Barca lacks sparkle ahead of Lyon tie

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Barcelona's Lionel Messi misses a penalty at Camp Nou, Barcelona, Saturday. — Reuters

BARCELONA — Despite an iron grip on domestic trophies, Barcelona has been haunted by its recent failures in the Champions League and it is concerning signs for the Catalans as they prepare for Tuesday’s last-16 first leg away to Olympique Lyonnais.

Ernesto Valverde’s side fly to France after an uninspiring 1-0 win at home to struggling Real Valladolid Saturday which consolidated its lead at the top of La Liga but left plenty of doubts about its capabilities of winning Europe’s top prize.

The drab victory over Valladolid, in which Lionel Messi scored a penalty and missed one, followed a goalless stalemate at Athletic Bilbao, a 2-2 draw with Valencia and a 1-1 draw with Real Madrid in a Copa del Rey semifinal first leg.

Coach Ernesto Valverde has played down the significance of his side’s recent slack displays.

“Sometimes you cannot be brilliant in every game, but I think the team is ready to play at its very best,” he said.

Defender Gerard Pique, however, was more scathing of Barca’s performance and warned of the potential consequences of their lackluster displays.

“We were not the Barca we wanted to be, the result was good, the sensations were not,” he said.

“We must improve on Tuesday or we will suffer a lot. If we don’t move the ball quickly, dominate the play and possession or create chances, we are a weaker team.”

Barca has fallen at the quarterfinal stage of the Champions League each year since last winning it in 2015, suffering a particularly humiliating elimination to AS Roma last season after taking a 4-1 lead in the first leg of the tie.

It has looked on enviously as Real Madrid have won the last three editions of the big eared trophy, swelling its total number of European Cups to 13, which makes Barca’s five look measly by comparison.

Despite winning three of the last four La Liga titles and collecting the Copa del Rey four years in a row, there is a widespread feeling that Barca should have fared better on the continent, especially while Messi has been at his peak.

The Argentine seems to think so too — in his first speech as captain back in August, he pledged to do “everything possible to bring that beautiful trophy back to the Nou Camp”.

For that ambition to be realized, Barca must improve on a dismal away record which has seen them win only one of their last six visits in the Champions League knockout rounds, scoring three goals while conceding 13.

Barca will be boosted by the return of France’s World Cup winning defender Samuel Umtiti after nearly three months out with a knee problem, while defender Thomas Vermaelen and midfielder Arthur Melo are injured. — Reuters


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