After surrendering La Liga title to Real Madrid, Barcelona need to overturn a 1-0 defeat against Chelsea in the Champions League semis – if they are to prolong the great Guardiola era.
Since Pep Guardiola took over as coach at the club, the Catalans have turned into football’s most powerful troop on the field. Led by Champions League top scorer Lionel Messi in front, Barcelona have absolutely no problem when it comes to scoring goals and tightening their defence at the same time.
Impeccable techniques and a very strong mentality had initially made Barcelona look as favourites to grab the treble this season for the second time under their current tactician. The treble dream was meritoriously kept alive until last weekend – when Barca saw the gap at the top of La Liga table get expanded to seven points.
For many fans as well as Guardiola himself, this marked the end of their quest for the 2011-12 Liga title. Irrefutably, it was a decent, aggressive and relentless performance from Real Madrid that allowed them to secure 3 valuable points at the Camp Nou on Saturday.
Reasonably, Barcelona supporters should do nothing but forget about the recent Clasico and get ready to be fully behind Los Cules as they host EPL side Chelsea FC. However, the Blaugrana are not used to seeing their team lose twice in a row, and especially not against big teams.
Yes, Barcelona were humbled 1-0 at the Stamford Bridge in the first leg of their semi-finals match against the Blues last week in the Champions League. And taking into account the fact that they were unable to bounce back in La Liga at the weekend, one could question the team’s form and the manager’s strategies.
Obviously, Pep Guardiola had a few difficulties in playing his cards at home against Real Madrid on Saturday, with Lionel Messi’s presence having not been used to the fullest. Tello’s inefficiency in front also conflicted with the midfield’s massive efforts to penetrate Los Blancos’ danger zone.
But despite all the arguments that could emerge around Guardiola’s choice of players and positions prior to the imminent clash against Chelsea, one fact is undisputed: another loss – whether over the 90 minutes or on aggregate – would prevent the Spanish giants from winning an uplifting double.
Moreover, it would destroy the idea of having an all-Spanish final in Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena. But more importantly, a setback could mark the historic end of Pep Guardiola’s devastating era.
Already, this season has proved to be the Spanish coach’s most difficult term of his career so far as a manager – with the league honour deep in the horizon for the very first time. The reality of things for the Barcelona family is that losing their opportunities in the UEFA Champions League would additionally degrade their hopes to domestic level only, ahead of the Copa del Rey final in May.
In fact, it could even give Real Madrid a boost of confidence to reach the final – offering Jose Mourinho the ultimate chance to lead the Castellans to glory and overshadow Barca’s attainments this season. In order words, this would undoubtedly change the public’s image of the “best team in Spain” – halting Barcelona’ period of uninterrupted supremacy.
However, although they enter the Chelsea clash on the back foot, the Catalans are well confident that they can accomplish their next mission as they often do. During the pre-match press conference, Pep Guardiola revealed that his men were once again poised to use the power of optimism, boldly adding that “these players will eliminate Chelsea.”
The club’s official website quoted him saying: “Of course, I believe we’ll make it to Munich. […] We’ll get through with patience and intensity.”
Also ignoring the dangerous intentions of Chelsea coach Roberto Di Matteo, midfielder Andres Iniesta told the Daily Mirror: “I think if you judge the game on its merits, then we deserve to reach the final in Munich.
“If we score early, then I think we can go through. We have to make sure we do not concede.”
Should the Barcelona defence be beaten at the Camp Nou on Tuesday evening, then the home side would have to aim for a minimum two-goal margin. Are they set to suffer a total disaster that would see them lose their second title in a space of just three days, or are they prepared enough to pull a miracle and continue their season with much to hope for?
By Isaac Asante