Expect the unexpected. This week was supposed to be challenging, maybe even season-ending if results did not go Barcelona’s way. But they did, and how. The domination of Bayer Leverkusen was followed up by the destruction of third-placed Valencia; in total, the Blaugrana scored eight goals this week, allowing just two in reply. Did I mention that those two matches were against top-class opposition? Sure, neither are Real Madrid, but once again, the club produced when it really mattered. What more can you ask?
Last week I said that the team only needed to play well in nine matches, but after the 3-1 win in Germany, that figures drops to seven. That’s seven at a maximum. Think about it, the first leg of the quarter-final (which may render the second leg pointless, much like Tuesday’s performance did), the first leg of a semi-final (same point as before applies), the final of both the Champions League and the Copa del Rey, and the remaining Clasico. That’s five games they must perform, certainly within reach. With Arsenal all but eliminated, and Chelsea facing a tough task against Napoli, the field is looking weaker than previous years – who knows? Maybe Pep Guardiola can become the first coach to retain the Champions League in his current format?
La Liga and Pep’s contract
Is a 10 point gap really insurmountable? Let me rephrase that: is a 10 gap really insurmountable when you are widely considered to be one of, if not the best team, in history? Well, maybe so, but isn’t that just testament to the sheer quality of the current Real Madrid team? We can say what we like about Jose Mourinho, but he has created an absolute monster. 20 wins from 23, 19 wins from their last 20 league matches, with 79 goals scored in the process. No team can put up those kind of numbers and not win a league title, it would simply be impossible.
They are so close to perfection it is unreal, for example their win against Racing Santander ensured that they have beaten 18 of the 19 teams in La Liga this season. I think we can guess who that last team is! Credit to them, you can only beat what is put in front of you, and they have mostly done just that. I maintain that the win will be hollow if they finish the season without a Clasico win, but the trophy will not look any different, feel any better or gain value either way.
Some are suggesting that this could be the reason why Pep Guardiola has not renewed his contract, but for those anxious about his future, fear not: I see no reason why Guardiola would leave. If he wins the league title this season or even the Champions League, his legacy continues. The players will have displayed their hunger and loyalty to the cause and there is that motivation to continue breaking records, setting milestones and ultimately to enhance that legacy further. Consecutive Champions League titles sounds good, but what about three consecutive Champions League titles? Surely that sounds even better? What about becoming the first club to retain a world title or a European Super Cup? If Guardiola is successful this season, he will have little reason to leave.
So what happens if he loses? What happens exactly if Real Madrid reclaims La Liga, and if Barcelona crash out of the Champions League? Well, he could leave, but wouldn’t that be the easy way out? If the players are supposedly less motivated to succeed, then the manager must take a share of the blame, it is his job to keep them focused after all. Then there’s the motivation to reclaim what Pep feels is his: the league title, the Champions League, maybe even the Copa del Rey. It would be cowardly to walk away from such a challenge; Pep Guardiola does not strike me as a cowardly man. To leave would be to admit that Jose Mourinho won, and while Guardiola insists that he works for the team, it would eat away at his very soul to have Jose Mourinho gloat about such a feat.
Then there’s the fact that his footballing philosophy is impossible to implement elsewhere. It would take hundreds of millions of pounds to turn any other club into a Guardiola team, money that is simply unavailable for spending now that Financial Fair Play has come into effect. Who else has an academy teaching a single ideology ready for usage in the upper echelons of football? Unless Guardiola retires, he will remain at Barcelona next season.
In blog-related news, I am happy to announce that Gabe Roberts has made the step-up to an Editor position on the blog. His latest article was part of my inspiration for this week’s topics, and now that he’s been writing for the blog for nigh-on a year, it felt right to offer him the role, and it’s great that he accepted. With a bit of luck we could start seeing more posts from Gabe in the next few months! If you are interested in joining the blog as a writer, just send an email to any one of me, Bostjan or our Google Mail account (barcablaugranes[dot]sbnation[at]gmail[dot]com) along with a writing sample or links to any of your work. Email links are available on the masthead.
Lastly, I would like to ask, how would everyone like to see statistical breakdowns of matches a day after the full-time whistle, with things like possession stats, shots for each team and more in-dpeth player stats to see who really did play well and who didn’t? Well worth a vote in the poll at least, or comment if you have any thoughts or suggestions!