There is something spectacular about watching Pep Guardiola fail. Whether against Chelsea with Barcelona in 2012, against Barça last season, or against Atlético Madrid just two days ago, he does it in the most amazing ways.
April has been quite a tumultuous month. Starting with “El Clasico”, we all rode into the month feeling pretty dandy about everything. And then, as we all know, things started slipping away, and we are hoping to close out the month with 50% games won! During this period of time a lot has been said, much analyzed, and many opinions have been voiced. Some things we all agree on, others we argue about, and some, we have no idea what to even think of.
Playing football against FC Barcelona is hard. Refusing to play against them, on the other hand, can look depressingly easy. On a spring evening in Sevilla, Real Betis Balompié greeted its visitors with the not very hospitable intention of boring them to sleep, and if only everyone had stuck to the plan not to try too hard they might have succeeded.
For most of the match, Betis resolutely rejected both pressing and possession. Juan Merino’s defensive approach was a formulaic flat 4-4-2 with a medium block, the choice of many less ambitious sides against Barça’s possession game—think Atlético Madrid without the spells of orchestrated pressure or the skillful counterattacks. If Betis ever had an offensive gameplan, it died at the halfway line, leaving the 34-year-old journeyman striker Rubén Castro to forge ahead like a solitary sniffer dog in a minefield of Javier Mascherano tackles. On the day, Barcelona’s official possession figure was 73%, but it felt more like 173%.
There’s nothing complicated at this stage. With three games left in the league and the points as tight as they are FC Barcelona can only consider 9 from 9 points satisfactory. Tomorrow the team travels down south to Sevilla to take on Real Betis for the first of those 3 points.
FC Barcelona have smashed through the malaise. After two and a half weeks of depressing performances, they’ve won their past two games – played a mere four days apart – by a combined score of 14-0. As is usually the case with lopsided scorelines, there were some fluky elements to both matches, but for the most part, the team’s performances last week put a halt to all the talk of crises and slumps. The team that barreled its way through Europe last year is back.
Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez have played key roles in the course correction – Messi with his playmaking, and Suárez with his gobsmacking eight goals over 180 minutes. The team in general has looked better, but it really does come down to those two. When they are ticking, this team is nearly impossible to stop. Sporting Gijón and Deportivo de La Coruña found that out the hard way.
Barcelona B are finding it extremely difficult to find the motivation to end the season by actually playing some football. On Saturday evening the team had everything set up in their favour against Valencia Mestalla, but somehow managed to allow the visitors to come back from a goal down to further prolong their rather miserable winless run, which now stands at four matches.
In the hours before FC Barcelona and Sporting Gijón kicked off at the Camp Nou on Saturday, both Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid won their fixtures, meaning Barça needed all three points to maintain their grip on the top slot. Against relegation-threatened Sporting – who have only ever won once at the Camp Nou – the task looked to be a relatively easy one, but Barcelona are not in a position to take any fixture for granted these days.
Barça players, fans and everyone associated with the club see the final four Liga games of the season as finals. Must win games to keep fate in our hands and retain the Liga title. Saturday’s match-up with relegation threatened Sporting Gijón could be perceived as the easiest of these ‘finals’, but with top players like former Barcelona man Antonio Sanabria, this match could become a higher hurdle than it seems.
It’s tempting and convenient to view FC Barcelona’s demolition job on Deportivo de La Coruña as an abrupt explosion of pent up frustration, a kind of misplaced revenge on the part of the blaugrana. Barcelona, mired in the midst of the worst slump in years, took out all their anger on a team that might have given them a fair bit of trouble on a different day. In fact, Barça have drawn Depor twice since Luis Enrique took charge, both times at home. On Wednesday, though, whatever pluck the Galician side might have brought to the pitch was ruthlessly swept aside by the visitors.
FC Barcelona worst run in 13 years, a solitary league point from an available 12, has the football world a buzz as in just over two weeks a runaway league transformed into the tightest in Europe. La Liga truly is boring and uncompetitive. Barça have nowhere to point fingers but at themselves for the situation either. Nevertheless, the league (and cup double) are still in their hands. Win the remaining five league, they’re champions again. Win four, it may be enough, but risky. Right now, Barcelona are statistically the most likely, but momentum is firmly against them. Tomorrow they travel to Galicia to face Deportivo and on this midweek round I believe the league will be won or lost.