Victor Valdes experiences anger. (Getty)
Barcelona lost to Real Madrid twice last week. The second time was a rather unimportant La Liga match as Real Madrid looked ahead to their Champions League game against Manchester United and Barca had the title all but won. Yet, when the match ended 2-1 in Madrid's favor, Barcelona were shouting for an uncalled penalty and goalkeeper Victor Valdes was sent off for berating the referee. This display apparently came as a surprise to Real Madrid defender Pepe, who must lack any level of self-awareness whatsoever.
Said Pepe (via Marca):
"I saw Barça in situations I would never have expected. The players surrounded the referee at the end of the game to challenge him. It's an ugly side that we're not used to. They are upset by losing games to us".
Though his conclusion should get him promoted to the rank of Captain Obvious, the rest of Pepe's comments speak to the increasingly popular theme of somehow past-it Barcelona tumbling into a downward spiral(!!!!!!!). They were knocked out of the Champions League by Chelsea and lost La Liga to Real Madrid last season (though they won the Copa del Rey). And this season they've lost to Celtic in the Champions League group stage (but still won their group), trail Milan after the first leg of their round of 16 tie and were knocked out of the Copa del Rey by Real Madrid as part of those two consecutive losses (but they still lead La Liga by 11 points and have a goal difference more than double that of second-place Atletico Madrid).
Not long ago, it was always Barca's opponents who would redirect their frustrations with their own shortcomings by ranting and raving at officials as the Catalans floated off the pitch, halos glistening, after yet another win. So to see a team that used to turn nearly every match they played into a controlled exhibition of complete and total domination over a sustained period of time now displaying human failings and emotions can be a shock to the system.
Of course there are rationalizations for their most recent struggles -- their manager is undergoing cancer treatment in New York, Lionel Messi dared to go without scoring a goal in two whole matches and Gerard Pique named his baby "Milan." But if anything, this isn't the end of Barcelona, it's a corrective period of slightly less success.
An inevitable byproduct of perfection is stagnation. When things are going so well, you usually don't want to make proactive changes for fear of messing up what's working. But, as Barca are finding out, the variables of form, fatigue, age, opponents and disappearing Guardiolas eventually throw wrenches in that perfection and force adjustment through reality checks like two losses to Real Madrid in one week.
The bottom line: Barcelona aren't finished, they're just finally showing that they're a team of human beings that can't sustain a singular status quo forever. Imagine that.
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- Real Madrid
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- Manchester United