Life is going to be hard for Barça B in the remainder of the season. We knew that from last week, when a rather unfair defeat at home to Sabadell pretty much ended the reserves’ playoff challenge. This weekend, Gerard’s team was clearly struggling to motivate itself, as the 3-0 hands-down defeat at fellow mid-table side Atlético Baleares suggests. Despite of Gerard’s return to the bench after the coach serving his ban, the severely depleted side fielded could not keep up with the hosts’ tempo, and inevitably the islanders added three points to their account without sweating too much.
Here’s a story you may have heard: FC Barcelona is in freefall. A near-gala eleven played badly yet again today, Valencia defended like champs, and Barça’s momentum in the wrong direction means they’re likely to lose the league.
Now here are some numbers: 3.0 (or 2.42) and 64.9% (or 64% or 70%).
The first number suggests that Barça played well today—and not just well but very well. The second shows they’re still favorites to win the league. Let’s take a look at why.
Most Barcelona fans would’ve seen Sunday’s match as a chance to get back on track in the league, and they wouldn’t be stupid for thinking that. Valencia have had a very poor season, but under their third manager this year, Paco Ayestarán, they look a different team. Despite Valencia’s mini rejuvenation, Barcelona and Luis Enrique really didn’t help themselves.
What’s up guys? You’ve looked off lately. Less than a month ago, you gave us pride and reason to brag. We watched you as you hit a form like a bolt of lightening, struck against whomever you play. We thought that treble spirit never left you guys. We dreamed, and fantasised about this legacy you were destined to make. Those dreams were shattered quickly. We had confidence in you, now we’ve become concerned.
The post-Champions League exit mood around Barcelona and culé hot-spots worldwide has been downright gloomy. If we’re honest with ourselves, we would rather the team won the Champions League than any of the other trophies still up for contention, and rightly so. It is the most prestigious by far, the competition is generally a lot tougher and no one has ever managed to retain it! The League maybe comes close in terms of importance, as it is the greatest test of consistency, but most culés would have probably given that up if it meant becoming the first team to win the Champions League two seasons in a row, in its modern form.
What next? Having been dealt a blow far too harsh considering the circumstances, it is hard to speak of anything else. Sure, we are first in the league, with all the chances to bring it home, and we are in the final of CDR, but with the way all cules were pretty much daydreaming of a treble, everything has kind of exploded on us, and it’s hard to put things into perspective.
Yesterday’s defeat hurt like none other in recent memory. The disappointment caused by the combination of the performance and the result were comparable to that of the 4-0 humiliation against Bayern, under Tito Vilanova/Jordi Roura’s reign.
Maybe it’s like this: wins are recorded in facts, losses in feelings. A win has a history, a minute-by-minute mythology, but a loss is limbic, primal, dumb. Who knows why this happens, or if it happens for you. Sports and brains are weird.
Sure, there are notes, stats, heat maps, game tape—these things will give you the winner’s version, if you want it. They’ll show Atlético Madrid squeezing the life out of FC Barcelona with infinite patience, defending in a mid-to-low block with a midfield four that pressed past the halfway line only slowly, at the right moments, like a boa constrictor cutting off a pulse. There will be dots and lines to plot Jordi Alba’s very bad clearance and the defensive disarray that led to the first goal, to show Gerard Piqué pulling across to the ball side and Dani Alves left alone to watch Antoine Griezmann climb the air for Saúl Ñíguez’s inswinger. But the data won’t tell you how it was when the ball scraped the net to feel the tie turned upside down and your team’s season circling the drain. Only losing does that. It burns these moments in.
It’s over now, any hope for pursuing a back-to-back European run is now diminished. It’s sad because at times you’d see how much ambition this team had to try and achieve the impossible. But to call it a failure would be to degrade Barça’s efforts all season up until now. We gave it a shot. We’re still in the final of the cup, and we’re still leading la Liga. This time around though, the Barça machine is gravely out of gas, and out of luck.
We all know the deal. Having surrendered 8 of their last 9 league points a comfy looking league table now screams danger. The players look physically spent, most of them are banged up but playing on and Neymar and Messi are well below par. All is not lost but now the margins are too fine for the cavalier. Come Sunday evening, Barça could be one huge step closer to another Champions League semi-final and still ahead in the league or conceivably having said arrivederci to the San Siro and level on points with Atlético. That’s for then, this is now. If bodies were present but not minds at the Anoeta, forward-looking heads need not any longer. The time is nigh.