Barça went into today’s game knowing they had to do the business. With Atlético sitting up next to them, only behind on goal difference, and Real Madrid breathing down their necks, they had to be clinical, ruthless and brave.
With every key player fit in the squad, there was no place for excuses. In recent games Barça have squandered the first 45 minutes in place for a slow tempo, but today it changed. Lionel Messi notched up a gear, Neymar Jr put a pause to his second half of the season slump, and Luis Suárez battled and put away his chances like his usual self.
Before the game, there was a brilliant tribute for Manel Vich, the stadium announcer who sadly passed away last week. His well known phrase ‘Bona nit i benvinguts a l’estadi’ was played through the speakers, and the line-ups were shown on the big screens but without any name announcements. A minutes silence was scheduled in honour of his life at the club, but everyone in the Camp Nou found it more fitting to applaud the great man, an act that shows how grateful everyone is for his work at the club and how he will be missed.
The atmosphere was tense. The whole stadium knew that this was a big game, but didn’t want to be complacent. Chants were subdued. Until Messi curled in a perfect freekick in the eighth minute of the match. After that point, the crowd was content, chants were sang around the whole stadium, joining in with the singing section of Gol Sud, it felt like it was just a matter of time until more goals came.
It was halftime and, even though it could’ve been a better scoreline, everyone was happy. Smartphones were pulled from pockets in anticipation and hope. Atlético were being held at 1-1 away to relegated Levante, and Real seemingly cruising at the Bernabeu against Valencia.
The light and inconsistent rain fall at the Camp Nou during the game (maybe we do need a roof after all!) called for umbrellas, ponchos and coats from the spectators, but the football extravaganza was just beginning.
The second half saw Barça in control and Espanyol giving up, resorting to kicking and pushing instead of playing football, but Luis Suárez ended the minimal doubt with two early strikes.
The blaugrana continued to dominate, only for play to be broken up for fouls and offsides. This saw Luis Enrique bring on his usual changes, with his Jérémy Mathieu love story continuing as he came on for a Jordi Alba who played his first solid game in a while, Rafinha Âlcantara replacing Ivan Rakitić and Arda Turan given some more time in the place of a tired Andrés Iniesta. But a tired and uncharacteristically wasteful Don Andrés still earned himself a usual standing ovation.
Just one minute after Rafinha came on, he was given a gift from Pau López, who had been jeered by the Camp Nou crowd after the Lionel Messi stamp earlier on in the season, to get the fourth goal.
Suárez capped off a brilliant performance with a perfect assist to Neymar to get the manita goal, and smartphones came out of pockets once again to see that Levante had scored a second against Atlético Madrid and they were out of the title race, but Real Madrid had edged a win against Valencia to see the title race go to the final day.
Recent form is looking great for Barcelona, and the team spirit also seems to be very high. The final game against Granada seems like an easy task, but after today’s 4-1 win away at Sevilla, maybe there is a small reason to be concerned, but with a determined squad I have no doubts that a win is the only possible result and Barça will retain the result.