needed, while Valverde baffled Barca fans by leaving summer signing Ousmane Dembele out of the line-up in both games against Roma and only bringing on the France forward for the last five minutes on Tuesday.


3. Smarter rotation and squad management


Winning La Liga and the Copa del Rey is great, but a domestic double will quickly lose its sparkle for Barcelona if fierce rivals Real Madrid go on to claim the Champions League for a third season in a row.

Zinedine Zidane's side were desperately disappointing in the first half of the Primera Division campaign and suffered an embarrassing cup exit at the hands of Leganes, yet they have clearly mastered the art of peaking at the right time in the continental competition.

While Barca have expended a lot of energy with a smaller squad in advancing in the Copa and picking virtually the same side every week in La Liga, Madrid are now primed for another assault on the coveted European trophy.

Philippe Coutinho Andres Iniesta Barcelona

With La Liga wrapped up some time ago, Valverde could have used some of his fringe players in La Liga, because many of the starters now look worn out when it matters most – just as they did against Atletico in their exit two seasons ago.

Did an ageing Iniesta really need to start as many games as he has this term? Why was an injured Gerard Pique allowed to play for Spain in the recent international break? Why has Philippe Coutinho not started every game in La Liga when he is cup-tied for the Champions League? Should Rafinha, Gerard Deulofeu, Javier Mascherano and Arda Turan have all been allowed to leave in January?

Fatigue is one of the reasons for Barca's Champions League exit and while it is clear that the Blaugrana need a stronger squad, Valverde should also have used his hand more intelligently to ensure his players were not this tired at the business end of the season.


4. Time to toughen up


Barcelona were battered and bullied by a Roma side that pressed high on Tuesday night, pushing the Blaugrana back and triumphing in a physical battle at the Stadio Olimpico.

Even now, there is still the feeling that this Blaugrana side can be intimidated by stronger, taller and more powerful rivals and in Europe that has happened a number of times now in recent seasons.

Still one of the smallest sides in Europe in terms of average height, Barca looked second best up against a hungry Roma team on Tuesday and in a game that was always likely to be intense, Paulinho could have provided more of a physical presence in midfield.

Edin Dzeko Gerard Piqué Roma Barcelona UEFA Champions League 04102018

Roughed up by Atletico twice, Juventus and also PSG in years gone by, Barca should have been better prepared for the physical battle they were to face in Rome on Tuesday night. But they were not.

Valverde, in theory, has made Barca harder to beat, yet there was still a soft centre in evidence on Tuesday and in these ultra-competitive knockout games, this team has to toughen up for a fight. 


5. Valverde must be less conservative


The Barca boss is still somewhat untested at the very highest level and if he is to stay at Camp Nou beyond this summer, he too must learn lessons from the disappointing defeat in Rome.

While the 54-year-old has made the Blaugrana an effective side in La Liga, some of the performances in Europe have left a lot to be desired, especially away from home.

Barca beat Sporting CP 1-0 in the group stages, before goalless games away to Olympiacos and Juventus. An uninspiring 1-1 draw at Chelsea followed in the last 16 and then the 3-0 loss in Rome.

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Ernesto Valverde Barcelona

Valverde was criticised at previous club Athletic for his poor record on the road and at Barca, more is expected, and that includes a bolder tactical approach to get the best out of Messi and Suarez, as well as more proactive team selections and positive substitutions.

This is Barcelona, not Bilbao, and Valverde needs to take a step up to match the expectations of his current club.

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