With the 3-1 victory over Villarreal in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final at Camp Nou, Barcelona are currently enjoying a 10-game winning streak that denotes a most unlikely turn of events following the Catalan club’s mini-crisis at the beginning of the year after the defeat to Real Sociedad.
The developments that have led to this unlikely revival started to unreel the moment Cristiano Ronaldo let out what will possibly go down in history as the infamous Bellow of 2015 that changed the course of an entire season for both Los Blancos and Los Blaugranas.
The notorious discharge by Ronaldo at the FIFA Ballon d’Or awards ceremony in January seems to have deflated his own firepower and, what’s worse, startled Messi back into coherence after his year-and-a-half-long daze.
With Messi back in perhaps a less explosive yet more rounded 2.0 version, Barcelona again seem capable of winning anything. It isn’t too farfetched to dream of a treble considering they already have one foot in the final of the Copa with Real Madrid and Atletico nowhere to be seen.
More than the imposing numbers amassed by Barcelona during their rich run of form – 37 goals scored and nine conceded over the last 10 games – it is the resilience they’ve shown at critical moments that has impressed the most. In particular, the consistency with which Barca have dealt crucial blows to the aspirations of their opponents just moments after giving up a goal is worthy of note.
Matching Atletico in intensity this year has been, in itself, a significant improvement on last season. But the way Barcelona handled themselves in the second leg of the Copa at Vicente Calderon says a lot about the character they have developed under Luis Enrique.
After Fernando Torres had opened the scoring in the first minute, Neymar put Barca level before the 10-minute mark. Then, when Raul García’s penalty strike on 30 minutes threatened to unsettle their nerves, La Blaugrana kept cool and needed only 11 minutes to score twice and settle the tie.
Four days later, in the league fixture against Villarreal at Camp Nou, a 29th-minute strike by Denis Cheryshev was matched by a Neymar goal before half-time and a one-two punch by Rafinha and Messi was the combination to counter Vietto’s 49th-minute strike within four minutes.
Similarly, in their 5-2 League victory over Athletic Bilbao last Sunday, 60- and 62nd-minute goals nullified the goal from Mikel Rico that had put the Basques back in the match on 57 minutes.
Finally, on Wednesday, when the Yellow Submarine tied the match at the beginning of the second half, Andres Iniesta cruelly crushed their hopes of pulling off an upset at Camp Nou after only one minute.
This capacity to shift gears as they please is reminiscent of Barcelona’s peak years under Pep Guardiola. Their newfound turbo mode, which is absolutely demoralising to their opponents, is symptomatic of a conviction and poise that had been lacking in the team for the last couple of years.
Alfredo Relano, of Madrid paper AS, has often written that Barcelona and Real Madrid are “communicating vessels” – when one goes up, the other goes down. The last couple of months have confirmed his theory yet again.
While in December we saw Real Madrid lift the Club World Cup and Luis Enrique apparently come close to packing his bags at Barcelona, today’s reality provides a huge contrast as both sides have experienced a striking reversal of fortunes in a remarkably short space of time.
Real Madrid’s impressive conclusion to 2014, including a 22-game winning streak that brought them close to the world record of 25 set by Brazilian club Curitiba, was abruptly interrupted by a sound beating from Milan in a friendly match that exposed a mental and physical fatigue which has led the world champions to a dismal start to 2015.
In nine matches this year, Carlo Ancelotti’s side have already accumulated three losses and one draw, registering an unflattering 19 goals in favour and 14 given up. The growing number of injured players and the negative repercussions of the birthday party celebrated by Cristiano Ronaldo on the night of the 4-0 crushing by their city rivals has added fuel to the club’s recent misery.
However, despite the optimistic scenario for Barca, it would be unwise for supporters to get too carried away with the current superiority of their trident over Los Blancos.
While Madrid are carrying the rut at moment, if Relano’s “communicating vessels” theory is any guide, all it will take is a slip by Barcelona or a spurt of inspiration by Madrid for their fortunes to be reversed in the blink of an eye.