Camp Nou has its first chance to respond after Barça’s ‘Setmana Tràgica‘ with the visit from Bilbao’s Athletic Club tomorrow night for the 34th league game of the 2013/14 season. With five games remaining in La Liga it might be hoped that the crowd would be 100% behind the team in an attempt to push the players to victory in order to keep alive the slim – but not totally unrealistic – chance of a final twist in our favour in this unpredictable title race. However, this is the first time Barça have suffered three successive defeats since January 2003, and those defeats have been so costly. It is almost inevitable that there will be some sort of protest.
I can only hope that individual players are not targeted. After what this team has given us over the last few years it would be a sad sight to see any of the team booed or whistled. I would also find it disappointing if Tata Martino was singled out for criticism. He always faced a difficult job arriving after Tito Vilanova’s illness and considering nobody at the club wanted to make any changes to the squad, he was left with a team on a downward decline. He was not to blame for the poor planning of the preseason which is ultimately the main reason the team is running out of gas now.
It is understandable that people are calling for big changes and I can only hope that Bartomeu does the decent thing now by calling elections. My big worry is that the present board will cling to their power for as long as they can which will only see Barça’s decline continue. The board don’t seem to have a clear direction and there are ongoing rumours over disagreements on subjects as important as the future of Leo Messi and whether or not to call elections. There seem to be those who want to totally reject ideas of possession-based football established by Cruyff or Guardiola while others recognize the importance of a philosophy that has brought more success than ever for the club in the last 25 years.
I am a strong believer in the way Barça play football and before we start changing things too drastically we might remember what Pep Guardiola said in January 2012 when the team was World, European and Spanish champions. “This won’t be for ever and sooner or later there will be a team better than us. That is when we will see if we have faith in this way of doing things…. If a club is firm in its convictions it will always move forward regardless of players, coaches or presidents who might be there”
The press and media have been having a field day selling off players and naming new coaches. We will still have to wait and see whether FIFA decides to overturn or reduce the transfer ban before we start offloading too many players. As for the new coach there are so many names being thrown into the hat: Klopp, De Boer, Luis Enrique, Laudrup, Paco Jemez and tomorrow’s opponents Athletic’s coach Ernesto Valverde are just some I’ve heard mentioned in the last couple of days.
The football may almost seem secondary tomorrow but there is still plenty to play for. Martino has to make do without the injured Piqué, Puyol, Alba and Neymar and the suspended Busquets, though Marc Bartra has made the match squad and Sergi Gomez has been called up to cover the number of absentees in defence. Athletic have put in an excellent season under Valverde and they look likely to clinch a Champions League place next season.
Barça’s squad: Pinto, Olazábal, Montoya, Alves, Sergi Gómez, Bartra, Mascherano, Adriano, Afellay, Song, Sergi Roberto, Cesc, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Tello, Pedro, Alexis.
Barça: Pinto; Montoya, Bartra, Mascherano, Adriano; Fabregas, Song, Iniesta; Alexis, Messi, Pedro.
Athletic: Iraizoz; De Marcos, San José, Laporte, Balenziaga; Iturraspe, Morán; Susaeta, Herrera, Muniain; Aduriz.
Prediction: Barça 3 Athletic 2
Date: Sunday 20 April 2014 Kick-off 9 pm local time.