It has been by far a routine season for Barcelona, a team that are suffering an identity crisis, a team who seem to dazzle one moment and look lacklustre the next and a team who aren’t sure where the next 3 points are coming from.
All is not well in the Camp Nou. Lionel Messi has had to save them recently when displays by Luis Suarez and especially Neymar have come up short. Coach Luis Enrique has been under intense pressure. There is a feeling from the fans that he is not wanted any more. His tactics have been questioned- Why does he repeatedly leave out Ivan Rakitic? Gerard Pique didn’t start the last game and their latest purchase Andre Gomes has had some horrific moments in the famous colours.
There are of course in the final of the Copa del Rey and will be expected to win against Alaves. If they do, it would be their 29th domestic cup victory- and their third in a row.
All of this is very well but the supporters demand the league title and the Champions League. In La Liga Real Madrid have been so dominant that Barca’s season try as hard as they might feels like nothing more than a footnote. And yet with football being football the tables were turned on its head slightly when Madrid capitulated at Valencia in mid-week and all of a sudden Barcelona are just a point behind but having still played a game more. At worst and in theory there is a four point gap.
But do Barcelona believe it? That is the real question. There has been an air of wanting change this season, which has affected the club’s performances on the pitch. Is it true that Messi is seeking a transfer away from the club, something unthinkable a few seasons ago. It is highly possible that Enrique will be playing out his final season- because even if you are a success here, you usually know when it’s time to leave.
And then there is the Champions League, a competition they have won 4 times in the past decade, but they look to be heading out of that this year. PSG a team that Barca used to play as the great pretenders destroyed them 4-0 and the second leg even if Barca will now be at home looks a formality.
So the league may well be back on, but who is believing it? We may get some kind of closure this weekend when the Catalan giants travel to Atletico Madrid- Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid. The match is being touted as the biggest test of Barcelona’s season so far- and it is. A loss here and a Real Madrid win at Villarreal would cancel out the Madrid’s Valencia loss and the league would be again a distant dream for Barca.
It is a game that Atletico must win too, with the league looking increasingly difficult for them their priority will be qualifying for the Champions League next season. Real Sociedad are breathing down their necks and the re-emergence of Sevilla who entered this weekend in 2nd place has made every team take notice.
Even the very best Barcelona sides have struggled at Vicente Caldron, which will in fact be the last time that these two great teams play each other here. Atletico are due to switch to their brand new stadium next week.
On Sunday Barcelona will be asked, no demanded to put in a performance that sends a message to Real Madrid that they will not give their title up this easy. Because despite how solid Barca has been, and despite Messi being a saving grace in moments one gets the feeling that the team are forcibly pulling themselves over the winning line without wanting to pass it in first place.
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