“And the worst thing,” said El Mundo, “is that it was deserved.” The “disaster” – deserved. The “disgrace” – deserved. The “humiliation” – deserved. The “ridicule” – that too. All of it. Barcelona had deserved it all.
Roma’s Edin Dzeko, Daniele De Rossi, and Kostas Manolas had as well. All three had scored in the first leg, De Rossi and Manolas in their own goal, and now all three had scored in the second leg, the road leading to redemption and a historic result. The Greek stood, tears welling in his eyes while they went wild at the Stadio Olimpico.
As for Barcelona, they have not been back to the semi-final since they won the 2015 Champions League: for a third year in a row, they’ve been knocked out in the quarters. It wasn’t supposed to be this way, not this time. When the draw was made, Sport described it as a “sweetie”; before the second leg, 4-1 up, they announced that Barcelona could “touch the semi-final”. It slipped from their hands.
Before the game, Ernesto Valverde said his team had to ensure that “nothing extraordinary happens”, but it did. What happened, said Sport, was “a failure with no excuses”. Their cover is black, reserved for days of mourning. It was, the front page said, enough “to make you cry”. “Total failure,” Marca’s front called it. Well, “it”? They. Marca gleefully put Pep Guardiola alongside his former team. They were both out.
Everyone expected City to be, at least after Anfield; Barcelona were another matter. El Mundo Deportivo called it “the fall of Rome”, Marca called it the “fall of the Barcelona empire” and for AS in the eternal city they had suffered an “imperial failure”, sent falling to earth, in ruins now. Juan Cruz was calling it a “suicide”, in which the people out there were not Barcelona’s players but “ghosts”, and in which by the end they couldn’t cry because there were “no tears left”.
If anyone had been lucky, it was Barcelona in the first leg. “Losing is not always a failure, but losing like this is,” wrote Jose María Battle in El Mundo Deportivo. “A team like Barcelona can’t throw a lead like that in the rubbish bin.”
Even what lies before them feels like no consolation: 11 points clear at the top of the table and unbeaten, they play the Copa del Rey final next weekend. “This will affect us in the final,” Busquets admitted, sadly. “Hopefully it will not affect us for too long.”
Yet it will always be there, most agreed. “This is the biggest humiliation of their contemporary history, after a surreal display,” said El Mundo. “A humiliation that will be remembered for years,” wrote Lluis Mascaró in Sport. “A historic humiliation. Enormous. The kind that hurts. A lot. A hell of a lot.” In Marca, David Sánchez called it a “ridículo mundial”, a humiliation seen around the globe.
Ridículo was a word they were all using, but there were others: terrible, dreadful, inexplicable. Or perhaps – and this was the worst thing – not so inexplicable.
“This knockout revealed a drama that was there, [but] no one wanted to see it,” El Mundo said. “When you walk a tightrope, you can either fall into a safety net or crash onto the tiles. The latter happened.” El Mundo Deportivo pointed out that Barcelona’s players were “melted”; 24 games in 2018 had taken their toll, especially when they had not rotated, not even in the Copa del Rey. “Why do they treat the Cup like the Champions League and the Champions League like the Cup?” they asked.
Valverde said he was “entirely responsible” and fingers pointed his way. Sport highlighted “Valverde’s fear”, Sánchez talked of his “conservatism”, El Mundo noted that the coach had chosen “resistance over control”, and “they couldn’t resist: they didn’t deserve to, either”. They didn’t even compete. One cartoon shows a man in front is his television long after the game. His wife tells him to turn it off, but he replies: “I can’t, I’m waiting for Barcelona to come out on to the pitch.”
There was more than just this night, however poor it was. When it has come down to it, away from the Camp Nou, they have had little response of late. Last season they were beaten 4-0 in Paris and 3-0 in Turin. The year before that they were beaten 2-0 in Madrid, against Atlético. Now they have been beaten 3-0 in Rome. They were fortunate to draw 1-1 with Chelsea in London, too, remember. This season, they have kept winning, but they have not always convinced.
“Apart from Messi no one is untouchable after this,” said Fernando Polo, but this time some of the focus must fall on him too. It was noted that Barcelona don’t play to Messi’s strengths. It’s more than that: they play to their weaknesses, always giving him the ball in part because there is little else. And maybe that debilitates him, even as it showcases him. It becomes Messi against the world, and the world wins at times. If Messi’s not there, nor are Barcelona – and last night Messi was not there. “He was isolated, it’s true, but he was missed; he didn’t turn up,” wrote AS, giving him their “Vaya día” (what a bad day) award.
“This was a tragic night, a copy of previous debacles, as if nothing has been leant. It is too easy to just expect an extra-terrestrial to systematically solve the errors of human beings,” said Ernest Folch in Sport. “This should not be treated as a bad day, a one off: they have been playing very little football for a while now, making the most of defensive security and the trump card that is Messi,” said Marca. “The miracle worker was not their saviour this time,” wrote Mascaró. In seven years, supposedly the Messi-era, Barcelona will have won just one European Cup. And this time at least, there could be no complaints, and it was not just chance. “They’re out on merit,” wrote Sport, “their own merit.”