Barca’s fragility casts doubts on CL credentials; Chelsea face Ajax - GulfToday

Barca’s fragility casts doubts on CL credentials; Chelsea face Ajax


Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic (right) attends a training session with team-mates ahead of their Champions League match against Ajax in London on Monday. Reuters

They may be one of Europe’s most devastating teams at their best but another collapse in La Liga last weekend has shown Barcelona can be a soft touch.

Their 3-1 defeat by Levante on Saturday reopened old wounds from Anfield and Rome and suggests they have not learned from either of those collapses.

Levante scored three times in seven minutes after half-time exposing Barcelona’s inability to regroup during a spell of intense pressure -- a familiar weakness since coach Ernesto Valverde came to the helm in 2017.

Most clubs in Europe would gladly take winning two league titles and a Copa del Rey in that time but Barcelona are a team concerned with details, the small margins that could define a good season or a great one.

Barca play Slavia Prague on Tuesday in the Champions League, when victory at Camp Nou against Group F’s weakest team will ensure the frustration and failings from Levante swiftly fade.

But fragility persists that can be exposed by elite opponents when it matters most, as Roma and then Liverpool so emphatically proved in the last two Champions League campaigns, when three-goal first-leg leads were squandered by the Catalan giants.

Barcelona have shown they lack steel when they are uncomfortable, not least away from home, where their record under Valverde has been disappointing.

In Valverde’s three seasons, they have won only 25 out of 44 league matches on the road. By comparison, Manchester City have won 35 out of 44. In the Champions League Barca have only won five out of 13 away games.

“It is true we are not getting the same results away as we are at home but after the first few games we have managed to put together a good run,” Valverde said on Saturday.

“We have lost a match and that’s it, it’s true that we must analyse it but we know when we lose that criticism is strong. We always respond and this time it will not be different.”

Christian Pulisic had to be patient in the early months of his Chelsea career, but the United States captain and talisman now has the chance to make his mark on the Champions League after earning his place in a rapidly rising side.

Pulisic scored his fourth goal in two Premier League games to secure a 2-1 win at Watford on Saturday, a week on from becoming the youngest Chelsea player ever to score a hat-trick in a 4-2 victory at Burnley.

The fortnight that changed the course of the 21-year-old’s first season in England began in the Champions League against Ajax, when he came off the bench to set up Michy Batshuayi’s winner at the Johan Cruyff Arena and inflict a first defeat since May on the Dutch champions.

Prior to that Pulisic had been forced largely to wait on the sidelines at Chelsea since his switch to West London.

Ajax travel to Stamford Bridge on Tuesday seeking revenge, but for the first time this season Pulisic is set to start in Europe’s top club competition with his impact in recent weeks impossible for Frank Lampard to ignore any longer.

“If he continues doing that sort of thing then the goals will rack up,” said Lampard after Pulisic followed up his hat-trick with a predatory goal from close range at Watford. “His general performance was top as well.”

Pulisic was the one big money arrival. Chelsea anticipated both the 12-month ban on signing players and Hazard’s departure to Real Madrid by completing his signing for £58 million ($75 million) in January before being loaned back to Borussia Dortmund for the second half of last season.

Agence France-Presse

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