“Now that it appears as though winning the league is difficult, it seems as though we are obligated to win the Champions League.”
Pep Guardiola admitted the league is slipping away after his Barcelona team were given an unexpected kick in the nuts by Osasuna. The gap in La Liga is now 10 points and with Real Madrid looking every bit as ruthless as you’d expect a Jose Mourinho side to be, Guardiola is talking like a man who expects to lose his grip on the La Liga title. The win in Leverkusen was enough to virtually guarantee their progress to the quarter-finals of the Champions League, but it won’t be enough to quell the rumblings that this is the beginning of the end for Barca’s dominance.
For the last few years, they’ve wowed the world with their stunning passing, movement and monopoly on possession. And they haven’t even ruined it all by releasing a terrible rap song celebrating that fact. Barcelona are going through the first sustained slump of the Pep Guardiola era and the Special One has been quick to capitalise. Back in December when the draw for the Last 16 of the Champions League was made, Barca were 10/11 favourites to win their fourth La Liga title in a row, but a few weeks later, they’ve drifted alarmingly, to the point where they’re rated a 7/1 chance for another domestic crown.
In Madrid however, the lack of triumphalism was almost enough to suggest Jose Mourinho has been kidnapped and replaced by a more humble changeling. There wasn’t even a suggestion of pre-mature chicken counting from the Special One as he focused minds. “There are a lot of points and a lot of games left. We have to continue winning games because championships are won only when the maths say so,” he said in a statement so out of character you’d be afraid the next sentence out of his mouth might be “it’s not about the winning, it’s about the taking part.”
A very simplistic analysis gives David Villa a bigger ego-boost than news that overly fussy facial hair is back in fashion. Prior to his breaking his leg at the Club World Cup, Barcelona were flying. From the end of November through to the start of January, they went through an eight game spell in all competitions with the sensational record which read
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That run included a win over Real Madrid at the Bernabau that seemed to minimise the damage from a couple of previous slip-ups in the league. Since returning from the winter break, Pep has managed to keep Jose firmly in his pocket thanks to El Clasico victory in the Copa Del Rey, but less fluent performances have cost them silly points in the league. It’s clearly not all down to Villa, but they’re missing his goals and the part he played within the system. They’ve been remained pretty prolific throughout – particularly to someone who has watched Andy Carroll for most of the season – but they’re struggle to come up with the crucial goal at key moments in matches.
Finishing second in the league and being on course for another European Cup won’t constitute a crisis at 99% of clubs, but Barca have raised the bar to such heights, the blip has to be a concern. Jose is eyeing another league in another country and it’s going to take something Special from Los Cules to stop him.