The status quo was kept in La Liga last night, as Barcelona and Real Madrid racked up big victories with the season drawing to a close – but with the title race all but over, the attention was grabbed by an emotional Camp Nou.
Shortly after Real Madrid swept Levante aside in a 5-1 win, Barcelona went one better, as they took to the field and demolished bottom club Mallorca to the tune of 5-0, as Cesc Fabregas bagged a hat trick, and Alexis Sanchez scored a confidence-boosting brace.
The main headline from the night came in the 69th minute, with Barca already 5-0 up and deciding to substitute Fabregas and Andres Iniesta in preparation for Wednesday's crucial Champions League second leg against Paris Saint-Germain.
The third and final change for Tito Vilanova's side was to withdraw defender Gerard Pique, and introduce Eric Abidal. Over a year since his last first team appearance, the Frenchman’s return was met with a sensational ovation from all sides of the stadium.
His situation has been well publicised – diagnosed with a tumor on his liver in 2011, Abidal had surgery, and returned to action as Barcelona lifted the Champions League trophy against Manchester United just two months later.
Exactly a year after he was initially diagnosed, it was announced that Abidal was going through a liver transplant after further complications. Having been through the operation and recuperation process over the past twelve months, the defender’s triumphant return was a welcome boost for the Catalan club as they enter a crucial part of the season, and the Frenchman's delight was evident after the game.
"It was a long lay-off. I really struggled. I received a lot of support through this year and this was the most important thing. From my wife, my parents, my friends, but also the fans of Barcelona too,” Abidal said.
"Without them, I would not have returned to football. It was a unique moment. I really enjoyed these 22 minutes. My goal was to return. Now it is done and I try to look a little beyond this.”
"After a year of effort and hard work, the ovation is the best thing I could have had."
Coupled with boss Vilanova's return from cancer treatment, it was a good night for all connected with the club. As poignant as the night was, the team were unable to dwell on yesterday’s events, as the game with PSG looms on the horizon.
The 2-2 draw from the first leg leaves the Blaugrana in pole position to reach the semi-finals, but Blaise Matuidi's late equaliser was a deflating blow. Additionally, Lionel Messi's injury means Barcelona will have to go through without their star man – even though rumours suggest he may be on the bench in case of emergency.
Another trip to the last four would cap off a fine few days for the team, but Abidal's well-being is no doubt the best present they could have received.