F or a team that comfortably won the LaLiga title again this season – an eighth success in their last 11 attempts – Barcelona has completed the 2018/19 campaign under a dark cloud.
If their experience with the Champions League semi-final second leg at Anfield broke them, then the loss to Valencia in the final of the Copa del Rey was the final moment when they were fired while they were already down.
When Lionel Messi appeared in front of the assembled press members in the build-up to Valencia, an event which is now something of increasing rarity, it was the hot question remained Barcelona's wonderful surrender to Jürgen Klopps Liverpool.
Remorseful and antagonized in equal measure, he offered another excuse. To whom that excuse was intended is not entirely clear. There is absolutely nothing that can be said to the believers in Barcelona who will ease their present level of pain. Perhaps Messi had to apologize to journalists in the presence. Perhaps Messi apologized to the gods and gravity of football itself.
The weight of the world on his shoulders, Messi is becoming increasingly irritable with football. Apart from the last 15 minutes of the Champions League semifinal first leg, through the two games against Liverpool, he cut a largely abandoned figure, despite his ingenious flash. He was frustrated by much of the 180 minutes played.
Conversely, Messi has produced even more outrageous moments this season, including finding out what is really a Panenka free kick. His repertoire knows no boundaries; his talents have no modern betters. The older he gets, the more indestructible he becomes when it comes to absorbing defeat. His temporary international pension after the 2014 World Cup was undoubtedly the first real sign of this concept.
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You are not supposed to take defeat well, but only those who are blessed with the greatest gifts, make losses as if they were supposed to be immune from them.
This season, Barcelona won the LaLiga title with 11 points and finished 19 points from Real Madrid. The Champions League was last won by them in 2015, which doesn't sound so long ago, until you realize with the first opportunity to win it again, there will have been five years of waiting. They have only won the tournament once in the last eight attempts.
It has hurt Messi and Barcelona to watch Real Madrid win four of the last five Champions League – a Real Madrid that has largely been under their thumbs at home.
When Real won the LaLiga title in 1989/90 – a fifth consecutive win – it was for the 25th time. In the next three decades, Los Blancos has added only seven more domestic league titles to his honor list. They have been masters of Europe during that time as many times as they have been champions of their own nation.
By the end of the 1989/90 season, Real Madrid had won the LaLiga title 15 times more than Barcelona had. That gap has now been eroded to seven.
What Real Madrid did in the summer of 1990 was that they took their dominance in their home country for granted. A cluster of semifinal defeats in the European Cup and a drought in the tournament that stretched back to 1966 became a heavy burden to bear. They lost focus on home affairs and Johan Cruyff entered when his Barcelona won the next four LaLiga titles, while writing a whole new set of writings at Camp Nou that would be followed, almost to the letter, of most coaches to follow in Cruyff's footsteps.
Initially, while Real Madrid was distracted by their quest for a sacred European football barbecue, Barcelona built a dynasty that is still reverberated today.
Suddenly, Barcelona finds itself standing on a similar road crossing in 2019 until one Real Madrid arrived in 1990. Ernesto Valverde's future at Camp Nou is obviously doubtful, despite his team riding out into the distance with the LaLiga title via a handsome winning margin.
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To waste a significant Champions League advantage as they did in Rome last year, it was careless. Throwing another great Champions League advantage, as they did in Liverpool this season, proves difficult to forgive and impossible to forget.
Top of this now is a final Copa del Rey defeat in the hands of a regularly rejuvenating Valencia.
An 11-point winning gap is left to feel madly hollow almost. Instead of enjoying the whole summer, Barcelona will break; They will lick their wounds. Even worse, Zinedine Zidane will plot at the Santiago Bernabéu.
If not Valverde himself, Barcelona will have food for thoughts this summer. Messi cannot be standard bearer forever; Luis Suarez has not fired on all cylinders; while Philippe Coutinho has never been welcomed to the club with open arms, despite the powerful nature he followed.
Together with Messi and Suarez, Gerard Piqué Jordi Alba, Ivan Rakitić, Arturo Vidal and Sergio Busquets are all in their 30s. Carles Puyol, Andrés Iniesta and Xavi are still distant mirages. An aging team trying to absorb painful psychological Champions League battles. La Liga's landscape may be there to be changed if a club forward with a convincing alternative to a Barcelona was at a crucial juncture.
A LaLiga title won convincingly, a Champions League semifinal reached and a Copa del Rey final lost: at face value it doesn't sound like a crisis, but scratches on veneers and you find a Barcelona that looks far more vulnerable than they should be comfortable with.
At least, they need to go back to the drawing board as they have made the potentially lethal error stand still and stop developing. Within this, if they are watching to consolidate domestic, to reach out for a short-term European stage excitement, they can only gamble away the next generation of domestic superiority that could see them reaching LaLiga winning parity with the capital from the capital.
By Steven Scragg @ Scraggy_74