In Depth

Champions League exit adds to crisis at Barcelona

Messi, Neymar and Suarez are no match for Atletico Madrid and the Catalan side now looks vulnerable

For years, Arsenal have been regarded as a poor man's Barcelona - but could the Spanish club be about to take a leaf out of the Gunners' book and see their season go up in smoke?

Luis Enrique's team, who were widely expected to become the first side to win back-to-back European Cups since the advent of the Champions League, were dumped out of the competition by Diego Simeone's Atletico Madrid last night.

Antoine Griezmann scored both goals as Atletico won 2-0 to overturn a 2-1 defeat in the first leg at the Camp Nou.

It was the second game in a row in which Barcelona have failed to score and the mighty Catalans, unbeaten in 39 matches up until the end of March, have now lost three out of five and won only once in the past month.

Not only are they out of the Champions League, their lead at the top of La Liga has been cut to just three points with six games remaining following a shock defeat to Real Socieded at the weekend, after the loss to Real Madrid a week earlier.

The European exit will hurt the most, says Adam Bate of Sky Sports: "It will have been a huge blow. For while Barcelona remain favourites to complete a domestic double, such are the expectations placed on this group of players that the season is likely to be laced with disappointment whatever happens now."

Even more worrying is the collective collapse in form of their front three, Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez. 

"For all the brilliance of that formidable forward line, it's Luis Enrique's reliance on it that's played a part in his side's downfall," adds Bate. "Neymar looks like a man who has played too much football - no wonder he is set to skip the Copa America - and Messi's goal drought has now passed the seven-hour mark. The Argentine is coming deeper and deeper in search of the ball and it has left Suarez isolated."

The trio operated as a devastating trident for much of the season, continues the journalist, adding: "It's now tempting to conclude that overplaying them all was folly."

There will be "weeks of recrimination" at Barcelona after this result, says Rory Smith of The Times. "They will ask why that fabled front three failed to fire, why Barcelona have stuttered and stumbled just when the season reaches its climax."

But he also praises the street-fighters of Atletico Madrid. "Diego Simeone has moulded and sculpted his players into a python of a team, designed to coil around their opponents and to squeeze the very life from them. What they did to Barcelona last night was scarcely credible."

But can Barca bounce back? Players Andres Iniesta and Gerard Pique have both admitted morale has been rocked.

The Spanish press is certainly fearful for Barcelona's season. "They have hit a barren spell and the crisis could cause them to lose a league they had already won," says Sport. "The footballing disaster started with the international break and has taken us to this sad defeat against Atletico. A defeat produced by the impotence of footballers without ideas and without legs." 

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