The collapse of an 'unrecognisable' Barcelona in Rome

Champions League By: Ambrose Udeme | 11/04/2018

Lionel Messi, FC Barcelona

Roma created one of the most spectacular shocks in the history of the UEFA Champions League - coming back from three goals behind is not easy – it's been achieved only twice before – but to do it against Barcelona, one of the favourites to win this year's title was outstanding.

Barcelona who achieved the biggest comeback in UEFA Champions League history against PSG last season were on the wrong end of the joint second biggest second-leg reversal on Tuesday Roma pulled off a sensational second-leg comeback to beat Barcelona 3-0 and reach the Champions League semi-finals on away goals. Roma became also the fourth side to win two ties on away goals in a season - and the first since Bayern in 2009/10.

The five-time European Cup winners Barcelona were chasing a treble of trophies this season, having equalled the La Liga record of 38 unbeaten games at the weekend and reaching the Copa del Rey final.

But they were punished for an uncharacteristically poor showing, offering very little in attack and crumbling in the face of the dogged Romans, who were buoyed on by the vocal home support.

Their best chance fell to star player Lionel Messi, but his thumping drive was straight at goalkeeper Alisson and he struck two free-kicks over the crossbar.

It'll be too easy, too simplistic if all the talk is about the quarter-final being Barcelona's traditional Waterloo - that's three straight exits at this stage now. It would also take huge credit from Roma.

Ernesto Valverde's side are often hustled, often pressed but it's very rare indeed that they are so completely thrown off their stride and leave the pitch with their playing identity basically invisible for the major part of a vital match like this.

Valverde's conservative approach

Valverde explains why Barcelona lost to Roma

Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde since his arrival at Camp Nou has exhibited a conservative approach to certain games. He doesn't like to risk much and on Tuesday night that approach took its toll. The lack of freshness was clear to see in Rome. It wasn't just in that match, though, as it had been coming. The match in Sevilla was the clearest example. Barcelona were burnt out in a competition in which they couldn't use Philippe Coutinho.

The only player who in my opinion performed at a high level was Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, and even then he saw three goals go past him. Valverde opted for Sergi Roberto ahead of Ousmane Dembele and this tactic did not work, with it too little too late by the time the French youngster was introduced.

The first goal they conceded was a clear example of the lack of intensity and freshness. Nobody pressured Daniele De Rossi when he had all the time in the world to pick out Edin Dzeko. The lack of coordination between Samuel Umtiti and Jordi Alba when it came to defending the Roma striker was also evident. You can't give anything away in Europe.

Valverde's conservatism was also seen through the way the team was set up, as they were more worried about conceding goals than scoring their own away goal to kill the tie. The poor management of the substitutions was the icing on the cake.

When Barcelona were behind on the night, even if still ahead in the tie, the Catalans didn't want to turn to an offensive solution like Ousmane Dembele when there was still space. By the time the Frenchman came on, Roma had scored their free goals and had retreated in defence. It was a wasted opportunity.

No Messi, No show

Former Real Madrid star blames Messi & Suarez for Barca loss

Lionel Messi, who lost possession 19 times, shot only two of his five efforts on target and failed to score throughout the entire tie. From being such an integral part of the Blaugrana's win over Chelsea in the last-16, the Argentine arrived at a round in which he has tended to struggle, and that factor became far more than a coincidence as he went missing once again in Rome.

For the fourth year in a row, Messi failed to score in the last-eight, a run including the 2015 tie with Paris Saint-Germain and through the knockouts against Atletico Madrid in 2014 and 2016, and in 2017 versus Juventus.

Ten matches, no goals; from a man who had done so well beforehand, notching ten times with decisive strikes against the likes of AC Milan in 2012, Arsenal in 2010 and Bayern Munich in 2009. In fact, when taking into account every tie in which Barcelona have been dumped out of the competition since the Argentine made his debut, he hasn't scored in any of them (Liverpool (06-07), Man United (07-08), Inter (09-10), Chelsea (11-12), Bayern (12-13), Atletico (13-14), Atletico (15-16), Juventus (16-17), Roma (17-18).

There is a clear parallel between Messi's drop-off in the competition and his club's. With just one title in the last seven years, the Catalans are starved of continental success and the startling way in which their big players go missing on these occasions is really alarming.

Widely touted as winners of the tournament, Barcelona were bested on the night in Rome and by a good margin and now it's back to the drawing board for Valverde and his side. Being knocked out of the Champions League is a very tough blow for all Barcelona fans. But it is now when the supporters, coaches and players have to be more united than ever.