For the “greatest soccer team on Earth” this past week has been quite humbling. No team likes dropping out of the Champions League, but it's especially painful when you've kept the ball for nearly 80% of the time and the other team doesn't even get out of their own half. Combine that with a loss at home to your biggest rival, Real Madrid, who are now likely to win La Liga, and you're down on the floor in tears or drowning your sorrows with sangria.
So what happened to this squad? At the moment, the blame seems to be falling on manager, Pep Guardiola, who looks set to depart the club in the summer. But who else should accept the blame? What about Lionel Messi, who missed a vital penalty kick against Chelsea? Honestly, no, Messi never quit and hit the post late in the game. The real culprit is Barcelona's goalkeeper, Victor Valdes, who has endured a rough patch this week that will likely rattle his confidence to the bone.
Let’s take a look at Barcelona’s first encounter when they lost at Stamford Bridge one long week ago. Valdes did not make a single save that day. Not one. When Didier Drogba scored an improbable goal on the stroke of half time the London fans erupted in joy, but this wasn’t the typical blast that we have grown used to from the Ivorian; it was a rather light shot that went down the middle of the goal. Instead of diving for the ball and perhaps using his hands (as goalies are allowed to), Valdes tried to save the shot with his outstretched leg, and missed. See it for yourself:
Is this what the goalie for the best team ever should do? Well, to be honest it makes sense when you analyze Valdes’ work over the weekend.
To his credit, he did make four saves in El Clasico, but then again he did allow two howlers which cost Barcelona the title. The first was a pathetic attempt to grab a weak header from a corner. His dive for the ball looks more like he fell and slid away from it. The ball slipped from his pathetic grasp to show us why he used his legs earlier in the week.
For Real Madrid’s second goal we can again criticize Valdes. Christiano Ronaldo broke free after receiving a good pass from Mesut Ozil, but for some reason Valdes came scrambling out ten yards from goal to meet him. The shot would have been from a rather tight angle had Valdes stayed in his six yard box, but as he was mere feet from the Ronaldo, the finish proved rather simple. See the goals for yourself.
Now let us progress to Barcelona’s second leg match against Chelsea. 15 minutes into the match Valdes takes out his own player, Gerard Pique, by rushing out recklessly like Toni Schumacher and knocking him out cold. I'm guessing Shakira is going to have some words with him.
Playing with ten men for much of the match, the Blues hardly had a sniff of goal. They managed three shots on frame, and Valdes could only save one of them. On the Ramires goal, he again darted out of his box when the attacker had a tricky angle. Sure, Ramires deftly struck a world class chip over his head, but we can only wonder what would have happened if Valdes would have stayed on his line. Take a look:
As for the second goal by Fernando Torres, it is hard to blame a goalie when a striker is on a breakaway. But Valdes again came running out of the goal, and all it took was a simple touch by Torres to get around him.
And for crying out loud, Torres has hardly been clinical in recent times; why not sit back and let him shank another shot off target? Why rush out of goal so fast? Look how easily Valdes is beaten:
In the end, Victor Valdes’ recent poor form has held Barcelona back and cost them two trophies. A good goalie can often be the difference for a team winning or losing a match. Just ask Petr Cech of Chelsea and Manuel Neuer of Bayern Munich, who both played brilliantly to progress to the Champions League final.
It's often said a goalkeeper should make at least one big save for your team every game. Instead of one big save per game Valdes has been good for one big gaffe. Even his distribution is questionable. Remember the Clasico earlier in the year when he shanked the ball right to a Real Madrid player?
Valdes should go, and Barcelona should be in the hunt for a solid keeper this summer. I would suggest Hugo Lloris as a good fit, since he actually starts for his country on a regular basis. Valdes is Spain’s third choice behind Pepe Reina and Iker Casillas. In the past three games Valdes has had to deal with ten shots on target, and he has only managed to save five of them for a 50% save rate.
For years, Barcelona has been so good they were able still win games even with a less than superb keeper. It has finally caught up with them.
Nicholas Spiller is a freelance soccer writer and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org