End of an era (and other such nonsense)

FCB. They’re in rough shape right now, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who hears the funeral bells. They missed out on their chance to claim their domestic cup by losing to their greatest rivals in one of their most humiliating defeats in recent memory. They were beaten in the Champions League in a fashion that will leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth for months to come. Even their league run was pretty subpar.

As the more astute of you have probably figured out, I’m not talking about FC Barcelona here. I’m talking about FC Bayern Munich. Specifically, I’m talking about Bayern Munich in 2011-2012.

Last year was a horror of a season for them. They lost out on the league by 8 points. They were humiliated by a 5-2 loss in their domestic cup by Borussia Dortmund, who also beat them in both league matches. And, most notably, after making a strong run in the Champions League, they lost to a weakened Chelsea side on penalties.

The last month of the season was full of painful losses and tears.

Over the summer, Bayern did not fire their coach. They did not sell half the team. They were active in the transfer market and bought several players who have been key in their success this year, but they didn’t replace the entire starting XI by any stretch of the imagination.

And this season, they have been on fire.

There’s absolutely no reason why Barcelona cannot do the same thing, and many reasons to think that they can. The nice part of painful, humiliating ends of the season is that they tend to make lasting impressions and spur necessary changes.

We can’t make the same excuses this year that we could last year. We didn’t just get unlucky against Bayern in the UCL, and we didn’t just get unlucky against Real Madrid in the CDR. We played poorly and did not really deserve to move on. End of story.

However, make no mistake: these aren’t new problems. There are certain factors that have exacerbated them, but at their core, these are not new issues, and it’s time we address them.

The major exacerbating factor is, of course, the loss of Tito Vilanova for several months mid-season because he was in a different country being treated for cancer.

Digest all of that for a moment.

Vilanova had only been their coach for five or six months, and he was still adjusting and adapting the system that was obviously in need of a little change. It was evident in games – Barcelona were starting to have a plan B, in that they were starting to play a more direct, adaptive game. When he left, that progress slowed to a crawl, and after a little while, they began to slide back to what had stopped working last season. They haven’t been able to recapture since his return, and I don’t expect them to manage it before the end of the season.

However, the tactics are only part of it. The psychological toll this relapse took on the players has been quite clear. Vilanova has been an integral part of many of their careers. He coached some when they were in La Masia, he was an important part of Pep’s team, and he has helped several of them step out of Barca B into the first team. He’s been a major part of their careers.

Of course Vilanova’s relapse has had a profound effect on the team. How could it not, especially given Abidal’s struggles as well? Cancer is serious, and in the last few years they’ve had two people who have been a major part of the team battle it, triumph, and then relapse. That’s exhausting. That takes a toll.

Those are just exacerbating factors, of course. Even before Vilanova left, the defense was a complete mess. Even before Vilanova left, the team was vulnerable to injuries and becoming a bit too dependent on Messi.

But the relapse magnified all of those problems.

Those problems, however, are very fixable, and now management can no longer ignore them. At this time next year, Barcelona may well be right back on top, just as Bayern Munich are now.

So don’t despair, and don’t get pulled into the media’s fervor about Barcelona being done. They’ll be back, and hopefully, they’ll be even better than ever.

La Liga: where the top three could stumble

Right now, Barcelona have a sizeable lead (13 and 14 points, respectively) on Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid, and with only 27 points left to play for are almost assured of winning the title.

However, all three teams have some tough fixtures ahead of them. Click through to see where they’re most likely to stumble.

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La Liga: Round 23 (projections)

Note: This is being published after the Mallorca/Osasuna game started – sorry. I wrote most of it up last night, but then I needed that little thing called sleep.

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Tracking Europe: Matchday 20-22

Tracking Europe: La Liga, Matchday 20-22

Something pretty catastrophic would have to happen for Barcelona and Real Madrid to fail to qualify for the UCL, but what about the other two spots? The competition for them is always heated, and this year, it doesn’t look like one of them will automatically go to Valencia.

So, throughout the season, I’m going to be tracking the five most likely contenders for those UCL spots, and recapping how their prospects look. Click through for matchdays 20-22.

Note: This is the fifth post in a series.

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CDR semi-final leg 1: Clasico

(Everybody’s doing it. I feel like I ought to, too. Sorry it’s a bit late – I have a day job, too.)

I went into this game feeling tense. I was sure that Barcelona would lose – and not just lose, but lose horribly. It just seems like the favorites never win the clasico, and Barcelona were the favorites going in.

But as it turned out, the game was nervewracking, intense, and for many fans of both sides, terrifying for the entire 90 minutes. In a lot of ways, that’s a good thing – it means that it was a great game in which no one was really humiliated. However, I’m also not sure how much more of that my heart can take, and I’m sure I’m not the only fan who feels that way.

But onward and upward.

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