Football

Barcelona on road to destruction?

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Barcelona are a team in decline. In the aftermath of last night's Chelsea success - a slender 1-0 first leg lead, taken from Stamford Bridge into the Camp Nou - it's time for a reality check.

The statement is not as ludicrous as it sounds. Nor is it based solely upon Wednesday's surprise result. In fact, I still fully expect Pep Guardiola's side to progress to this year's final, making their home advantage count in next week's return leg in Spain.

Sooner or later, once the initial elation passes, Blues fans will realise that the slim upper hand seized in west London will be the equivalent of going into a local pub on the famous King's Road and ordering four pints of bitter with a ten pound note: it won't be enough.

Anyway, the point is, regardless of the impressive nature of Chelsea's resolute performance, the focus here is Barcelona. The reigning La Liga and Champions League holders are not the force they were 12 months ago.

They remain the world's No.1 side, but impermanence is football's very essence. And, like all good things, their dominance must eventually come to an end.

A couple of months ago, there was a faint, yet definite air of mortality hanging around Catalonia. At one point, Barcelona were ten points behind Real Madrid in the league, and in relatively poor domestic form, particularly away from home.

The gulf has since been reduced to just four points, and with the latest installment of El Clasico scheduled for Saturday night, there is a possibility the gap will be closed to a solitary point with four games left to play.

Having also confirmed their place in this year's Copa del Rey final with Athletic Bilbao, I am well aware that at the time of writing, Barcelona still have the chance of finishing the 2011-12 campaign with another memorable domestic and European treble.

But, watching football is naturally a pessimistic business, and I stand by my point that we are nearer the end of Barca's supremacy than we are the beginning.

Lionel Messi continues to improve. In a season where the fleet-footed magician is breaking records left, right and centre, the team's collective decline - both physically and psychologically - is, quite simply, due to fatigue.

We've sat back and marvelled at an incredible collection of players execute a superb game plan, and fine-tune it over the last four years. A period that has also seen the Spanish national side, made up primarily of Barcelona players, win the World Cup and European Championship. Only fatigue has beaten them.

The key to the club's success is the effective management of exceptional talent, and integration of an innovative system. Something that is impossible to replicate, or maintain indefinitely.

Barcelona's pinnacle came in the emphatic 5-0 thrashing of Real Madrid at the Camp Nou in November 2010, while last year's 3-1 Champions League final victory over Manchester United at Wembley, marked the beginning of the end.

Their achievements, in terms of playing style, at least, is unique. Perhaps unparalleled in the entire history of football. But, that doesn't mean it will last forever.

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Football
UEFA Champions League

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