The hype for the upcoming Barça vs Bayern clash refuses to die down. Several provocative statements have been made in just the past two days. With Barcelona being unanimously labelled the underdogs, could it actually work in their favor?
Underdogs. A term used to describe a side that is thought to have little to no chance of winning a contest. Certainly, not a term one would associate with a European giant like Barça. Heading into Friday night’s clash against Bayern Munich, however, it seems to be accepted that Barcelona are the underdogs. Football pundits across the globe, fans of both sides, and various influential figures of the German club, seem to have overlooked the blaugranas alike.
“Obviously Barcelona have the quality to play at their best in this game. But I believe Bayern would have to make a lot of bad mistakes to lose to this Barcelona team”
ahead of Friday’s clash
It might not be wrong to consider Barcelona’s chances as minimal. The team have brought it upon themselves. The play has looked disjointed throughout the season. Nobody has stepped up to grab responsibility other than Lionel Messi. The team has run on individual excellence and rarely, if ever, on teamwork. The side Barça face, however, is one of the most cohesive sides in Europe. A team with a resilient defence and a dynamic attack. With Robert Lewandowski having a career-best season, things just get more complicated.
Is it so bad for Barcelona to be underdogs?
Heading into a decisive clash expectation-free might just about be the best thing that could happen for Barcelona. The whole world has seen the club go down meekly against Roma and Liverpool despite being in the driving seat. Heading into both games as firm favourites, the players crumbled under the pressure. They struggled to hold on to the ball and made loose passes. The full-backs caved in, the defence panicked, and even the goalkeeper did not hold up. That is what pressure can do, even to the professionals. It is a factor that can make even the most confident players doubt themselves.
Renowned Bayern figures have been disregarding Barcelona’s quality | Photo by Matthias Hangst / Bongarts via Getty Images
Whilst Barça struggle to perform when the nerves get to them, things look different for the forthcoming clash. Losing the match might not be considered a disappointment for the Catalans, because it is something that many expect. The betting odds for a Spanish victory stand as long as +3.40, as opposed to the +1.95 given to Bayern Munich. The pressure off their shoulders might just be a whiff of fresh air.
On the other hand, the UEFA Champions League is no stranger to upsets. Theoretically, every game commences with a frontrunner. Nevertheless, we have seen even the most impossible victories time and time again. For instance, both the semi-finals last term saw massive upsets.
What can one expect on Friday night?
Bayern Munich have already secured the domestic double and have set their eyes on the treble to round the season off. The entire world expects them to cruise past a dysfunctional and erratic Barcelona. The title of favourite may provide a lot of pride and a feeling of prestige. Still, with great power comes great responsibility; and with great responsibility comes great pressure.
The Germans will have to be on a relentless attack from the initial minute. Anything less than a win counts as a failure for them. The pressure to score the opener might just bring about a couple of lapses in defence. They will commit more men in attack under the pressure, and that might be a massive bonus for Barça. The culés have struggled to break down low blocks under Quique Setién.
“Messi faces his successor, Lewandowski. He’s the best player, not just the best forward”
Nonetheless, they primarily come up against teams with a low block because they hold the favourites tag. Here, there will be a role reversal. The Bavarians will be compelled to field a very high defensive line, and things could be very tricky for them on Friday if Setien goes for an unorthodox line-up. Introducing Ansu Fati, Ousmane Dembéle and Riqui Puig could jeopardise the favourites. Even so, it is not just the youth that benefits here.
“Neuer is a world-class goalkeeper and Ter Stegen is still on his way”
The disregarding comments by numerous influential personalities of the Bundesliga giants have certainly not gone down well with the dressing room. Having been eased off the burden of expectation, one would expect the core of the Catalan team to come out roaring. The world has witnessed how the likes of Lionel Messi and Marc-André ter Stegen prefer to let their performance do the talking. It no longer a question of form, it is now a question of pride.
There is little ambiguity in the fact that Bayern have all the firepower they require to come up trumps. With a well-rounded squad and the right mindset, they validate the frontrunner tag attached to them. Notwithstanding, writing off Barcelona is never the right way to go. The provocative comments just add some much-needed fuel into Quique Setién’s tank. It will not be as straightforward an affair as it seems.
The psychology at Barcelona: A leaf out of Jurgen Klopp’s book
Guest Contributor: Darren Looney
“When I came here, the size of the club was a burden. Now it’s our safety net, it’s our trampoline, it’s our home, it’s our basis, it’s everything to us. Now we are Liverpool before the club was Liverpool and we were just the guys who were trying to be good enough”.
In Melissa Reddy’s book ‘Believe Us’, Jurgen Klopp, the man who led Liverpool to become champions of England, Europe and the world, details how a change in psychology from having the clubs past success being used as a noose around their necks to becoming fully confident individuals, helped the club end their 30-year wait for a league title.
FC Barcelona has a noose of its own hanging over the Camp Nou at present. It has been placed there by former president Josep Maria Bartomeu, having left the club in a state that is unable to match the success seen over the last two decades.
The incoming president and manager will be the ones left to cut it free, and with limited economic resources to do this, a change in the mindsets of the lads could play a part in helping the club get the most out of what they already have.
Barcelona’s current state
The Josep Maria Bartomeu’s presidency oversaw a circus rather than a football club. In this timeframe, Barcelona lost the respect of its fellow European giants through humiliating performances in the Champions League, selling Neymar Jr. to Paris Saint Germain, poor recruitment, and a squad constantly breaking under pressure.
Players such as Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Gerard Pique, Clement Lenglet, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, Lionel Messi, and Ousmane Dembele, of those that started in the latest Champions League match, have all been through the most of these embarrassing moments, which has no doubt left some trauma.
Others in the squad have laid witness to Bartomeu disregarding the club’s motto ‘MÉS QUE UN CLUB’ with his handling of club legends Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi’s transfer situations in the summer. That could not have inspired the non-senior members of the squad with any confidence.
Adding to that, players like Ousmane Dembele, Philippe Coutinho, Junior Firpo, and Antoine Griezmann have had their names constantly attached to rumoured player plus cash deals, such as the Neymar offers, which can lead to them questioning if they are good enough. This is the sort of psychology you do not want around a club trying to compete.
When asked about whether a sports psychologist would benefit FC Barcelona back in December, Barça manager Ronald Koeman stated, “I don’t believe in psychologists and mental [issues]. If you play for Barca, pressure exists, you know that, and you have to overcome it”.
This answer shows the Dutchman’s ignorance of the importance of a player’s psychological state. Additionally, it also shows arrogance about the club and the stress that comes binding with it. Ignorance that is evident in the pictures of Lenglet, as he left the Camp Nou after Sunday’s match in tears, most likely due to a lack of support. The kind of lack of support that eventually leads to careers dissolving.
In the same press conference, Koeman stated that “this team has enough personality and experience” to get through bad moments. This “experience” is also susceptible to being psychologically overwhelmed, the dressing room at halftime at Anfield is evidence of this.
Whether it is Koeman or the next president’s manager, one will have to get a hold of this problem. Luckily for them, the blueprint of how much power the manager can have over this can be seen in the place Jordi Alba shed his tears.
The Jurgen Klopp effect
When Jurgen Klopp arrived in Liverpool, one of the first things he addressed was a change in psychology from the supporters. He wanted the fans to believe in the process, and in his first press conference, he enforced this by saying, “we need to feel the confidence and trust of the people”.
In ‘Believe Us’, Klopp speaks about the psychological state he found the players in when he first arrived. He claims that “The players were obviously listening to all the voices saying they are not good enough for the club or that I can’t wait to get rid of them.” A situation some Barca players find themselves in now, as mentioned earlier.
One of the German’s first instructions was for the players to pay no attention to comments outside of him and his coaching staff, a message that took longer than expected to resonate, as the team collapsed in the title race halfway through the next season.
Klopp explains that the collapse was down to the players not complying with this request. The German explained how the players were focused on people saying, “they don’t have a plan B for deep-defending sides, they can only play one way”. A criticism that Cúlers this season know too well.
Klopp emphasises the importance a strong mentality within games had on the Red’s fortunes and claims new players alone would not have been enough. This is a note worth taking for those looking at Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe to change Barcelona’s fortunes.
It took Klopp years to convince some players that they were good enough to play for a club as big as Liverpool. New players added to the quality of the squad but that psychological attitude to keep going for the full 90 minutes, no matter the score, is what led the club to their recent success. This was visible countless times over last season as well, as Pool continued to take hits at teams till the last minute till they eventually broke. Barcelona, too, have been on the receiving end of their incredible mentality.
Koeman might be right in that the players do not need a sports psychologist. However, Lenglet’s incident exhibits that the psychological state of his players is something that he must take control of and not ignore.
Next season has the potential to be an important one for Barcelona’s near future. With a new president at the helm and a potential new manager. The Catalan side needs to banish the psychological doubts leftover by Bartomeu’s reign and move forward as one unit.
The fans and players need to get behind the project put in place, as Jurgen Klopp puts it “when you agree on a common idea and work towards it together, you can create something special”.