Lenglet and Barca’s new wave aiming to turn their Champions League tide
Clement Lenglet should be untouched by Barcelona’s Champions League failure last season but disappointment reverberates around the club to the extent that he feels it too.
“You can just sense around the place there is this scar,” Lenglet told AFP. “It still hurts.”
Lenglet describes it like he was there but he was playing for Sevilla last year, his move to Barcelona still three months away.
He joined a club that had won La Liga at a canter and the Copa del Rey — but they mourned the season just gone like an opportunity missed.
The 4-1 collapse against Roma sent Barca out in the Champions League quarter-finals and hung over their other achievements like a dark cloud.
Lenglet can be part of the recovery. Barcelona play Lyon in the first leg of the last 16 on Tuesday and, after three years without making the semis, there is a sense of a team on a mission.
“We want to sooth the scar, do something beautiful so we can forget all about what happened,” Lenglet said. “The players were gutted and everyone around the club was too. We have to show it was a mistake, that we can do better.”
Lyon are European minnows in comparison but their pace on the break and fearless approach puts them in a category of opponent that has caused Barcelona problems this season.
Manchester City, a team not dissimilar in style to Ernesto Valverde’s, emerged from two group games against them with a draw and a defeat.
“We often leave players one-on-one in defence so if the ball goes through us, we are at a disadvantage,” Lenglet said.
“There are a lot of moments where we take risks but the balance is important. This is what players are taught when they arrive at Barcelona and it has to be understood quickly. It will be an important part of this match.”
Lenglet’s rise has been steep. At the start of the 2016-17 season, he was playing for Nancy, the club where he had started out in the youth teams. Sevilla signed him in January and after one full La Liga campaign, Barca had seen enough to meet his 35.9 million-euro ($40.6 million) buy-out clause.
Most expected the promising French defender to settle in on the bench at the Camp Nou, but Samuel Umtiti’s knee injury has fast-tracked Lenglet to the role of Gerard Pique’s most regular partner.
He has impressed, his awareness and confidence on the ball deeming him well-suited to a team that defends in flashes and builds from the back.
“It’s every player’s dream to play this often for this kind of club,” Lenglet said. “It gives me a lot of pride, joy, and a lot of work too, because you have to be at your best, permanently.”
At 23, Lenglet is part of an emerging crop at Barcelona that are being tipped to become leaders of the next generation.
Ousmane Dembele and Arthur Melo have also featured heavily this season while further behind, there are high hopes for Carles Alena, Juan Miranda, Riqui Puig and Oriol Busquets.
“I hope I can be part of the new wave,” Lenglet said. “It’s hard to imagine now because there’s a lot to do before players like Gerard (Pique), Leo (Messi), Sergio (Busquets) or Jordi (Alba) finish.
“I hope they won’t finish too soon. But it’s still exciting to see there are a few new players, young players, coming through. There is a regeneration of the squad that is preparing for the future and I hope to be a part of that.”
Lenglet is yet to receive his first France call-up, which could yet come next month, but he is close to Dembele, whose brilliance at Barca has been tempered by indiscipline.
One of the game’s most spectacular talents, Dembele has been punished this season for poor time-keeping and swapping sleep for video games.
“He has enormous potential and he’s a good guy — when you have those two things, normally you will see it on the pitch,” Lenglet said. “We made fun of him a lot for his problems. It’s a way of fixing it because in a club like this you have to learn to respect the rules.”
Lenglet is a fresh face but speaks with maturity. He also knows what the Champions League means to Barcelona this season — how Lyon cannot become the Roma of 2018-19.
“We don’t take them lightly,” Lenglet said. “They raise their level against big clubs. We know it will take two very good performances to go through.”
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