All of a sudden Barcelona appear to be readying for a clearance sale, exactly as Real Madrid are. The only difference is that while Madrid made a colossal mess of the 2018-19 season, finishing a record number of points behind Barcelona, Ernesto Valverde’s side won LaLiga, reached the Copa del Rey final and were in the last four of the Champions League. But everything boils down to Europe, an obsession for both clubs, with Madrid being crowned champions in each of the last three seasons. In 2017-18 Barcelona clinched another domestic double but that seemed to pale in comparison to Real’s third consecutive Champions League triumph. That was what led Leo Messi to last summer set out the major objective for Barcelona this season, the conquest of that “most beautiful and desired of cups.”
It never fails to amaze how Barcelona’s last two league titles have become devalued; the first because of Real’s success on the continental stage and the second due to the collapse of Valverde’s team in the hallowed theatre of great European nights, Anfield. Winning a league title is an enormous achievement. It is played across the four season, come rain or shine, with a buffeting wind or in perfect stillness, with goal posts working for you or against you. The sum of all those parts decides which is the best team in any given country. But then there is the Champions League. In every country there is a league champion, sometimes with the domestic cup providing a double, but there can be only one champion of Europe. Over these past few seasons, Barça have started to believe that their fight with Real Madrid is a continental matter, not a purely Spanish one.
Champions League takes centre stage
It has always been that way, to a certain extent, but now it is more noticeable. Helenio Herrera won two consecutive Liga titles for Barcelona but was sacked because he lost a European Cup semi-final against Madrid. The famous Quinta del Buitre of the 1980s won five consecutive Liga titles but failed to win the European Cup. Valencia celebrated finishing fourth almost as hard as they did winning the cup, because their league position gave them access to the Champions League. In Milan and Manchester there has been introspection and in the case of the former a manager scorned for failure to do so. Meanwhile, in Madrid, we await a final between two English sides (has anyone got a spare ticket by the way?!), which has little direct impact on LaLiga but has become a huge event. The Champions League has taken over the building.