FC Barcelona, The Fox in a Wolf’s Den – An Alternative Match Report

AS Roma vs Barcelona played out like one of Aesop’s Fables. Barcelona, the wily fox stood philosophising triangles and combinations under the grapevine, while the wolf of AS Roma simply leapt at the chance.
FC Barcelona, The Fox in a Wolf's Den - An Alternative Match Report
Art by Debanjan Chowdhury.

At the confluence of disbelief and distorting reality, sits my career as an advertiser. Brutal honesty sometimes becomes an amazing way of keeping yourself sane – blurting out the first thing that comes to my mind. This amalgamation of what is oft perceived as rude behaviour lands me in trouble more often than not.

And in such an instance, my next statement will seem rude to my fellow Barcelona fan, but it will also speak a truth to them that they do not yet wish to accept.

FC Barcelona deserved to lose to AS Roma.

Fans of the Blaugrana will point to the trophy cabinet at the Nou Camp, the expensively and extensively well built playing squad and our lord and saviour Lionel Messi to say that statement is false.

But in between all the pizzaz and the trebles, the reality is that this Barcelona side is ageing, and not like a fine wine. Instead, this version of the Blaugrana ride the shoulders of Lionel Messi one too many times. Much like grapes must be trampled to get fine wine, so too did Barcelona get trampled by AS Roma last night to realise a stark reality – Messi can only do it for so long.

Yes, FC Barcelona are good enough in the league to remain unbeaten so far. Yes, they held a 3 goal advantage over a Roma outfit that is apparently punching above its weight. Yes, they then squandered that advantage to an AS Roma side that showed the desire, on the night, to show up and make a statement.

In advertising, there exists a pantheon of award-winning work that comes from something the ‘judges’ call ‘a human truth’. For any campaign to address this, it must make a tangible difference to humanity and contribute to the betterment of the race.

That pantheon is occupied solely by Lionel Messi at Barcelona. A giant presence on the field, his influence stretches to a near-religious diktat for the Blaugrana, conveyed through his left foot and the oohs and aahs of a watching crowd. Some would go so far as to suggest that this is the Barcelona truth, the equivalent to something that makes the tangible difference to a club that has sat proudly as among Europe’s Best for the last 10 years.

For a cule to process the way in which, for 90 minutes, the entire Barcelona team disappeared akin to the performance at this stage against Paris Saint Germain last year, was to try to process for an advertiser that a campaign about a statue in New York was bagging awards all over the world. It did not make sense.

Here is the unbeaten Barca, led by the pragmatic Ernesto Valverde – holding on for dear life at two goals down in the coliseum of Rome. Daniele De Rossi – a knight thrown from the terraces at Camp Nou not one week ago, stood tall and reclaimed his rightful stature as one of Italy’s finest midfielders. Standing against a certain victory for a roused AS Roma was Marc Andre Ter Stegen but even the simple, yet brilliant German could only resist an Italian onslaught for so long. A beautiful, heart-stopping save at his near post made him a hero for all of a couple of minutes. Over the years I have shaken with anxiety when Barca’s forwards are tasked with defending. Suarez misses a header, Manolas, chastised in Spain, rises like a proverbial bull and heads in at the far post. 3-0 to Roma. Goodbye Treble for FC Barcelona.

Watching this is like sitting through a gruelling 23 hour day as an advertiser where you start out confident in yourself and end up with a frown on the face not knowing your head from your arse.

In all this action, the man tasked with making a difference in a crunch campaign is called a creative director. As the deadline approaches his broad shoulders and his ability to conjure magic appears to be the only respite. But, when that creative director disappears, so too does all hope of going home and calling it a job well done.

Barcelona are still depending on most of their old guard to see them through. At some point, it was bound to hurt.
Barcelona are still depending on most of their old guard to see them through. At some point, it was bound to hurt.

Lionel Messi was the latter kind of Creative Director last night against AS Roma. And while the blame does not and cannot lie at the feet of one man alone, his absence makes the most marked difference for a Barcelona team that is mid-table at best without him.

At the Stadio Olimpico, FC Barcelona set out to hold onto their three-goal advantage and let AS Roma run at the defence with alarming regularity. Looking on as a spectator for the last decade, Barcelona tracking back and holding onto a lead has been a nightmare – not far from getting rick-rolled on a video with pornography on YouTube. You know what is coming, you hope this time it will be different but it never is.

This Barca team may be solid at the back, especially since the arrival of Ernesto Valverde, but they are not an infallible defensive unit. Overall, Samuel Umtiti showed that even though he is highly regarded, there is a long way to go still. Gerard Pique made a foul that gave Roma hope and a penalty and subsequently got them to 2-0 on the night and 4-3 on aggregate. As the ball was whipped across the area for Kostas Manolas to head home, the far post cried in despair for it was not afforded protection by Jordi Alba or Sergi Roberto. Both the diminutive players are astounding bombarding forwards and linking up, but they will always lack the grit to shove opposition players and ruffle feathers when defending set-pieces.

Ahead of them, Busquets played with a reinforced boot. Why Paulinho did not take his place as a defensive midfielder, only Ernesto Valverde can answer. Why he insisted on playing through the pain barrier on an important night was even more gobsmacking. Perhaps the entire FC Barcelona squad assumed that AS Roma were history. Well, they thought wrong.

Like a wolf stalking its prey in its den, AS Roma waited at the Olimpico with bated breath. Slowly sizing up their opponent, Roma went for the jugular as Barcelona flailed and fell over and let in three goals to a team that showcased a feral hunger to win.

FC Barcelona, like the proverbial fox who wanted grapes, just stood there, philosophising triangles that went nowhere. With Iniesta on the pitch, they looked likely to grab an away goal. At age 34, Iniesta is the Chief Strategy Officer to Messi’s Creative Director – the man bringing reason and tempo to the madness and magic. Without him on the field, the wily Barca never stood a chance.

And hence, I return to my earlier statement – FC Barcelona deserved to lose to AS Roma.

But don’t believe me for even a second, for I am an advertiser, standing here in disbelief and in a distorted reality where FC Barcelona did not make it to the Champions League semi-finals.

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Taronish Elavia

Supports FC Barcelona, sells lies in the form of advertising. Occasionally writes poetry, always makes people smile.