What a difference a week can make.
Seven days ago, Barcelona were in London preparing for the first leg of their Champions League semi final with Chelsea, at the start of a week which could have ended with them closing the gap on Real Madrid in La Liga to just a point and also reaching their third Champions League final in four years.
Results could barely have been worse for a team considered by many to be the amongst the greatest club sides in footballing history.
A first leg defeat at Stamford Bridge was followed by a home loss to Real Madrid which effectively ended the Spanish title race in Madrid’s favour. And to wrap up a truly miserable week, last night saw Pep Guardiola’s men crash out of Europe in front of their own fans for the second time in three seasons.
Barcelona must be sick of playing English clubs in European competition.
For all of the success enjoyed in Champions League finals, where Barcelona’s last three European Cup wins have involved English opposition, Premiership sides continue to frustrate the Catalan giants in two-legged ties – and particularly in games at the Camp Nou.
Liverpool are still be the only English side to have beaten Barcelona in their own stadium, but Fernando Torres’ late equaliser extended Chelsea’s unbeaten run against Barca to seven games – four of which have been in Spain.
Manchester United, too, left Catalonia unscathed on their way to an aggregate Champions League semi final win during Frank Rijkaard’s last season in charge in 2008. United won the final, as Barcelona’s conquerors usually do: Of the ten sides who have condemned Barcelona to a European semi final defeat, only Leeds United and Valencia have failed to win the resulting final.
Chelsea will be hoping not to be the third, and they’ll need plenty more good fortune if they are to win a first Champions League title. Roberto Di Matteo and his players will receive plaudits for two defensive displays which frustrated their opponents, but Barcelona have only themselves to blame for their exit.
Even in the face of Chelsea’s strong and well organised defence, Barcelona created enough chances over the two legs to have rendered Chelsea’s three goals irrelevant. Wasteful in attack and a defence that was too easily caught out on the counter attack, Barcelona may see similar reasons why they are no longer competing for the two top prizes on offer.
Despite a nightmare week on the pitch, Barcelona’s season isn’t over. A cup final to Athletic Bilbao gives Pep Guardiola the chance to become the first Barcelona coach to win the Copa del Rey twice since Ferdinand Daucík achieved the feat during the 1950s. In doing so, Guardiola would also equal John Cruyff’s record of eight domestic trophies.
It may not be the season finale that manager, players or fans were dreaming of only a week ago but with three trophies already in the bag this season, a disappointing season for Barcelona is still more successful than a dream season at almost every other club.
If Guardiola opts to stay for another year, then their response to previous disappointments under his tenure should tell us that they won’t be down for long.