Madrid: FC Barcelona could be proclaimed as the 2012-2013 Spanish Primera Liga Champions on Saturday, but the mood surrounding the club seems closer to that at a wake than a celebration.
Should Barca win away to Athletic Club Bilbao, while Real Madrid lose to Atletico Madrid, Barca will be mathematically assured of finishing top of the table, confirming at last what has been a certainty for several months now.
It would be Barca`s fourth league title in the last five years and on the face of things should seem to cement and confirm their recent dominance over bitter rivals Real Madrid: so why is everyone so downbeat?
First of all Barca`s 0-4 thrashing at the hands of Bayern Munich in the Champions League has left the club in a state of shock, so comprehensive was the defeat in both the margin of victory and the way it was brought about with Bayern dominating a tired looking Barca for the entire 90 minutes.
Barring one of the biggest football miracles ever, Barca have no chance of reaching the Champions League final, which will be held in their beloved Wembley Stadium, where they won the 1992 and 2011 European titles.
Bayern`s fast, physical question called into doubt the condition of some of the Barca team. Lionel Messi had clearly not fully recovered from a hamstring injury and probably should not have even started, but Bayern`s Javi Martinez and Bastian Schweinsteiger totally dominated a Barca midfield of Xavi Hernandez, Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta.
As always happens when Barcelona lose an important game, that causes talk about the ‘end of an era’ and it is true that some of Barca`s key players, such as Xavi, Carles Puyol and perhaps David Villa are drawing to the end of their careers, but it is also the case that Messi, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba, Busquets, Cesc Fabregas are all still young, indeed Pique is the oldest of that group aged just 26.
Iniesta used his press conference Thursday to insist there was no end of an era in sight and the club also reacted by confirming Tito Vilanova as coach for the coming season, as long as Vilanova, who has missed a large chunk of this season as he battles against cancer, wants to continue.
Barca are almost out of the Champions League, but they are obliged to try to turn the semi-final around in front of their fans, that will see Vilanova rest key players as his side make their last trip to the historic San Mames Stadium, where Athletic still need points to ensure they are safe from relegation.
That will see players such as Adriano Correira, Martin Montoya, Alex Song, Thiago Alcantara and Christian Tello again given the chance to shine and they have all performed well in recent games. There is a big question mark over whether or not Messi will play, with Vilanova needing to balance whether or not the striker would benefit from minutes on the pitch or from rest and either Cesc or Villa would fill in.
The big debate for Athletic is whether Fernando Llorente, who looked to be returning to form with a goal last weekend against Deportivo la Coruna, or top scorer, Aritz Aduriz who is fully fit again after struggling with an ankle problem.
Athletic know a win will just about mean they are safe from relegation and will probably think this is the best time to play Barca. Saying Real Zaragoza probably thought the same thing a fortnight ago, and were beaten 0-3.
He (Major Dhyan Chand) is inspiration personified. He became synonymous with hockey. He became the parameter of hockey by which other player's calibre is measured.
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