Or at least it does seem that way now.
This has been a tough season for Barca in many ways. Coach Tito Vilanova was missing for two long spells receiving cancer treatment. Injuries and age were catching up with key players Carles Puyol and Xavi Hernandez. Talisman Lionel Messi was clearly not fully match fit as he struggled through the 90 minutes at the Allianz Arena last Tuesday night.
Weaknesses probed in previous rounds by AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain were ruthlessly exploited by a better all round Bayern side. Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Jordi Alba and co. were overwhelmed by the physical power and greater drive of Muller, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez.
Martinez’s display also showed how Barca’s shaky finances and questionable transfer policy have contributed to their relative slide. Vilanova wanted to sign the versatile Basque-born Spanish international last summer to strengthen both his midfield and defence with one player. But Barca — €298 million in debt — could not match the €40m Bayern were willing to pay his former club Athletic Bilbao.
Even with Saturday’s 2-2 draw at Athletic Bilbao all but ensuring the La Liga crown, minds have already turned to next season. The Catalan media assured anxious fans this week that new signings including young Brazilian attacker Neymar and Borussia Dortmund defender Mats Hummels were already lined up. Vilanova spoke on Friday about not making changing plans after one bad result, but club vice-president Josep Maria Bartomeu said the squad would be “shaken-up”.
Nevertheless, the message from the club and its players is that, even if they do not manage the four or more goals required to come back against Bayern on Wednesday at the Camp Nou, the season will have been a success, considering everything. And that they will be back even stronger next year.
While Barca’s European problems were predictable, Madrid’s similarly emphatic 4-1 defeat at Dortmund the following evening was more shocking.
Jurgen Klopp’s side had already beaten Jose Mourinho’s men at the Westfalenstadion and drawn at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu in the group stages, but the mood around Madrid in the build-up last week was that those games had been misleading.
Mourinho himself said pre-game that his side were better now, more focused and ready to win the Champions League title which had been denied them by bad luck and worse refereeing during his two previous seasons in charge.
But the 4-1 defeat in Dortmund showed Madrid’s issues were more internal than external. ‘The Special One’ was hired in summer 2009, and made world football’s best paid manager with a remit to deliver the coveted ‘décima’.
The limp display at the Westfalenstadion – and Robert Lewandowski’s four goals — however, dashed those hopes. Barring an unlikely comeback tomorrow, the focus will quickly turn to Mourinho. Even with May 17’s Copa del Rey final against city rivals Atletico – who Madrid beat 2-1 away in La Liga on Saturday night – the focus will quickly turn on the so-called Special One.
Given his awful relationship with the local media, it could quickly get very nasty. But with reason. Mourinho was given everything he wanted to deliver ‘la decima’. If he fails he can have nobody to blame but himself.