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Koke and 7-up: Barcelona must rethink their tiki-taka philosophy

By Kris Voakes | International Football Correspondent

For the first time since 2007, there will be no Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final draw. Their 1-0 defeat to Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon on Wednesday night will have startled many casual observers, but most will have felt a sense of déjà vu as the Catalans trudged from the field at full-time.

Atleti may have gained their first win in five attempts against them this season, but the manner of Barca’s elimination was nothing new. The Blaugrana didn’t just lose, they were well beaten.

Playing without the trio of Victor Valdes, Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique in a Champions League game for the first time since 2002, they were as ill-equipped defensively as they have been in a long time, and they were made to pay dearly.

MATCH FACTS | Atleti 1-0 Barca


Just as in the Supercopa de Espana in August, Diego Simeone’s side launched an athletic assault on the Spanish champions, put the pinch on Barca’s attacking unit and hit them successfully on the break.

It was Atletico Madrid 2014, but it could so easily have been Chelsea 2012 or Bayern Munich 2013.

The tide was relentless in the opening 20 minutes, and Tata Martino’s men all but gave up swimming against it. Adrian Lopez hit a stinging effort against the woodwork from which the Catalans never quite recovered, with Koke turning home the loose ball for what proved to be the winning goal. It didn’t stop there though.

David Villa twice struck the frame of the goal thereafter, while other chances came and went. The only question was whether Atletico would put the game beyond doubt long before Barca could catch their breath.

As it was, they had to spend the last three-quarters of the game hanging tightly onto their narrow lead, despite Gabi, Diego and Cristian Rodriguez all having great opportunities to finish the tie and when David Villa was pushed in the back by Javier Mascherano, Howard Webb should have awarded Atleti a penalty.

In the end, the Rojiblancos got the win they so richly deserved, and they did so by knocking Barca out of their stride from the opening moments. They had seen it done before in major European fixtures, and they had achieved it themselves before domestically. But this time they were able to create the perfect storm.

For Martino and his side there must now come the dawning realisation that this cannot keep happening to them. Once more, they have been outmuscled, outrun, out-enthused into a Champions League exit. But this year it may also cost them domestically.

Lionel Messi was nowhere to be seen, crowded out of effective territory by a magnificently-prepared opposition. It used to come as a surprise, but more coaches are cottoning on. Football changes, and if Barca don’t change with it then they could well be set for further disappointments such as this one.

"I don’t know if they deserved to win," Xavi told Canal+ after the game. "We had four or five clear chances and they took their only goal in the first 15 minutes. We deserved at least extra-time." But despite the bravado of the skipper, such straw-clutching will only result in the club continuing to go around in circles.

They are as lacking defensively now as they were 12 months ago when they were hammered by Bayern. They are as dependent on Messi as they were against Chelsea a year previous to that. They are as married to the idea of passing opponents to death as they have ever been, despite gathering evidence that that is not always the right way to play in the modern game.

Barcelona have allowed history to repeat itself and look no better equipped – no better prepared – to deal with the changing times than they were in 2012.

There is a school of thought around football that you learn more in defeat than in victory, but Barcelona are the proof that that is not always the case.

Times need to change at Camp Nou.

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