F a team that comfortably won the LaLiga title once again this season – an eighth success in their last 11 attempts – Barcelona ended the 2018/19 campaign under a dark cloud.
the Champions League semi-final second at Anfield, then the loss to Valencia in the final of the Copa del Rey was the final moment when they were kicked while already down.
When Lionel Messi appeared before the assembled members of the press in the build up to facing Valencia, an event which is now something of increasing rarity, the hot topic of interrogation remained Barcelona's stunning capitulation against Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool.
Remorseful and antagonized in equal measure, he offered yet another apology. To whom that apology was intended is not quite clear. There is absolutely nothing that could be said to the Barcelona faithful that will ease their current pain levels. Perhaps Messi felt the need to apologize to the journalists in attendance. Maybe Messi was apologizing to the gods of football and to gravity itself.
Weight of the world upon his shoulders, Messi is becoming increasingly irritable with football. Apart from the last 15 minutes or so of the Champions League semi-final first leg, in the two games against Liverpool, he has a large number of figures, despite his flashes or genius. He was frustrated for much of the 180 minutes played.
Conversely, Messi has produced yet more outrageous moments this season, including of inventing what is essentially a Panenka free-kick. His repertoire knows no bounds; his talents have no contemporary betters. The older he gets, however, the more incorrigible he becomes when it comes to absorbing defeat. His temporary post-2014 World Cup international retirement was arguably the first real sign of this concept.
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This season, Barcelona won the LaLiga title at 11 points and finished 19 points clear of Real Madrid. The Champions League was last won by them in 2015, which does not sound that long ago until you realize the first opportunity of winning it again, it will have been a five-year wait.
It has beaten Messi and Barcelona to see Real Madrid win four of the last five Champions Leagues – in Real Madrid which has largely been under their thumb in domestic terms.
When Real won the LaLiga title in 1989/90 – a fifth successive win – it was for the 25th time. In the near three decades since, Los Blancos have added just seven more domestic league titles to their honors list. They have been champions of Europe during that time as many times as they have been champions of their own nation.
By the end of that 1989/90 season, Real Madrid had won the LaLiga title 15 times more than Barcelona had. That gap has now been eroded to seven.
What Real Madrid did in the summer of 1990 was that they took their domestic dominance for granted. A cluster of European Cup semi-final defeats and a drought in that tournament which stretched back to 1966 became a heavy burden to carry. They lost focus on domestic matters and Johan Cruyff stepped in as his Barcelona won the next four LaLiga titles, while simultaneously writing a whole new set of scriptures at the Camp Now that would be adhered to, almost to the letter , by most of the coaches to follow in Cruyff's footsteps
Basically, while Real Madrid became distracted by their pursuit of a holy European footballing grail, Barcelona built a dynasty that still reverberates today.
Suddenly however, Barcelona find themselves stood at a similar crossroads in 2019 to the one Real Madrid arrived at in 1990. Ernesto Valverde's future at the Camp Now being openly doubted, despite his team riding into the distance with the LaLiga title via a handsome winning margin.
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To throw away a sizeable Champions League advantage, if they did in Rome last season, was careless. To throw away a second seasonable Champions League advantage, as they did in Liverpool this season, proving difficult to forgive and impossible to forget.
Layered on top of this now is a Copa del Rey final defeat at the hands of a steadily rejuvenating Valencia.
An 11-point title winning gap is left to feel maddeningly hollow. Instead of rejoicing all summer long, Barcelona wants bread; they will lick their wounds. Even worse, Zinedine Zidane will be plotting at the Santiago Bernabéu.
If not Valverde himself, Barcelona will have food for thought this summer. Messi cannot be the default bearer forever; Luis Suarez has not fired on all cylinders; while Philippe Coutinho has never been welcomed at the club with open arms, despite the forceful nature with which he was pursued.
and Sergio Busquets are all in their 30s. Carles Puyol, Andrés Iniesta and Xavi are ever distancing mirages. An aging team is trying to blow up painful psychological Champions League. The landscape of LaLiga is perhaps to be altered with the help of an alternative to a Barcelona crossroads.
A LaLiga title convincingly won, a Champions League semi-final reached and a Copa del Rey final lost: at face value, it doesn't sound much like a crisis, but scratch away at the veneer and you will find in Barcelona that looks far more than they should be comfortable with.
At the very least, they need to go back to the drawing board as they have made the potentially fatal error of standing still, or ceasing to evolve. Within this, if they take their eye off consolidating domestically, then instead reach out for a short-term thrill on the European stage, then they might just gamble away the next generation of domestic supremacy that could see them reach LaLiga winning parity with the team from the capital
By Steven Scragg @ Scraggy_74