For some clubs, advancing to the Champions League quarterfinals, remaining in contention to win its domestic league title and being one win away from another trophy would justifiably cause an outpouring of glee.
At Barcelona, it constitutes a crisis.
Despite a comfortable 2-1 victory over Manchester City in the last 16 of the Champions League on Wednesday to seal a 4-1 triumph on aggregate, a feeling of great unease remains in the vibrant Catalan city, one where soccer success has become so frequent that it is now more expected than rejoiced.
Arguably the world's most iconic club, a status contested with the likes of Real Madrid and Manchester United, Barcelona was greeted with screaming headlines predicting doom this week following a third defeat in six games in La Liga.
To those unfamiliar with the standards of performance expected at the club, it might all seem like a fuss about nothing. Heading into its second leg with City, Barça seemed as likely as anyone to win European club soccer's most important trophy and even more so now, while its four-point deficit to hated rival Real Madrid in the Spanish league is hardly insurmountable.
Compare that with the situation over in England at Man United, where there is certainly discomfort but not yet widespread panic despite falling 18 points behind Premier League leader Chelsea and being in danger of missing out on a top-four finish that would secure a Champions League return next season.
City's disappointment at being bounced from the competition will be offset by its ongoing delight at the struggles of the team across town. Yet while United boss David Moyes felt moved enough to pen an open letter to his club's fans apologizing for its dismal form, there has been no overwhelming sense of disaster, certainly not the type that has seen Barcelona come under fire from its supporters and the media in recent weeks.
Maybe the Barça bashing is a gross overreaction. After all, Lionel Messi recently returned from a nagging hamstring injury and is still finding his feet, but he still managed to score his eighth goal in five Champions League games with a 67th-minute strike and effectively seal a quarterfinal spot. Even with 28 goals in all competitions, the Argentinian is in the midst of his least productive season in recent memory.
One win, or one positive night, won't placate the locals just yet. There is a deep concern among Barça supporters over whether the structure is in place to continue the glut of success that led to three Spanish league titles in the last four years and three Champions League crowns in six seasons from 2006 to 2011. Moreover, club president Sandro Rosell resigned in January amid controversy and inconsistent reporting of the financial details surrounding the blockbuster signing of Brazilian superstar Neymar last summer.
Every great dynasty finds moving on difficult and it is unclear how swiftly change will be forced through at Barcelona. Midfield maestros Xavi and Andres Iniesta no longer have the same sap in their legs but seem to be staying put. Goalkeeper Victor Valdes and defensive hard man Carles Puyol have announced they will move on.
A big part of Barcelona's concerns is that Real Madrid's squad, led by Cristiano Ronaldo and enlivened by the arrival of Gareth Bale's craft and energy, seems to be fresher and with a greater upside. Barça's visit to Madrid on March 23, followed by the Copa del Rey final on April 16, could determine how its season will be remembered.
For now at least, Barcelona kept itself on track towards more European success by seeing off City. Vincent Kompany got a late equalizer but it mattered little as Dani Alves scored in the dying moments for the home side to make the gap over two legs appropriately significant. In reality, the score line could have been far different. French referee Stephane Lannoy made a pair of poor decisions in the first half, denying Messi a clear penalty when he was kicked by Joleon Lescott and ruling a seemingly legitimate Neymar goal for offside.
For Barça, the victory was more than welcome, but a muted crowd and the low-key celebrations of its players made one reality clear. Whether the situation constitutes a proper crisis or not, it is certainly being perceived as one in Barcelona.
Between now and season's end, three trophies aren't the only things at stake. So is Barcelona's aura of dominance.
- Sports & Recreation
- Champions League
- Real Madrid