That’s a bit better from Barcelona. All but through in the Champions League and a good win over Valencia in the league. Who needs away wins in domestic football when you can just beat people at home? And what’s another league title between friends anyway? It’s all about the Champions League. Let Real Madrid have the league, they’ve spent enough money, they deserve it.
This may be the attitude needed by the Catalan press to deal with near daily declarations of victory coming out of Madrid. Barcelona are not going to win the league this season, they know that and we know it too. But in the Champions League they remain the side to beat. Despite an impressive win for AC Milan against a hopeless Arsenal side, it was once again Barcelona who looked simply too strong for any other team in Europe. To Leverkusen’s credit they did about as well as could have been expected of them and put up a brave and committed performance. But after losing 3-1 at home their dreams of European glory end here. For Barcelona much tougher test lie ahead but they have done all that has been asked of them so far in this competition. The second leg should be little more than just a formality.
In the league not much has changed for Barcelona. They remain ten points behind Real Madrid and despite a good win on Sunday night against Valencia, the story of the season remains the same. Barcelona are invincible at home but indecisive away. Despite going behind early on to Valencia, by the end of the night everyone looking on was left in doubt who the victors were. A resounding 5-1 win that in no way flattered Barcelona, this was at times, especially in the second half, a case of one attack after another. Only glaring misses by Fabregas, Tello & Sanchez kept the score from getting out of hand.
Messi will of course get all the headlines. His four goals were as much about persistence and composure as they were about moments of outright magic. His little lob for his fourth being the highlight. And not to be outdone, Xavi added a beautiful little chip of his own to complete the rout. But once again it was Iniesta who was a class above most on the pitch. His vision, touch & control over midfield and attack was evident for all to see. And even though he didn’t get his name on the score line, his class was stamped all over the match.
It is all too easy to take Barcelona’s brilliance for granted. Their style of play and ability to control a match is like nothing ever seen before. That is not to say that some wouldn’t prefer the Milan side of the early 90’s or the Ajax side of the 70’s or the Madrid side of the 50’s. But with this Barcelona it seems like everything that has been seen before with football has been taken up a notch. Has there ever been a more important right back in the final third of the pitch than Dani Alves? Has there ever been a greater passer of the ball than Xavi Hernandez? Has there ever been a better football of any kind than Lionel Messi? Sometimes we take it for granted just what this Barcelona team is doing and what they have achieved over the years. The fact Real Madrid have spent over £200m to try and catch Barcelona are still not a match for them on the pitch is perhaps the greatest complement of all.
After the match on Sunday night Guardiola was quick to praise Xavi for his influence on the side and what he adds to Barcelona. When he doesn’t play Barcelona are a lesser side and the team suffers for it. Perhaps the real importance of Xavi will only be realised when he retires. How the likes of Fabregas and Thiago go about replacing him will be interesting to see but for many lovers of the beautiful game, Barcelona without Xavi will simply never be the same.
So after two wins in a week and reconfirmation of Messi as the greatest player in the world, Barcelona can try and start to get their air of invincibility back in domestic away matches this Sunday at Atletico Madrid. Even if Barcelona are not able to win the league this season, an improvement in away fixtures is needed. And with no Champions League fixtures in the midweek afterwards, expect Barcelona to put a full strength team out against Los Colchoneros. Barcelona’s season will now be defined by just a select few fixtures in Europe and at home. With the league all but over, Barcelona need European glory and a win in the Copa Del Rey final more than ever. But the league still holds important fixtures for them. Their away form will need to improve to make sure they don’t fall even further behind Real Madrid and the El Classico in April may prove an important psychological match up if the two sides are still in the Champions League by then. This has proved a positive week for Barcelona, but they need more of these if they are to continue their push for silverware this season.