If there ever was a game where a club side played at near perfection in world club football, it was on the night that Pep Guardiola and Lionel Messi-led Barcelona practically demolished Jose Mourinho-led Real Madrid by a then near-unprecedented 5-0 at the ‘El Clásico’.
This near perfect display was to last for years as Barcelona conquered repeatedly not only Spain, Europe but also world club football in a dominating fashion.
Fast forward to now and Barcelona are not only struggling to hold on to a top-three position in the company of Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid in Spain, but were handed a back-down-to-earth, crushing defeat by Coach Unai Emery’s Paris Saint Germain (PSG), 4-0 at a Champions League Round of 16 encounter in Paris.
The shocking part of this encounter was not just the fact that this talented team were beaten by a high score but the impotent manner in which Barcelona digested the defeat.
To understand the relative gravity of this defeat, it is imperative to look back at how and why Barcelona were near invincible in the recent past under Guardiola and to some extent under Luis Enriqué.
Barcelona dominated all opposition not only by their ball possession, in their now world famous Tiki Taka passing style, but also in the way they controlled the opposition when they were not in possession by their aggressive pressurising of the opposition.
Barcelona averaged 65 per cent ball possession and in some encounters as high as 71 per cent. To understand this percentage scenario, liken it to the opposition only having possession in their own defensive third of the pitch or when they had to make throw-ins, free kicks etc.
Barcelona played like one unit, a collective and in Lionel Messi they had that rare individual breed that gave them numerical advantage each time they went on attacks and unblocked compact and packed defences.
Yesterday against Paris Saint Germain, Barcelona reached their low point as a shadow of their former selves – something we have gradually noticed develop in the recent past. At one point one would have thought it was a different team wearing Barca’s colours on the pitch.
Missing was the constructive and well-structured playing out from the back, numerical superiority on most sections of the pitch thanks to their mobility, organised and collective “chases” for ball recovery when not in possession etc. that mad them the toast of world football.
This definitely sent tongues wagging after the game as many cried the end of an era, technical crew etc. as Barca risk their first elimination at this stage of the Champions League in almost a decade.
However, I feel this Barcelona side is far from finished. As long as Messi is in this team I feel they will get their act together, probably, at worst, come the summer of 2017.
Barcelona’s domination in the past was more than energy sapping and in fact it was near inhuman at times as the physical demands on the body to play in this way are highly demanding. One needs youthful exuberance, the highest level of discipline and sacrifice to sustain this level.
All these wane as success after success is achieved as the human factor sets in.
Barcelona is not just a club, as they brag in Spain - it is a culture and a style of life.
Trust this huge and monumental institution to bounce back quickly and react to stay at the top because not only does their financial survival depend on it, but also the cultural identity of the Catalan region of Spain.
I do agree, these are testing times for Messi and his Barcelona colleagues, but like true legends, they always bounce back.