FC Barcelona are hoping for a miracle tomorrow, as they welcome Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain to the Camp Nou for the second leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 clash. The Blaugrana are teetering on the brink of elimination after PSG handed them a definitive 4-0 drubbing at the Parc des Princes just three weeks ago but in spite of this virtually insurmountable deficit, there is a sense of hope both within the club and amongst the fanbase as a whole that maybe, just maybe, a remuntada might be on the cards.
In amidst the optimism and the self-belief, it’s easy to get carried away and believe that Barcelona will complete the comeback and at the risk of dampening everyone’s spirits, I’d like to remind everyone that this simply won’t be the case. However in this instance, the final result and the whole “will they, won’t they” matter is immaterial. Forget the number of goals Barcelona need to score, and how they cannot realistically afford to concede – the only part of the equation tomorrow that actually matters is hope.
Perhaps this is a topic for another time, but one could argue that this “Valentine’s Day massacre” could prove to be a defining point in the modern history of the club. The manner of the defeat almost certainly influenced the timing of Luis Enrique’s announcement that he is set to step down at the end of the season, while the defeat itself has in some respects had a cathartic, cleansing effect on the fanbase.
After the initial fallout and finger-pointing, the mood swiftly evolved into one of optimism – a regression of sorts to a simpler time and a more conventional expression of football fandom. For one night at least, there is less scrutiny regarding team selection and tactics and instead an unrivalled, uninterrupted focus on simply supporting the team.
Over the past decade, this particular part of Barcelona hasn’t experienced much in the way of difficult times, and for all the happiness and joy that this success has brought in the moment, the long-term impacts have been intoxicating for large swathes of the fanbase. While other clubs have had more than their fair share of downs to accompany any highs that they may have reached, Barcelona’s consistent ride along cloud nine only served to desensitise us all from the pleasures that success can bring.
The goals from Angel di Maria, Julian Draxler and Edinson Cavani were a timely reminder that glory and success can be ever so fleeting, and that the football gods who have kindly smiled down on us in the past can be fickle and vindictive. The players we worship are human after all, and while FC Barcelona may be més que un club, sometimes they can be just another team on the field.
Just as there have been some great moments, there will also be some challenging times as well and as fans our level of commitment shouldn’t waver dependent upon results. Through thick and thin our support should be unconditional and at the end of the day, results are a pleasant by-product – our main sustenance should be the illusion of hope and the element of escapism that each match brings anew.
Excitement is already building ahead of tomorrow’s match, arguably to a greater extent than for a normal match. Questions are being asked not only in the streets of Catalunya, but in offices and home across the world. What if PSG are in the midst of an injury crisis? What if Barcelona score in the first 15 minutes? What if they are 2-0 up at half-time?
The form guide says that it will be difficult, the pundits say that it will be unlikely and the history books say that it will be impossible… yet the question remains:
What if they actually managed to pull it off?
Paris Saint-Germain 4-0 FC Barcelona – 14th February 2017 – UEFA Champions League
The Parisians outclassed their Catalan counterparts by putting on a masterful display at the Parc des Princes, as goals from Angel di Maria (2), Julian Draxler and Edinson Cavani condemned the visitors to their worst defeat in almost four years.
Barcelona (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Roberto, Pique, Umtiti, Alba; Busquets, Rakitic, Iniesta; Messi, Suarez, Neymar
PSG (4-3-3): Trapp; Meunier, Silva, Marquinhos, Kurzawa; Krychowiak, Verratti, Rabiot; di Maria, Cavani, Draxler
The heart longs for a Manita; the head suggests a 3-1 win may be a more prudent prediction.