On April 2, a day before the return leg of El Clasico at home, everything was perfect for Barcelona. They were leading Real Madrid by 10 points and Atletico Madrid by nine.
On April 2, a day before the return leg of El Clasico at home, everything was perfect for Barcelona. They were leading Real Madrid by 10 points and Atletico Madrid by nine. With a win over Real the next day the La Liga title would be Barca’s to lose and they could turn their attention to the Champions League quarter-final against Atletico. By April 13, however, whatever could go wrong went wrong for Barca and the Catalan club are on the verge of collapse now.
After a 1-2 defeat in El Clasico, they conceded an away goal to Atletico in a 2-1 win in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final. In their next La Liga match they lost to Real Sociedad even as Atletico and Real cut Barca’s lead at the top by winning their fixtures. The biggest blow for Barca came in Madrid — of all places — when they bowed out of the Champions League following a 0-2 capitulation to Atletico. The treble dream of Messi and Co. died a premature death on Wednesday. Even winning the league has become a challenge for them now. Few could have foreseen Barcelona’s stunning meltdown. But that’s football.
Barca had been so spectacular not long ago that no one would have dared to wager against their doing the treble for the second year in succession. Even the eternal optimist among Real supporters wouldn’t have believed that such a turn of events was possible. Maybe the curse of the Champions League was at work as no team have been able to retain the trophy since the European Cup went for a glitzy makeover in 1992.
There is no surprise that Atletico have bumped Barca off the Champions League at the quarter-final stage for the second time in three years because Diego Simeone’s team aren’t overawed by the galaxy of stars at the disposal of the Catalan club. Simeone and his players never go down meekly. The Argentine is the Steve Waugh of football even though cricket is an alien sport in his country. Few coaches can match Simeone’s spirit. Atletico are seldom pretty but they have fighters in all positions. The relentlessness of their running and tackling can spoil the rhythm of any team. Barca would vouch for that. Antoine Griezmann, whose double on Wednesday shut the door on Barca, can never be as pleasing on the eye as Messi and Neymar but he is imbued with the fighting qualities of his coach. The way Barca’s season unravelled in the space of 10 days has proved that nothing is carved in stone in football. As American baseball great Yogi Berra said, it ain’t over until it’s over.