Johan Cruyff believes that Barcelona's shock 2-1 Champions League group-stage defeat at Ajax on Wednesday was due to a lack of intensity from the players, and not tactical meddling by coach Gerardo Martino.
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Barca were missing six regular starters, including talisman Lionel Messi, at the Amsterdam Arena, but were still able to start six World Cup winners. They therefore will have felt they should have done better in a game in which they played most of the second half against just 10 men.
The performance led to further questioning of Martino’s tweaks to the Catalan club’s tiki-taka style, but former Ajax and Barcelona player and coach Cruyff told AS after the game the reason for the result was more simple than systems or players -- the Eredivisie side had just wanted it more.
“The style debate is the same as always, and nothing has changed here, but I am not going to enter into it because these are conversations to have in a bar,” Cruyff said. “They did not just miss [Messi], but also many other players, and their rhythm was very slow. But Barca does not need to worry. When a team plays very well, dominates and has chances, as happened today with Ajax, it is normal that they win.”
Blaugrana defender Gerard Pique questioned his team’s attitude immediately afterwards, and his boss agreed when speaking with Canal Plus.
“Yes, we lacked intensity,” Martino said. “They were very quick, very precise. In all areas of the play they were better. In the areas we had some good chances, but to play games of this type you need to put in more. The team played badly in all areas -- we made a mistake as a team. They were better than us in that way. The team who puts in more intensity will always win.”
The Argentine suggested that, with Barca already through to the last 16 before kick-off, his players had let their levels drop.
“Unconsciously maybe we thought this game was not so important,” he said. “You cannot just play for 45 minutes. In the last 16, quarters or semis, a half like that would leave you out of the competition. The second part was not brilliant either, but we provoked errors in our opponent and created two or three very clear chances. There could also have been a second penalty, but in the end Ajax were comfortable playing with 10.”
Cesc Fabregas -- whose biggest contribution on the night was getting booked for dissent, meaning he will serve a suspension in Barca’s final group game at home to Celtic on Dec. 11 -- also suggested that he and his teammates had not been completely up for the game.
“It seemed we were not there in the first half,” Fabregas told Marca. “We lacked intensity, we lacked hunger, it went badly for us. We ran a lot, but we ran badly. They got behind us, and the defeat came from there, but if we could choose, it is better to lose a game when the result does not really damage us too much.”
Xavi Hernandez told AS that the Liga leaders would need a much better attitude to get a result in their next game -- on Sunday at Athletic Bilbao.
“We just have to congratulate Ajax,” Xavi said. “They pressed us very high up, they were on top of us whenever the ball was there to be won. We must have intensity from the start, and in San Mames there will be another test for us. We are going to go for it with everything there, with the intensity that we were missing today.”