It’s nearly time now. Barcelona and their fans are counting the minutes until the start of the new 2019/20 Champions League campaign.
And the Catalans will be eager to set foot on that stage once more and seek their redemption for what happened last year when they were utterly humbled and destroyed by Liverpool at Anfield.
By now, it’s a well-known story – they had a 3-0 lead from the Camp Nou but away games proved to be their kryptonite once again as they allowed the Reds to rattle their nets four times, knocking them out of the competition and booking their own place for the final.
Needless to say, that particular result stung the Catalan giants. But it was not the first time Barcelona did “a Barcelona” in the Champions League. No, they did the very same thing the year before that, blowing a 4-1 lead over Roma with a 3-0 second leg defeat in the Italian capital.
All of those, and many more rather unconvincing displays in Europe had two key similarities: the biggest one is their form away from home, which leaves a lot to be desired. The second one is closely related to the first one, namely Luis Suarez’s form, which is particularly suspect away from the safe haven that is the Camp Nou.
Both factors meshed together make for a deadly combination that seem to have contributed to Barcelona’s demise ever since 2015/16 when they were defeated by Atletico Madrid, once again after winning the first leg and then failing in Madrid at the Vicente Calderon. The year after that, in 2016/17, it was Juventus who dealt the final blow, crushing them 3-0 in Turin.
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We all know how 2017/18 and 2018/19 followed suit and brought much more of the same and, when we add all of that together, it makes for a rather poor away from home resume. Of course, everything is easier when you have Lionel Messi in the squad but even the little Argentine magician can’t do it all by himself. And he used to get a lot of help from Suarez.
In 2014/15, when Barcelona last won the Champions League, the Uruguayan rattled the net a total of seven times, including goals in every stage except the semi-final. And then, he stopped. The last away game in which we’ve seen Suarez on the scoresheet was in 2015/16 when he registered a goal in Rome with a header that put Barcelona ahead in the 21st minute of a clash that eventually ended in a draw.
Since then – zero Champions League goals away from the Camp Nou. Sure, he scored some goals in the home games but even those have stopped flooding in as regularly as they used to. Last season, he only scored one goal in the whole campaign and the rest was Messi magic that helped Barcelona get to the semi-finals.
What happened at Anfield is hardly Suarez’s fault but if Barcelona are to avoid those scenarios in the future, he will absolutely have to find his shooting boots once again. And that’s when the game against Borussia Dortmund comes into play.
Suarez featured off the bench in Barcelona’s weekend clash against Valencia – a tough opponent by all means – and bagged a brace to lead his team to a 5-2 victory on the night. Even that Suarez might be a shade of the world-class player that he used to be but what better game to regain his away form than in front of the notorious Yellow Wall at Signal Iduna Park?
It will be a true gladiatorial arena, that much we know for sure. Even though Messi is travelling with the squad, we don’t know whether he’ll play, despite his medical clearance for the game. With that in mind, a big part of the responsibility might fall on the Uruguayan’s shoulders. Can he be the leader Barcelona need in the absence of their king?
The answer to that question may very well determine the outcome of their Champions League opener.
By all accounts, it’s one that both the team as a whole and Suarez himself might be dreading. After all, away games, especially of that magnitude, are not their favourites, we concluded that much by this point.
But Suarez looked fresh, hungry and motivated against Valencia, and that was only days ago. He got some minutes in the bag and even a couple of goals to further boost him on this path.
Now, it’s up to the 32-year-old to take that and run away with it, just like Barcelona ran away with the game last Saturday as soon as the Uruguayan was introduced.
Can he replicate that on Tuesday? Only time will tell but for Blaugrana’s sake, he better.