There was a sure sense of inevitability that hung within the air on the Camp Nou. Bayern Munich winger Sadio Mané scored the opener within the ninth minute and hardly celebrated. A second went in on the thirty first minute and all was already misplaced. The 84,000 supporters had seen this script play out earlier than: Mighty FC Barcelona was merely not adequate in opposition to the German membership.
That did not cease the jeers from raining down at full time of Barca’s 3–0 loss, and it definitely did not ease the sting of what was a defeat of huge significance. Barcelona was out of the Champions League earlier than the knockout stage in a season it wanted to achieve it greater than every other.
A summer season of economic calamity and future income auctioned off for present money was deliberate on the thought the membership would make a UCL run. It did not, and so all eyes on the membership turned to La Liga, which it hasn’t gained since 2018-19.
“La Liga tops our priorities,” Xavi advised Barca TV in December. “Now we have the [Spanish] Tremendous Cup in January and the Copa del Rey and the Europa League arising too, however the league marks the season.”
However because it restarts its season after the winter World Cup, this Barcelona aspect would not fairly but have the really feel of a league-winning membership. It would not have to be the dominant aspect that gained eight of 11 league titles from 2009 to ’19 (and it definitely is not). However the future monetary well being of the Catalan membership hinged on two issues from this season: Reaching the Champions League final 16 and successful La Liga. The primary dream has already been dashed, and the membership must accept making an attempt to seize a Europa League comfort prize. The second will not be attainable with out the membership’s exorbitant summer season spending spree paying off.
The offseason spending has largely helped the membership’s on-field product. Robert Lewandowski, to no one’s shock, continues to be scoring with the machine-like precision that has earned him a fame as a robotic attacking drive. The previous Bayern Munich striker who tore up the German Bundesliga for a decade has transitioned quickly to La Liga. His 13 objectives are greater than anybody in Europe’s prime 5 leagues other than fellow cyborgs Erling Haaland (21) and Harry Kane (15). He has improved the main focus and move of a Barcelona assault that struggled at instances final yr.
The opposite two big-money strikes have additionally had their moments within the highlight with out actually recapturing the shape that led them to the japanese Spanish coast. Raphinha, in from Leeds for $61 million, has put out simply two objectives and two assists in La Liga this season. The winger’s match alongside an ascending Ousmane Dembélé continues to be not solely clear. Defender Jules Koundé ($53 million) has been sturdy at his most popular heart again spot, which leaves considerably of a query mark at proper again, the place he performed for the primary half of the season.
The excellent news: It is completely not all doom and gloom for the Blaugrana, even when a lot of the skin noise (and the primary half of this text) says in any other case. No workforce in Europe’s prime 5 leagues has a greater anticipated purpose (xG) differential this season. The one video games through which it did not lead the xG stakes had been wins over defensive-minded Mallorca and Osasuna. The magic of the Pep Guardiola, Cruyffian-style, prime Barcelona tiki-taka is just not all the time there, however Xavi has made certain his aspect of him has stored majority possession in each sport he has performed this yr.
The difficulty with the workforce’s present monetary setup is that whereas different contenders (particularly arch nemesis Actual Madrid) can retool a bit throughout the January switch window, reinforcements aren’t imminent for Barcelona. La Liga altered its monetary honest play guidelines in November, limiting the variety of extra monetary levers the membership might pull to mortgage future income for present ones.
“The president [Joan Laporta] It has been clear we’re in a troublesome scenario, nearly not possible, so speaking about reinforcements is senseless in the meanwhile,” mentioned sporting director Jordi Cruyff, per the Athletic. “Though we’ll see if we’re capable of do one thing when the market opens.”
In order that leaves this yr’s La Liga probably right down to the two-horse race that dominated the higher a part of the final 20 years. Barcelona and Actual Madrid, Blaugrana and Blancos, titans of the game (and European Tremendous League truthers), sit in a impasse on the prime of the league heading into the weekend’s fixtures.
Barcelona’s cross-country rivals are in glorious kind. Karim Benzema missed a number of weeks in October and Madrid hardly missed a beat. Winger Vinícius Jr. is coming into his personal de él as a celebrity. Midfielders Aurélien Tchouaméni, Fede Valverde and Eduardo Camavinga appear like the long run after the sensible Luka Modrić lastly loses his powers, if that occurs throughout the century. The reigning champions have picked up extra factors per contest to this point than they did in final yr’s runaway title-winning season.
In the meantime Actual Sociedad, which hasn’t completed within the prime three in 20 years, has began the season brightly. La Actual sits in third (9 factors off first) and will probably be bolstered by the return of striker Mikel Oyazarbal, who’s slowly being labored again into the lineup. He tallied double-digit objectives in 4 straight seasons earlier than rupturing his ACL final March.
Then looms Atlético Madrid in fourth. Bother has been brewing for a while with the 2020-21 league champions. Younger star João Félix made clear his displeasure with supervisor Diego Simeone and the membership, and the membership has made clear its willingness to let the $126 million switch go. Simeone himself is not too in style in the meanwhile. His uber-defensive counterattacking fashion is not satisfying when it would not work (and oftentimes not even when it does). It wasn’t working for a lot of the season’s opening stage, and Atleti sits in fourth and 11 factors behind the league leaders.
And there awaits Barcelona’s subsequent huge check on the Estadio Wanda Metropolitano on Sunday. Two groups in flux, in dire want of a title cost this season. Atléti, too, missed out on the UCL knockout stage. For the Blaugrana, their standing as one of many European giants could also be in dire straits until they’ll begin choosing up outcomes in opposition to the continent’s prime groups—their 4 losses this season are in opposition to Bayern Munich, Inter Milan, Actual Madrid and Bayern Munich once more. A win in opposition to Simeone’s aspect—particularly with out Lewandowski, who’s serving a three-match suspension—would present this membership is certainly able to salvaging among the monetary burden this season will incur.
The longer term has already been mortgaged. The remainder of the La Liga season is Barcelona’s probability to put it aside.