Amid background unrest and uncertainty, Barcelona defies all logic to stun PSG
There is a theory in football, much propagated after Sir Alex Ferguson’s first–aborted–retirement, that managers should never let players know when they’re leaving because to do so makes them lame ducks. Why would a player listen, why would he follow an awkward instruction, if he knows his boss will be gone in two months anyway?
Tell that to Luis Enrique.
There had been rumblings at Barcelona for much of the season. There are always rumblings at Barcelona, perhaps the most political club in the world, but these were louder than normal: worries about the direction the club was taking, worries about recruitment, worries about the lack of Catalans in the side, worries about a lack of intensity, worries about the seeming disconnect between the vaunted front line of Neymar, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi and the rest of the team. None of the gripes were without substance, but Luis Enrique was entitled to wonder whether, after winning two doubles in his first two season, plus a Champions League title, he might not be afforded a little respite. Little wonder he has spoken of his weariness.
Matters came to a head three weeks ago, as Barcelona was hammered 4-0 by Paris Saint-Germain, a game in which it was outplayed from start to finish, out-pressed and out-passed. The cycle was ending, pundits concluded, reasonably enough: key players were aging, new players weren’t good enough. A desultory 2-1 win over Leganes the following Saturday, with a record low of one Catalan on the pitch–and that being Sergi Roberto, who had been woeful in Paris–only seemed to confirm the malaise.
But then Barcelona won 2-1 away at Atletico Madrid, while Real Madrid began to look vulnerable. Barcelona hammered Sporting Gijon 6-1 and Luis Enrique announced he was leaving. Later that night, Real Madrid drew at home to Las Palmas and Barcelona found itself top of the table. It’s true it has played a game more than Madrid, but with a Clasico to come, its destiny is in its own hands. Just as in January of Luis Enrique’s first season, when all seemed lost, momentum has come from nowhere. Then, as the front three worked out a way of playing together, it carried the club to the treble. It could happen again–without any of those background issues being resolved.
Celta Vigo was then dispatched 5-0, making it two five-goal victories in a row. A third, surely, was too much to ask. But what happened at Camp Nou on Wednesday will live in the memory as long as football is played. It was a series Barcelona lost twice and yet still won, a gloriously inexplicable night, the comeback completed by Sergi Roberto with the third…