With their crown slipping, the time could be right for Chelsea to dethrone Barcelona
It felt as if Real Madrid beat an idea as much as a football team at the Nou Camp on Saturday night.
Dethroning the Barcelona side so beautifully fashioned by Pep Guardiola has come to be viewed as a crime against football.
But Madrid’s victory means that Barca go into tomorrow night’s Champions League semi-final second leg clash here against Chelsea with their crown slipping.
They are still favourites to go through, but when Guardiola conceded the title to Madrid yesterday, he admitted he was as concerned by his players’ state of mind as by their physical shape. The danger for Chelsea is that their disappointment at defeat to Madrid will unleash a fierce backlash from Barcelona.
They will be desperate to respond with style and give themselves a shot at gaining revenge over Madrid in a possible Champions League final clash in Munich next month.
Guardiola said: “We will see on Tuesday whether we will pass this test, but I think the players will lift themselves up.
“What happens against Chelsea will mark the rest of our season. Although the guys have not had long to recover, they have had setbacks like this before and risen to the challenge.
“I am less concerned about our physical condition than I am about getting our minds right for Tuesday.
“These guys have four years of playing every competition possible and sometimes lack a little freshness. That can happen, especially bearing in mind the opposition.
“Chelsea rested eight players [against Arsenal on Saturday], we did not. I do not think we’ve been inferior to Madrid. Except for the two goals, [Barca keeper Victor] Valdes has had little work. Now we are sad but we will recover to face Chelsea.”
Their crown has not fallen yet, of course. It is merely askew. But the defeat to Madrid was a significant one and it has put Barcelona under pressure.
It almost certainly means that their bid for four successive league titles is over. Madrid are seven points ahead with only four games remaining.
Their great enemy, Jose Mourinho, has knocked them off their perch, temporarily at least, and it has wounded them deeply.
“It hurts our soul not to continue chasing this league title,” midfielder Andres Iniesta said, “but we have to accept it.”
Their loss to Madrid ended an unbeaten home streak of 54 games and gave fresh hope to a Chelsea side already buoyed by its shock 1-0 victory last week. Fatigue seems to be stalking Barcelona. The best player in the world, Lionel Messi, appeared strangely apathetic.
He produced one scorching burst that led to the Catalans’ equaliser in their 2-1 defeat but his influence was limited.