It was another tough week for Barcelona. The loss of Tito Vilanova on Friday to the cancer that he had been fighting for over two years cast a shadow of mourning over the Catalan club. The players saluted their former Coach in an emotional – and slightly tearful – goodbye on Saturday. Suffice to say, it was hardly the best preparation ahead of a tricky trip to El Madrigal.
A sad week looked like it was going to end with yet more sorrow on Sunday night. Trailing by two goals at the hour mark, Barca saw their chances of retaining their title slipping away. A defeat would have ended all hope.
And it did not look as if they would be able to avoid the loss. It came as little surprise Barca were behind. They looked, and perhaps understandably, a little absent and their play suffered as a result. It was disjointed, disorganized and lacking conviction.
Just two days after Tito – not only their former Coach but perhaps more famous for the role he played in Barcelona’s greatest ever era between 2009 and 2012 as Pep Guardiola’s sidekick – had passed away, it would have been most unfortunate if Barca were to concede the last title they still had a chance of winning. Thankfully, it did not end this way.
Nothing seems to be going Barca’s way of late. All sorts of issues off the field have plagued the club this past year and it all has slowly started to affect the team on the field. Yet, on 65 minutes things started to fall their way just a bit.
A powerfully driven cross was flamboyantly deflected home by Gabriel and Barca were back in the game. Incredibly, just 13 minutes later, the Yellow Submarines did it again. This time it was Mateo Musacchio and this time it was much harder to believe. Running toward his own goal and not under a great deal of pressure, Musacchio headed the ball past his goalkeeper. It was the kind of own goal that might raise suspicions elsewhere.
Nevertheless, without scoring a goal themselves, it was 2-2 and Barca were back. The two own goals, as they would, galvanized Tata Martino’s men, who pushed and pushed for the winner. And it came just five minutes later, and, as it so often is, it was Lionel Messi after some fine and generous play from Cesc Fabregas.
By the end of the 90 minutes, few would begrudge Barca victory. Though they received two absolute gifts, they ended the game clearly the strongest and most deserving winner. More importantly, it was much more fitting way to say “Adios” to Tito.
And for La Liga it is good news too. It keeps Barca in the title race alongside Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid. It also keeps alive the hope that on the final day of the season when Atletico travel to Barcelona, how this game ends might still have some bearing on who takes the big prize. What a contest it would be.
While the race is still open, Atletico are very much in control of it still. Diego Simeone’s men just need six more points to all but wrap up their first League crown since 1996. It could all well be over before they travel to Camp Nou.
Seeing how Los Colchones overcame Valencia at Mestalla – grinding down their opposition by being resolute at the back, pressuring everywhere and being ruthlessly efficient in attack – it is hard not to back them doing the same on the road against Levante next week and then at home to Malaga the week before. And this is no matter what happens on Wednesday night in the Champions League.