Luis Enrique claims their defeat to Real Madrid has already been consigned to history.
The league leaders saw their 39-game unbeaten run come to an end at the Nou Camp, with Gerard Pique’s opener cancelled out by strikes from Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo as Barca lost their way in the final stages.
But Enrique was determined to focus on the positives, with his team six points clear of second-placed Atletico Madrid in La Liga and through to the Copa del Rey final as well as the Champions League last eight.
And with Tuesday’s first leg of the European quarter-final against Atletico fast approaching, Enrique was clearly anxious to avoid one defeat being converted into a crisis as the season reaches its decisive stages.
“This game already no longer exists for us,” he said. “There is no pain or anything like that. We been through a lot of games without losing, but defeat also teaches you things. What happened against Madrid can happen in any game – there are two teams. It’s unfortunate to lose a game at home but you don’t choose when you lose.
“We managed the game well for a large part of it, but Madrid closed ranks in the second half to find counter attacks and their first goal unsettled us.”
However, Enrique did partially accept that his decision to replace Ivan Rakitic, who had delivered a good performance, with the ineffective Arda Turan was a mistake.
“Ivan had a yellow card and that is a risk,” he explained. “Arda could give us more between the lines, getting into the area, but he came on at a time when the game went crazy and we committed several errors.”
Barca looked worryingly low in energy in the final stages of the contest despite playing the final few minutes against ten men following Sergio Ramos’s dismissal.
But Enrique denied his players are suffering from fatigue, adding: “I don’t like to look for excuses. Sometimes you have to play in these circumstances, with travel around the world, because we have the best players in the world.”
Real Madrid may not win the league this season, but they delivered a painful blow to high-flying rivals Barcelona over the weekend with a 2-1 victory in El Clasico on a night which was supposed to be a celebration of the legacy of Johan Cruyff.
Given that Barcelona—while winning—had not been particularly impressive in recent weeks, there are understandably those who are questioning whether the defeat is symptomatic of a loss of form at what will be a crucial stage of the season. The Catalan side face Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid in the Champions League this Tuesday evening.
Barcelona should be worried – really worried. Saturday’s loss against Real Madrid was just one loss. And to an extent we should not overreact and declare this single defeat to represent the end of their season.
But, but… and there is a significant but. This was not just a defeat. This was a defeat against their biggest rivals, Real Madrid. And most significantly, Barcelona deserved to lose and cannot just point to the fact that they have not lost one game in four months – this was not just an isolated event.
The defeat was coming. For the last few months Barcelona have got by on the attacking talents of their ridiculously prolific front-three, Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar. But beyond those three players, is there a world-beating team?
Of course, there is a very good side. Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic, Andres Iniesta and the rest are all really good players. But let’s face it, lots of teams have really good players.
Barcelona's ended record run of 39 games: 32W - 7D, goals 122-23 #fcblive [via fcb]— barcastuff (@barcastuff) April 3, 2016
The thing that makes the difference for Barcelona is that trident of Messi, Suarez and Neymar. When they are firing, they are very difficult, if not impossible, to stop. But if those three spectacular players can be subdued, Barcelona are just another team.
And recently, the superstar front-line have started to look somewhat tired. That’s no surprise, because they have played a huge number of games all over the world almost relentlessly for the last 12 months, and fatigue naturally reduces anyone to the ranks of mediocrity. 95 per cent of the time, the best players in the world will beat anyone else.
But against the best defences, it doesn’t work like that. Even the best can be stopped if they are struggling to find their top form, especially if they are not functioning as a trio.
To be blunt, Barca must be worried about the effectiveness of their front-three. They need to return to their best, now.
The team is built around them, and if they don’t rediscover their top form soon, Barca’s season will peter out, and dreams of another treble will fade and die.
There is every reason for Barcelona to take note of Saturday’s loss but it’s far too reactionary to be speaking of any geniune concern.
For starters, they could and should have had the game sewn up before half-time with Luis Suarez’s glaring miss inadvertantly setting the tone for the rest of the evening.
It’s unlikely the Uruguayan will miss another chance of that level of simplicity and it was a night where nothing rarely went right for the Catalans. It was an extremely rare occasion where he, Lionel Messi and Neymar all had off-nights and, while Sergio Ramos and Pepe’s dark arts played a part, ultimately it was down to their own game. I
t’s almost impossible not to take their involvement in South American World Cup qualifying as a major reason. For Suarez alone, it was the first time in 14 months he has been away with the Uruguay team and then had to report back.
Of their starting XI, six were on Transatlantic flights that landed in Barcelona on either Wednesday or Thursday and for Suarez, Messi, Javier Mascherano and Dani Alves, Friday was their only training session.
That’s a significant number, especially when you consider Madrid had just goalkeeper Keylor Navas in the same position. The Clasico came at a bad time and any signs of fatigue were always going to be magnified.
Tuesday’s Champions League tie against Atletico Madrid represents a rapid turnaround of fixtures but 48 extra hours back in Spain should make all the difference. If they again produce a ragged performance then, yes, it is time to be concerned.
For now, the display looked one of a team with more than one eye on the first leg.
Ramos is obviously going to talk up the prospect of cutting the seven-point gap but Barca have a very manageable run-in with six of their seven games against teams in the bottom half and the other being 10th-placed Deportivo who they haven’t lost to since 2008.
There may not be as much gas in the tank as earlier in the season, but Barca have a solid points buffer to ensure they can coast over the line in La Liga.
Let’s wait until Tuesday night before we cast any doubt over their Champions League challenge.
Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said his players would learn from the experience after their 2-1 Clasico loss at the hands of Real Madrid.
Gerard Pique put Barcelona in the lead with a powerful header before Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo scored either side of a Serio Ramos red card to take the spoils.
“It doesn’t feel good losing to Real Madrid in Cruyff’s tribute match,” the Barcelona manager said. “In the 14th minute I saw all the supporters thanking Johan.”
“We would liked to have finished the weekend with a win but sometimes football is curious.”
Did you watch El Clasico? Tweet us your thoughts on the match using #360Fans.