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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 October 2006, 06:47 GMT
Barca all at sea
By John Sinnott

Frank Rijkaard
Rijkaard has missed the influence of striker Samuel Eto'o
For a club that has won two successive Spanish titles and holds the European Cup, it seems barely credible that all is not well at Barcelona.

And this for a side that is once again setting the pace in the Spanish league.

It took only two games - the Champions League defeat by Chelsea on 18 October and then humiliation at Real Madrid - for the murmuring to start.

Such is the level of expectation at Barcelona, whose motto is: "Mes que un club", which means more than a club.

The rotation policy has been difficult for the players to accept mentally

Radomir Antic

"For Barcelona fans it's never enough just to win," former Barca coach Radomir Antic told BBC Sport.

"The club has to win with style. It is the same with Real Madrid. Their coach Fabio Capello is being criticised for Real's style of play, even though they are only two points behind Barcelona. That is the pressure these coaches work under."

For Barcelona the media pressure has been ratcheted up a notch as there is a real danger the European Cup holders might not make it past the group stages.

If Barcelona fail to beat Chelsea on Tuesday and Werder Bremen beat Group A whipping boys Levski Sofia, Frank Rijkaard's team would face a real uphill struggle to reach the knockout stages.

The concern for Barcelona is that in recent seasons the Spanish side have only beaten Chelsea and Arsenal when the opposition has had a man sent off.

The main brunt of Catalan discontent is coach Rijkaard, who, like Liverpool's Rafael Benitez, is in thrall to the idea of rotation or, as the Dutchman puts it, "rotations".

In those two title-winning seasons Rijkaard had a pretty fixed idea of his team, but the Dutchman has switched tack.

"In fairness to Rijkaard he is looking ahead to save the team so they are fit enough for a long season," said Antic.

"But it is a policy that is difficult for the players to accept mentally.

Lionel Messi
Antic expects Argentine Messi to play against Chelsea

"Giovanni van Bronckhorst played in the game against Chelsea but was not even included in the squad against Real Madrid.

"That type of decision makes it difficult for Van Bronckhorst but also for the other players - they think that might happen to them."

It is no coincidence that the defeats by Chelsea and Real Madrid came after Barcelona lost key striker Samuel Eto'o because of a serious knee injury at the end of September.

Eto'o, who is out for five months, has hit 68 goals in 101 games for Barca and scored 26 times last season to finish as the top scorer in Spain.

Eto'o has been replaced by former Chelsea striker Eidur Gudjohnsen but the Icelandic forward has yet to replicate the understanding the Cameroonian forged with the likes of Ronaldinho, Lionel Messi and Deco.

"Gudjohnsen is not playing well," added Antic. "Most people would prefer to use Javier Saviola.

"Ronaldinho, in particular, has really felt the absence of Eto'o.

"If Rijkaard wanted to change tactics he would move Eto'o out to the left and bring Ronaldinho inside, but that hasn't happened with Gudjohnsen."

Despite his advancing years, Henrik Larsson has been sorely missed. The Swede, who has joined hometown club Helsingborg, often came off the bench to change the shape of a game - as he did so spectacularly in the Champions League final over Arsenal in May.

Messi hurt his ankle in the defeat by Real but Antic expects Rijkaard to play the forward against Chelsea.

However, Rijkaard has been criticised for the way he has used the talented Argentine international.

Chelsea's Khalid Boulahrouz and Barcelona's Ronaldinho
Boulahrouz marked Ronaldinho out of the game at Stamford Bridge

Antic said: "Against Real, Messi was used wide on the right of midfield but with his dribbling skills you want a player like that closer to goal - where he has the chance to beat his man.

"I think in that wide-right position Ludovic Giuly is much happier to run on to passes, whereas Messi wants the ball played to his feet."

Antic also believes that Rijkaard, who it has been suggested is being lined-up to take charge of AC Milan next season, is missing the influence of his former assistant Henk ten Cate, who was appointed Ajax coach during the summer.

Ten Cate was replaced by former Barcelona midfielder Johan Neeskens.

According to many Spanish football journalists, Ten Cate was the brain of Barcelona, while Rijkaard was the club's "face".

An advocate of fast, attacking football, Ten Cate established a superb rapport with the Barcelona players, thanks to a good sense of humour and fatherly approach.

"From what I have heard, Neeskens is not the same as Ten Cate," revealed Antic.



SEE ALSO
Barcelona v Chelsea
29 Oct 06 |  Europe
Gudjohnsen to come good - Barca
31 Oct 06 |  Europe
Rijkaard bears Mourinho no malice
30 Oct 06 |  Football


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