La Liga Title Awaits: Barcelona vs. Athletic Bilbao - A Shot at Redemption after Bayern Munich Disaster

David Ramos

Barring a miracle - and it really would be a miracle - Bayern Munich will go through to play the final of the Champions League, probably against Borussia Dortmund. Bayern's win left the Catalans soul-searching, but it will all feel better if they can take one big step towards La Liga.

It's a very strange feeling.

Barcelona deserved to lose, probably more than ever, and yet 4-0 still looks a bit harsh.

The "refereeing expert" of Madrid-based paper Marca, which most agree has an anti-Barcelona bias, claimed that the first three of the goals should not have counted. The first, for a foul on Dani Alves, the second for offside, and the fourth for a foul on Jordi Alba.

(You can argue these, of course. Except the last one probably, it was fairly blatant.)

Tito Vilanova, in his first press conference since receiving cancer treatment, accepted the loss, but he felt the strange double feeling, too. "We deserved to lose, but not 4-0," the coach said. "Especially if you see how some of the goals were scored."

The usual suspects are out in full force to declare tiki-taka dead, or the cycle over, or whatever. This isn't the first time. Barcelona or the Spanish national team (the main purveyors of tiki-taka) have had their bad results, and the critics are quite eager to claim it means the death of an entire style.

But what kind of cycle ends with winning a league title? Barcelona could potentially win La Liga today with a win over Athletic Bilbao and Real Madrid losing to Atletico Madrid. If that doesn't happen, it's no reason to fret. Barca only need six points over the next six games to claim the trophy.

"People are being unjust," Andres Iniesta protested. "An era ends when you don't win anything for many years." While he recognized the performance at the Allianz Arena was terrible, he reasoned that "if you win the league, the season is never bad. And many things have happened, this has been one of the most difficult seasons."

Vilanova's and Eric Abidal's fights with cancer have been emotionally trying for everyone close to them. It also meant that for a large stretch of the season, Barcelona were to some extent without a coach.

Then there are the more pedestrian concerns, like the fact that it was a first-year coach, the ill-timed defensive injuries (Adriano or Marc Bartra lining up at CB for some of the most important games this season says it all). How about the fact that Lionel Messi was hurt in the last three Champions League games, missing more than half the time, and mostly injured when he did play?

Again, we have to ask: why is everyone so eager to announce the death of a style? No one, it seems, is trying to proclaim the death of the 4-2-3-1, or how counterattacking football is done.

After any big loss, though, some people want to know if possession football is "over." (Ignore for a moment, that Bayern Munich are the second-best possession team after Barcelona.) Whether it was Barca's 2-0 loss away to AC Milan this season, or the 1-0 loss against Switzerland that opened the 2010 World Cup for Spain, bad results have occurred. The critics, domestic and foreign, come out in full force.

Let's face it, no team can go on forever winning everything. No, not even Bayern Munich. What's unusual isn't that Barca lost, what's unusual is that some people are convinced they never could.

The Champions League final is a far-off dream, but La Liga is readily accessible. It's an unreasonable demand to expect a league and CL double every season, no matter what. It's basically impossible.

Whether you're feeling schadenfreude because you like Barca losing, or anguish because they lost, remember one thing.

No cycle ends with a league title.

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