It would appear that reports of Barcelona’s demise were greatly exaggerated. Many had lined up in recent weeks to suggest that the Catalan stars were on the wane, their superiority been called into question by a poor run of results, and apparent loss of form of their talisman player, Lionel Messi.
However, last week’s 4-0 demolition of AC Milan at the Nou Camp in the last 16 Champions League tie was impressive enough to suggest that normal service has been resumed.
Not that the doubters had lacked a decent case in the matter of doubting whether Barca could regain their former unmatched dominance. Consecutive defeats at the hands of their great rivals, Real Madrid, (one of which resulted in their elimination from the Copa del Rey at the semi-final stage) and a lacklustre first leg 2-0 loss against Milan were sufficiently troubling.
Add the fact that the aforementioned Messi appeared unusually subdued, then by Barcelona standards things looked bleak, despite a healthy lead in the title race.
For those who did harbour reservations, the case went thus – Messi, fresh from signing a new contract, is jaded. His strike partner, David Villa, is being lined up for a switch to the premiership this summer. Xavi isn’t getting any younger, Cesc Fàbregas looks disinterested, Carlos Puyol’s warrior-like powers are being blighted by injury, Javier Mascherano is a midfielder being played out of position and Gerard Piqué is more into pop star girlfriends and celebrity magazine photo-shoots than man-marking at set pieces.
The ongoing absence of manager Tito Vilanova, who is receiving treatment in America for cancer, is being acutely felt, (with interim coach Jordi Roura appearing hopelessly out of his depth) and some Spanish reporters continue to maintain that all is not well among the players, resulting in a drastic loss of form.
Of course, the defeat to Milan was particularly troubling for the Catalan side – elimination from the Champions League before the quarter final stage would have been disastrous for a team considered by many as the best of all time. Especially so with José Mourinho’s Madrid staking their own claim following their win against Manchester United.
Against that backdrop, Barca’s response against Milan could hardly have been more emphatic. They quite simply swatted the Italians aside with a four-goal salvo which surely restored them to the position of tournament favourites.
The array of superlatives used for Messi has long since been exhausted, although his two first-half goals served as a timely reminder to those who had dared to question his form. The little Argentinian was unplayable, and the normally stoic Milan defending simply could not contain his link-up play and devastating finishing.
Of course, it could have all been so different had Milan not squandered a wonderful opportunity to grab an away goal before half-time, but Barca survived that scare and responded in ruthless fashion.
To be fair, judging by the celebrations within the great stadium at the final whistle, the players and fans alike had been feeling the pressure of late, even if they didn’t believe the hype surrounding their loss of form.
There could be little doubt that the outpouring of joy was mixed with relief, a tacit acknowledgement for sure that a certain anxiety had permeated their club.
The Champions league quarter-final draw paired the Catalans with the team now known as ‘David Beckham’s Paris St Germain’, and you wouldn’t bet against them advancing at the expense of the French side in their bid to become European champions in May.
With all English clubs now out of the competition, it may be that only Mourinho can stop them now, although Bayern Munich might yet have something to say on that score.
At the weekend, as if to compound the fact that normal service has been resumed, Barca defeated Reyo Vallecano 3-1 in a routine league victory. It almost goes without saying that Messi’s name was conspicuous on the score sheet – eighteen consecutive league games that’s happened now, thus creating yet another new record.
If a week is indeed a long time in Politics, it’s the blink of an eye for FC Barcelona.