Now that the 2012/13 season is all but over it is time to make a balance of the past year and inquire into the state of play of the club. The 7-0 thumping by Bayern München in the Champions League has led many commentators to announce the end of a successful cycle for Barça. However this judgement may be a bit premature. The reason for some degree of optimism is of course that Barça did win the League title again. Or to be more precise they regained the title, which they had lost to Real Madrid last season. And thereby hangs a most curious and frankly amazing fact. This is the first time in the history of the club that they have regained the League title after a gap of just one year. Who would have believed it? Nevertheless true it is. The previous gap, before the arrival of Guardiola was two years and before that an astonishing five years. At least five years would be astonishing were it not for the fact that in the past Barça have gone 10 years, 12 years and a truly astonishing 13 years before regaining the League title. So this season we have seen a bit of history in the making. To win the title back after just one year would give some confidence to those who argue that this is not the end of a cycle, but rather a blip on their onwards dominance, at least in Spain. So congratulations are in order and well deserved they are too.
However, even if this season is to be seen as a blip, it was quite a traumatic blip. Winning the League cannot hide the team’s failure in key matches during the season. In particular they are clearly second best when it comes to head to head matches against Real Madrid. In the six matches this season, Barça only won one, the first leg of the Spanish SuperCup. Two were draws and the other three were defeats including a defeat in the Camp Nou. Real showed themselves to be the superior team in these matches, both physically and in play. Indeed the real surprise of the season is why Real did not manage to win the League. But that is another story for another day.
The Champions League was of course the main arena in which Barça failed to reach the wonderful standards of previous years. While Bayern captured all the headlines, Barça pretty much stuttered throughout the campaign with an unexpected defeat away to Celtic in the group stage. Things did not get much better in the knock-out stages, with a bad defeat in Milan and a scrappy draw in Paris. All before the comprehensive thumping by Bayern. Losing a semifinal is no disgrace and Bayern are clearly the form team in Europe just now. Nevertheless the manner of the defeat added to the 7-0 scoreline is what is most alarming. Bayern dominated Barça in just about every possible way and exposed the team’s weakness – defensive frailties, physical weakness, lack of pace and no plan B – ever more so than Real.
So while it may not be the end of a cycle, it is definitely time to go back to the drawing board. The Spanish media is already full of rumours masquerading as exclusives on who will be leaving and who will be coming over the summer. In another post I hope to try and make some sense of all the brouhaha. It promises to be an even more exciting time for Barça watchers than the usual close season.