Pep Guardiola's Barcelona are a spent force!

When all the dust has settled on Tuesday night's Champions League match and all the soundbites of Gary Neville's post goal prolapse have migrated from YouTube clip, to dance remix, to hideous ringtone specifically for those people who spend every other night with their daft cars in a McDonald's car park, we're going to have a few tough questions to answer.

I say we, I mean Pep Guardiola. In what was, until Tuesday night, probably considered to be directly in defiance of several laws of football, physics, and good sense, a team fielding merely mortal men, chemically no different to you or I, succeeded in fending off wave upon wave of blue and maroony red.

More impressive still, that they managed such a feat without 9.09% of their designated allowance of bodies. Although in reality, that particular fraction accounts for precisely 0% of their guile, craft, and overall moral fibre, so there's only a certain shade of red I'm willing to let my palms go in that applause.

Such a fist in the face of the footballing gods can't be allowed to pass without a long and drawn out investigation. A Leveson inquiry of sorts will no doubt ensue, but with considerably less focus on alleged hacking. Is this the end of an era for Barcelona? Is Fernando Torres back? Will their manager seek to change both tack and tactic? Have teams finally figured out how to counter Messi? Does this deride the argument that stable infrastructures always trump disruption? Can Chelsea go on and win it? Where does Pep get these jumpers?


Sort of, not yet, probably not, maybe, not really, no, Massimo Dutti on the Portal d'Angel. In that order. No need to thank me.


Now that I've saved us months of tedium and Henry Winter articles, we can focus on the real question that arose from that theatrical night in the Camp Nou: would Barcelona have won that game if they'd had a proper, good-old-fashioned, dominating, monster-truck-that-walks-like-a-man, ariel threat in their ranks? 

Here's some basic facts to consider about football. If you're defending deep, you become very compact; if you're trying to stop a team of tiny fleet-footed little scamps from playing through you, you become very narrow. Chelsea, attempting to do both, ended up set so tightly packed inside their own defensive line, that you could have kept all of them out of the rain with a single umbrella. A bit like that scene in 300, only with 290 less sweaty men. 

When confronted with this Rubik's cube of impermeable grit and last minute tackles, you are given almost unlimited time and space out on the flanks and it's there that you have to exploit. Get your best crossers on the touchline, and your biggest, angriest, flat-headed oaf in the 6 yard box, and swing. Everyone does it. Everyone, except Barcelona.

With Chelsea casually trotting out to close down a bemused looking glut of central midfielders (Iniesta, Xavi, Fabregas, Busquets, Mascherano, Keita and even Messi all classifiable as one) the ball invariably arrived at the feet of either Tello or Dani Alves, who would look more comfortable with a stranger's finger up their nose than they did with the idea of whipping a cross into a crowded penalty area. 

A shame too, as once Didier Drogba left the pitch, there was only Branislav Ivanović who you'd deeply wish to avoid going up against in a deadly game of “who can jump the highest”. 

Inter did it in 2010, now Chelsea have done it in 2012, pack the box, force them wide, pray they smack a penalty off the cross bar; it seems the Barca code has now been cracked. But imagine, if you will, a burly, bearded, baggy-eyed bruiser coming off the bench in just these occasions. Spanish cries of “ENTRAR EN EL MIXER!” bellowing from every fan; a wizard on the ball, alone, on the touchline, with enough space to plant his own vineyard and the time to do it twice, looks up and sees the protruding head of a Holt, a Crouch, a Carroll, dare I say it, even a Heskey, jutting out from a crowded penalty area. Finding this man's bonce, to him, child's play.

Whoosh... gasp... thud... ripple... roar.

Don't believe me? Then dig out the highlights and look at where Pep stuck Seydou Keita after he replaced Fabregas, Barcelona's only remotely physical option (Puyol's only 5'10”) stuck right on the toes of the goalie, but with nobody willing to supply him.

Somewhere, in a dark room in Stoke, Tony Pulis must have pulled his tracksuit bottoms up to his nipples, and smiled.