Barca’s PR mess after defeat, praise for Allegri as Juve win Serie A

Alex Caparros/Getty Images

How about that for a boomerang? In the binary world of Spanish football, this was the sort of gaffe that does double damage. Right now, Barcelona should be sitting back and enjoying the fruits of a Double-winning campaign that saw them go undefeated in La Liga. Maybe send their old rival from the Bernabeu a few postcards ahead of Kiev, too, just to ratchet up the pressure.

Instead, they’re dealing with a PR disaster following the dramatic 5-4 defeat away to Levante (a team with nothing to play for) and, above all, the decision to “rest” Lionel Messi ahead of a friendly match in South Africa on Wednesday.

This is a situation where optics matter and from Barca’s perspective, they are frankly atrocious. To the world, it looks as if they threw away the chance to make history by agreeing to play a friendly match before the end of the season so that they could rake in some extra millions. But because it’s halfway around the globe, they rested a bunch of players to do it, including their star asset. And they paid a heavy price for their money-grubbing greed.

We may never know who exactly decided what and when, so let’s stick to what we do know. Messi was rested and Gerard Pique left on the bench (though he came on after half an hour). Those two factors signal the reality that Ernesto Valverde thought this game, or at least the draw, was going to be close to a gimme. As for the greed argument, it’s not as if Jose Maria Bartomeu is going to pocket whatever appearance fee (which, by the way, probably isn’t going to be enormous like a trip to the Gulf) Barca earns.

Friendlies like this one often do have stipulations about who makes the trip and who plays and, for the biggest stars, how many minutes they are on the pitch. So it’s entirely possible that this is what happened with Messi. On the other hand, Barca have one game left, at home to Real Sociedad. If he was rested, it’s rather hard to believe that it was Valverde’s idea — not unless he’s suddenly become Jorge Sampaoli’s assistant with Argentina and is looking ahead to the World Cup.

A more plausible explanation — and this is purely speculation — is that Messi asked to miss the trip and when Barca found that contractually it would not be possible, he was given Sunday off instead. Either way, it’s not a good look.

All that said, it doesn’t change the fact, as Valverde pointed out after the match, that Barcelona contrived to give up five goals. Or that they’ve kept one clean sheet in the past two months, giving up an average of nearly two goals a game after having, for much of the season, the best defence in La Liga.

Give Allegri serious credit for Juve’s latest title

Juventus’ 0-0 draw away to Roma means they’ve sealed their seventh consecutive Serie A title. Chief executive Beppe Marotta said it was the toughest of the streak, and he’s right. Napoli pushed them hard for much of the campaign, as evidenced by the fact that they too may yet break the 90-point barrier.

Staying hungry and motivated for so long is no minor feat either. As Rocky Balboa likes to say, “time is undefeated” and there were moments when it looked as if this old prizefighter was going to wobble and collapse.

We sometimes overstate the importance of managers but in this case, a whole load of credit has to go to Max Allegri. He didn’t just win his fourth straight Serie A crown with Juve; he also won his fourth straight Coppa Italia, making it four Doubles in four years. And while it’s true that Serie A isn’t as deep and competitive as it was once upon a time — and the continued under-performance of the Milan clubs, who have the financial clout to challenge Juve, favours them — it’s equally true that his European performances speak for themselves. In four years, he reached two Champions League finals and on another two occasions, he was twice knocked out with virtually the last kick of the game (against Bayern and Real Madrid). That makes it pretty clear that he and his team belong at the top table.

Juventus have the most resources in Serie A and the best squad but it still takes a certain character to keep everything together. Allegri navigated the acrimonious loss of Leo Bonucci in the summer (again, now it doesn’t seem so important though at the time everyone was going all Chicken Little), he had the courage to bench Paulo Dybala (who nevertheless scored 26 goals) when he deemed it necessary, he found the right balance in midfield, he coaxed performances from the old legs of Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini, Sami Khedira, Mario Mandzukic and Gigi Buffon.

Cheering against Juventus is a national sport in Italy — it happens when you’re dominant, just ask Bayern or, back in the day, Manchester United — but this season he also had to contend with a Napoli side that were a genuine feel-good story, as well as some of his best performers frpm past years taking it down a notch or two (Stephan Lichsteiner and Alex Sandro are exhibits A and B). And he did all this while being linked, again, with a move away from the club.

This being Italy, we’ll always wondered what would have happened if Miralem Pjanic had received that second yellow against Inter, and it’s fair to do that. But equally, take nothing away from what Juventus achieved this season.

Original source ESPN

About Aaron

My name's Aaron and I'm a great Barça fan. I like to tell it like it is and if there is something I don't like about the club or something that needs addressing, you'll know!