FC Barcelona’s first Champions League game of the season against Viktoria Plzeň ended in delight. As widely expected, it was yet another emphatic triumph, a 5-1 victory in which Robert Lewandowski operated at the peak of his abilities and grabbed the headlines.
But ever since that fateful night where the Camp Nou crowds in almost complete unison sang celebratory songs and screamed their heads off, Barça have twice tasted defeat in the Champions League group stage. To lose at Munich in a game that was there for the taking, to lose at Milan thanks to some appalling refereeing and lack of predatory instinct in front of goal, is simply to make clear that Barcelona is far from being the finished article.
Whereas Xavi’s men have raced to a slim lead in La Liga this term, their story in the Champions League to this point has been one of anti-climax. Three paltry points after three games in this competition usually means the task of qualifying out of the group is almost insurmountable. The matches ahead become much more cumbersome . In other words, the road to redemption becomes a lot more steeper.
Suddenly, each game becomes a do-or-die affair, a make or break one, a kind of final in its own way.
Missing key players
The bad news for FC Barcelona is that untimely injuries to certain first team players do not help matters. When the going gets tough, you need all your best players available and unharmed. Araujo and Kounde, two of Barca’s regular starters this campaign, will play no part in Wednesday’s crunch encounter. Xavi may give Marcos Alonso the nod ahead of Balde at left back. He may play Raphinha out of position for much of the game. And he’s likely to bring on Ferran Torres when inspiration and magic is needed from the bench.
Nonetheless, the game will have to be won at all costs, by hook or by crook, by accident or by design. When last season Barcelona painfully crashed and burned in the group stage of the Champions League, there was a general sense that the team had drowned to a new low in years. That the abrupt and touching departure of Messi, as well as the club’s inability to make vital signings during the summer transfer window, could reasonably explain away such a fiasco, such a collective downfall.
Those were impossibly trying times. Those were simply the worst of times. Where it was easier to give in than to keep faith with the process and method. But then the promise of a new dawn owing to the acquisitions of Lewandowski, Kounde, Kessie, Christensen and Raphinha in a single transfer window resurrected belief in the team.
What, then, happens if Barcelona are met with the same fatal fate in spite of all the colossal investment in transfers? What issues will another premature exit in the Champions present? Great teams are great because they are adept at rising to the occasion, are capable of excelling when the pressure is highest.
And as Xavi’s men aspire to turn things around, the hope is that Spotify Camp Nou on Wednesday night will turn to a mountain of fire and miracles, a citadel of footballing excellence. As Barca players warm up and tenderly slap one another on the shoulders for morale, as Cules throng the stadium and scream their lungs out, the night would grow into a euphoric one, filled with joyful celebrations and warm hugs and good vibes.
If ever there is a time for FC Barcelona to show their true mettle, this is it! Gather three solid points against Inter Milan this Wednesday, beat Real Madrid in the El Clasico over the weekend, and the club’s can-do spirit will be as high as ever. Yes, we can!