The Catalans are on the brink of conceding La Liga’s title to arch-rivals Real Madrid as 10 points separate the two teams at the top of the table. However, Barcelona are still in the Copa del Rey and their chances of beating finalists Athletic Bilbao to clinch the trophy – currently held by Madrid – are bright. In the UEFA Champions League, the Catalans compete as pre-tournament favourites and titleholders.
However, they are entering into their Last 16 tie against Bayer Leverkusen with the Osasuna defeat in the back of their minds. Barcelona’s away form this season is indeed questionable but not without a justifiable reason. Simply, the Catalans have played too many matches since the past few years. Their success on the pitch is physically very demanding as it grows their fixtures list.
Yet, every time Barcelona go through a dip in form, criticism from the public erupts as if the value of all their achievements in the 21st century instantly vanishes away. Give the Blaugrana a break. How many teams would be able to humiliate giant oppositions over and over again?
And don't talk about the influence of referees in Barca's success because cheating is common in football, and miserably so! All teams, big ones especially, have their moments of "luck" and no team is fair and bold enough to come forward and refuse to be wrongly or mistakenly favored by referees.
“I did not mind what was said after [the 3-2 defeat to Osasuna in] Pamplona,” Guardiola bluntly told reporters on Monday in Leverkusen.
“Not having won, I thought that I'd find myself in a situation like this, but winning 13, of a possible 16 titles, shows that we do not throw anything away.
“People think that because the league is now very difficult, we will win the Champions League. And that if we do not win, it's a failure - as if it were simple. I don't understand that.”
In short, the public is claiming that Barcelona do not have the right to make a mistake or to miss a title. The fact is that football fans are so used to see the Catalans triumphing in different competitions that losing a single title among others becomes insufficient. Meanwhile, elites Manchester United, for example, are not being mocked to death for falling into the Europa League.
“The goal is to compete well, as in the second part in Pamplona, and see how far we get. We will evaluate [our performances] at the end of the season,” Guardiola explained.
“But this Champions League is as difficult as the two we won [in 2009 and 2011] and also the one we lost in the semis against Inter [in 2010].
“Since Milan's victories [in 1989 and 1990], nobody has defended the title.”
That’s a fact. There’s even an interesting UEFA Champions League formula that favours Real Madrid to steal the European title away from Barcelona this season. LiveSoccerTV.com took a look at this topic last year: Champions League Prediction: After Barcelona, Real Madrid Next In 2012?
“But I do not need the Champions League to prove our strength to me. These players have already shown what their level is,” Guardiola believes as he stated in Monday’s interview with the press.
So let’s put a pause, if not an end, to these critics surrounding the Catalans right now. Bayer Leverkusen v Barcelona is Guardiola’s main focus presently.
This UEFA Champions League Last 16 first leg match presents an opportunity for the Catalans to renew their confidence as the judgmental public watches. The prospect of yet another upset against Barcelona is not dead, though, as Pep Guardiola knows it.
“My biggest concern is to know Leverkusen well and to be aware of their virtues. They will be stronger than us when we do not have possession. That will lead to us giving away fouls and corners. And they are very dangerous in the air.
“If we do not have control [of the ball], we will have problems.”