Barcelona's season - Milan tie presents an opportunity for salvation
Unlike last year, the Catalans started the season 2012-2013 on a real high, except the loss to the Los Blancos in the Spanish Super Cup. Everything went smoother than butter for the Blaugrana. While Guardiola had left, Tito showed promise to be the potent mastermind to succeed the former manager, who won an amazing 13 trophies in the four years at the helm of Barcelona. In short, the perfect replacement for Guardiola was sitting right beside him.
They started the domestic season on a good note and had almost won the league with half the season to play for, leaving the contenders from Madrid miles behind. Match days and months went by and the Catalans just became better and better and better. Their amazing form coupled with the damp form of their opponents meant they were on their way to snatching the domestic title away from their fiercest rivals, Real Madrid. Meanwhile in the Champions League it was easy for them to move to the next round round, topping their group with 13 points where they were drawn against the likes of Benfica, Spartak Moscow and the real surprise pack, Celtics. The team seemed flamboyant in Europe except for the two games against the Scottish giants which saw them draw 1-1 at home and a 2-1 loss at the Celtic Park. A loss to which the Catalan coach responded by saying,
“The stadium was spectacular. I have been lucky in my career to have been to many grounds, but I have never seen anything like it. This was their 125th birthday and I wish them many more years.”
But then came the months of December and January which saw Tito Vilanova leave for treatment in the United States for a relapsed cancer condition. All this happened at a key point of the season, when Barcelona had a round of 8 tie against an in form Malaga who drew 2-2 away at Camp Nou only to lose 4-2 to a superior Catalan side.
The tie against Milan was almost dead and buried considering the high flying form of the Catalans and the sorry state of a Milan side which still demands stability after a year when they sold key players and lost some experienced brains to retirements. But what happened just shook the world or at least the Barcelona for that matter. A Milan side that was nowhere near their opponents in terms of form and momentum pulled off, in my opinion, the greatest upset so far this season in the Champions League. A 2-0 thrashing of the Barcelona in the San Siro!
Then came the key Copa del Ray tie against the arch-rivals Real Madrid. The first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu ended 1-1 thanks to a host of missed chances by the champions elect of the La Liga – Barcelona and some great defending by Raphael Varane, a player who in spite being 19 years old, seemed to be the most experienced man on the pitch. The return leg was the extension of sorrow for them as it finished 3-1 against them. It was a knock-out punch on the face of Barcelona.
With the La Liga trophy already in the bag and the dreams of winning the domestic cup thrashed completely, the pressure is now on the Catalans to win the trophy of Europe’s elite club competition, the Uefa Champions League, a competition the team predominantly comprising La Masia graduates are made for. Winning the game against Milan will be useless unless they are able to win the tie. After such a depressing period, the Barcelona players will be looking to prove it to themselves rather than to the world that they are the best side in the world, a side every other side wants to beat. If they go down in the tie against Milan, the season will be well over for the Spanish side.
Well, whatever the outcome of the tie may be, it is clear that a football club doesn’t depend only on a player or the group working as a whole. It’s the motivation and inspiration that gives them the power to do the unthinkable. Any team without a leader is aimless and the case of Barcelona is no exception. Winning the tie overcoming a 2-0 deficit without a leader and in the wake of such a horrible form is what every Barcelona fan hopes and deserves. It’s the pivotal period for the side. The time for make it or break it stuff.