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.
Original piece can be found on the website of “En Un Momento Dado”
A year ago, more or less at this stage of the season, Luis Enrique Martínez started to make on his bench a series of movements that turned into a pattern. The group of footballers that were behind the theoretical starters had weight in the definitive moments that weren’t very extensive, and yet, based on a series of specific interventions made by the coach, they ended up forming a more or less stable part of the plan that lasted the 90 minutes of the match. Xavi’s entrance on the pitch, for example, was made in both quarterfinal matches of the Champions League, in the semis, and in the final battle against Juventus in Berlin. Almost always with the score in favor and with the intention of reducing the speed of the game starting with the possession of the ball. Also, another recurring substitution was the entry of Mathieu in order to reinforce the team in its stages without the ball, directly, with his presence in the back, as well as indirectly, letting Mascherano move up closer to the midfield. Or, Pedro Rodríguez, who would sacrifice when needed, to contain, or would permit a line-up with four forwards, if what was needed was to add force to the machine.
Much like life, sports fandom can be construed as a battle between delusion and despair. The ideal state is somewhere between the two poles, but most of us never really get it right. Culés, despite being probably most spoiled fanbase on earth, usually tend towards despair. Every match, no matter where or against whom, inevitably becomes a “must-win” in the warped reality that is the culé psyche. Every dropped point is a step towards oblivion. Every defeat plays like a tribute to the glory of Real Madrid.
Yesterday, Barcelona B faced a sort of final against Catalan neighbours Sabadell. Recent results made the playoff dream close to impossible, but against Sabadell the Blaugranas could have handed themselves a lifeline. Coach Gerard had underlined the need to avenge the defeats against Sabadell at the Miniestadi and restore their playoff hopes, and the gaffer’s words seemed to take effect for some 54 minutes. A hellish 5-minute spell though saw the hosts go a man down and concede two goals. In the end, a highly promising night went sour and Barça B’s dream was killed for good.
After a flight from Bristol to Barcelona on April 1, my trip began.
I spent the day of the clásico walking up to the Bunkers at El Carmel, a place with amazing 360-degree views of the city and, on a relatively cloudy day, a place lacking a great deal of tourists. Judging the mood in the city, it didn’t seem like the day of a normal clásico (and I’ve been to a fair few). The metro was quiet and you could only spot the odd Barça shirt or scarf. For me, it was similar—this game didn’t feel overly important—but as 20:30 edged closer, the mood and atmosphere started to change. On the five-minute walk from my hotel, you could hear the usual horns being sounded and chants being chanted.
It was an unlikely collapse. All of five minutes into FC Barcelona’s visit to Real Sociedad, the home side bundled a ball through the nervous Barça defense, past Sergi Busquets, who missed a tackle and toppled over, around the makeshift left back Sergi Roberto, who was a step slow getting to Xabi Prieto’s cross, over the head of a backpedaling Gerard Piqué, and smack dab onto the forehead of a leaping Mikel Oryazabal. The 18-year-old winger flicked a gorgeous, arcing header to Claudio Bravo’s far post, and just like that La Liga was back in play.
The last five matches at Real Sociedad’s Anoeta stadium have seen Barcelona pick up just one point. Pep Guardiola, Tito Vilanova, Tata Martino and Luis Enrique have all failed in their attempts to dismantle the Basque side, and every season it seems as if playing away at La Real is a mental block for Barça.
Shortly after Luis Suárez equalized for Barcelona against Atlético Madrid on Tuesday, Luis Enrique sent Rafinha onto the field for Ivan Rakitić. It was the first time the young Brazilian had seen the field in a competitive match since last September in Rome, where he blew out his knee. The sight of a young and talented player go down with such a grisly injury leads to one of thr worst feelings in sports. There is something patently unfair about it. Getting injured in such a way that I cannot do the thing that I love to do most isn’t a real concern for me. It could happen, of course, but I never think about it. For football players, it is a constant reality. Many put it out of their minds, but the threat is very real. At any moment, their careers could grind to a standstill. In many professions, the young are the least vulnerable to fatigue and physical breakdown; in sports, they are every bit, if not more, susceptible to these things.
This isn’t the sort of thing you say out loud, but Fernando Torres, man, that guy can be kind of terrifying. Just ask Frank de Boer, whose serious playing career pretty much ended that day in 2003 when a teenager playing his first game against Barcelona spun him around like a Kelly Clarkson CD and slotted near post, 1-0 Atleti. Or maybe try Javier Mascherano, who was humiliated last year in the opening seconds of Torres’ first match against Barça after his return to Madrid, 1-0 Atleti. Then there’s Jordi Alba, who got torched by old man Torres back in the third week of this season, 1-0 Atleti. Seeing a pattern here?
So when the camera caught Torres grinning before the opening whistle of FC Barcelona’s Champions League quarterfinal tie against Atlético Madrid, admit it: you knew what was coming.
On Sunday, publications around the world began reporting on a trove of leaked documents – approximately 2.6 terabytes worth – known collectively as “The Panama Papers.” The documents come from the database of Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, and were first provided by an anonymous source to Munich-based German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ). SZ then shared the leak with the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), who shared the information with a number of prominent publications around the world.