Believing the unbelievable as the countdown begins

Fate owes us.

At the end of what seems an interminable cycle of fear, loathing and heartache, that damsel has some blaugrana debts to pay.

The notion of a team or group of supporters being “due” is an odd one, but for the record and from this chair, Fate owes the hell out of us. And as the team heads for Sevilla tomorrow, 4 points in the Liga lead with 8 matches to go, the Pollyanna in me just refuses to believe that Fate intends to be that cruel.

It has been quite a travail being a culer these past seasons. And whether Job and his trials, Sisyphus and his quest or any other figure of legend you can think of in an analogous fashion, it ain’t been easy. Let’s exclude the difficulties of the board’s own making and just manage things such as illness, death, personal tragedies befalling players and injuries galore. This stuff all combines to leave a culer wondering just when in the hell our beloved club is going to catch a break.

And as Sevilla is the match on tap for tomorrow, Barça finds itself in an odd position, one that I would wager not many culers expected the team to be in at this point of the season. Even as people draw parallels to last season in the fraught manner in which the Liga title was decided, close right down to the header that ultimately decided the title, this year feels completely different.

Last season shaped up as the Title Nobody Wanted. Each of the top teams took turns dropping points at times that managed to make the Liga more interesting than it really should have been. Whether the title was lost at the Calderon or the Martinez Valero isn’t as much the point is that it was lost … or snatched away, dependent upon your worldview. The headline at the official club site after the Elche match, the penultimate of the season was “Draw keeps title hopes alive,” because that’s the kind of year it was. But that 0-0 away the weekend before the title-deciding clash against Atleti summed up a lot about last season, one that was defined by heartache on and off the pitch.

As Sid Lowe observed in the wake of the Celta Vigo win, last season’s Barça would have lost that match. Heck, a few months ago this season’s Barça probably would have lost that match. What makes this post-La Real period feel so different is explainable not only in the nebulous way that supporters can point to the unquantifiable. There is objective data, tangible indicators that Barça is doing well, from set piece goals scored vs conceded to a gaudy winning percentage, overall as well as on the road.

Where last year’s team was a fragile structure that notched a loss and three draws in its last seven matches, this year’s team appears not only physically poised to close out the Liga, but psychologically set. The situation that exists right now is like a gift that nobody was expecting, and is afraid to open or even approach. But when Luis Suarez scored what is the most important goal of the season to date, a tally that provided the winning margin in the most recent Classic, something weird happened:

Culers started to believe, even if it was in that culer way that finds doom under every rock.

Whether belief has become expectation is for others to conclude. That this team and its manager have come a very long way from the trumped-up nadir of the La Real defeat goes without saying, as a Jordi Alba own goal put things into seeming disarray. Chaos reigned. The speculation about the turnaround will be endless, should the team go on to consolidate its Liga title. Cries were long and loud that Enrique should get the sack, and they came from the style side of the aisle as well as the results side. And whether Bartomeu was smart for resisting the calls for Enrique’s head, or hamstrung by the fact that no coach was going to take a job that could end prematurely, history will consider immaterial because both routes led to the same result: Enrique stayed.

Many press outlets are treating Enrique and what he is doing differently. Back then there were reports of a lack of a plan that anyone could see, too much rotation, a bad relationship with the players, Messi hates him. Now it is set pieces and you, how a psychologist is helping the club and the significantly decreased injuries this season compared to last. Enrique still does his pressers leading with his jaw, but the reaction to them is different, tempered by success and comfort.

And so we have Sevilla, who is unbeaten at home this season. So was Valencia before Barça notched a win. On paper, Barça is a better team than Sevilla. But home cooking and the real quality on their roster means that this match is an indicator of the team’s ultimate success. Win and it’s another step — a huge one — closer to the Liga title. Lose and worry will stalk the Camp Nou as the shell game played by Fate finds the team coming up short.

The four-point margin means that Barça would have to err one more time while RM didn’t falter at all, a prospect that is as likely or unlikely for them as it is for us. Like us, they visit Sevilla and host Valencia. Like us, they have nasty Champions League matches placed at inopportune times during the Liga run-in, a Madrid derby, no less. They are away to Celta, the same team that made Barça find another gear, the Sunday after a Wednesday clash with Atleti in Champions League. They end the season away to Sevilla and Espanyol, home to Valencia and a bogey team for them, Getafe.

In other words, them running the table is as unlikely as us running the table. Both fan bases will be crazed, both anticipatory but for my money, only one of them is due, after running a gantlet of sadness that includes the death of a beloved coach. As many wondered if the unbearable pain was the payback for unspeakable joy, the team began building its account with Fate and for this culer, the bill has come due.

It should be noted that I predicted that the team would finish silverless again this season. At the time it seemed logical: new coach, new system, 8 new faces in the dressing room and a key player who would miss half the season. No way in hell, said the smart money, that things were all going to come together this season to have the team in a position to win anything. It all made perfect sense. But like the people who said this team was never going to beat Atleti before Barça went 3-0 against its roadblock of last season. This year is different. Or is it?

The saddest part about this season for me is that most of the strife is coming from the culerverse, as the aisle divides and people who should be united in love rip at each other. There are people who say the team is a broken mess just awaiting the right opponent to destroy it. They point to a team that some say is being effective, doing no more than it needs to, and say that it’s an accident waiting to happen. Some say it’s a mess that isn’t the Barça way. Others say that something good is happening. There are still others who say that something is happening, the “Well, there is a glass, and there is something in it” alternative to the glass being half-full or half-empty.

The team wins but plays badly, not because it didn’t play well, but didn’t play correctly. To others, the team won. The end. There are arguments, attacks and bickering in a world where nobody wants to be wrong and nobody actually is. Each side accuses the other of being delusional. The most innocent statements get someone branded a “hater” or “defender,” depending on who is hurling the brickbat. It is at times disheartening, but a quick trip the the DVR or YouTube brings a psychic salve. The Mathieu Classic header, the Suarez match winner. Any of the improbable Messi strikes — this season has a lot from which to choose if you want a bit of respite.

FC Barcelona was founded by a Swiss businessman. One of its most legendary players is Hungarian, and its best player ever is Argentine while its most influential footballing figure is Dutch. Amid that polyglot blend should be room for everyone. The fight will never stop because like trench warfare, the armies are embedded, views ensconsed behind concrete bunkers of ire. But I think even that heartache adds to the collective tally, increasing the debt that Fate owes us.

And I hope, I sincerely hope, even as people might not ever agree on whether things are pretty, pretty messy or just something or other, that the factions can find common ground in support for the team and confidence in the players and can embrace, as I have been for every match this season, that burning desire to be wrong. Dead wrong.

Your move, Fate. What’s it gonna be?

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Written by:

In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.

58 Comments

  1. Biophestyne
    April 11, 2015

    Quite not the article I expected……aniwae good job Kxevin……..I expect us to win even though it will be tough.

  2. April 11, 2015

    We all have our differences, and yeah, it often seems like a prelude to civil war on social media, as one faction badmouths another, while they’re united in their hatred against a third. Sometimes it looks as though it’s the People’s Front of Judea bickering with the Judean People’s Front and united against The Judean Popular People’s Front.

    However, unlike Monthy Python’s characters, when the ref blows the whistle, we all want to win. We are all in, with the team. Ideological differences are forgotten. There’s only the hope and the faith. And when goals are scored, we all cheer, we all shout and applaud and scream to the heavens our joy. From the staunchest supporters of the current board to Lucas Resende, we are all culers. Just like the old socis with soci numbers in the single and double digits watching with third and fourth generation of culers next to newly-initiated supporters, like the expeditionary force who accompany the team, surrounded by forty thousand Andalusians.

    Never forget, never allow our differences to cloud that simple fact. When the time comes, We are all together.

    We are all Barça.

    • agar2515
      April 11, 2015

      Exactly this. Well put Peter and Kevin, I always hate when our passions have us going at each other, Visca Barca above all 🙂

  3. Cyclops
    April 11, 2015

    Well said… after all said and done, i think we’re all on the same side here- probably each of us just have a different idea on what that side is, but nonetheless on the same side…
    Unfortunately some ‘cules’ dont seem to think that way, the hue’s and cries and proclamations of the endtime after the La real debacle was for the most part engineered by cules- thats was quite suprising and really depressing, considering that the so-called crises was being fueled by cules… It’s unfortunate that some people just go out of line with these things
    Quite baffling that someone would even think to think that the ‘team’s a broken mess , waiting for the right team to destroy it’ ? oh please, thats just lame, way over the TOP.. could someone please tell them to try putting out something better ???

  4. Jim
    April 11, 2015

    Interesting team choices for LE tonight. Alba will probably come back at LB. does he send a message to Dani to get on with the re- signing or put him in at RB? Probably.

    Does Busi come back in? If so, does Mathieu drop out to put Masche into the back four again or does Masche sit it out? Unlikely given his preference for Masche playing but pretty hard on Mathieu. Do we go back to the Busi/ Ini/ Rak midfield or does he go with the control ? Neymar presumably will come back or there’ll be an international incident.

    Looking forward to the game. It will be a tough one and they can hurt us.

    • georgjorge
      April 11, 2015

      I like the article and it’s an eye-opener, the only caveat being that at least in underdeveloped countries with regard to football succesful players often get to coach (sometimes for a long time) without necessarily being good at it. It was – and partly still is – like that here in Austria, where a whole generation of semi-succesful players got to be coaches in the domestic league and national team with only few of them really being good at it.

      To demonstrate, recently one of the better Austrian teams – Austria Wien – got one of them as a sporting director, and his main concept – which had been hailed as a great step forward by his bosses beforehand – according to his own words was that he “needed time to make a concept”. Appointments like that put Austrian football back a number of years compared to countries where deferentiality to formerly succesful players isn’t as big.

      The article provides lots of evidence for players who evolved into competent coaches, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those wonderful players were only half-decent coaches who nevertheless got their chances as well.

  5. Barcathegreatestever
    April 11, 2015

    So excited for this game; it’s been a long while since I’ve been reading everything Barca after several years of great disappointment in management. Messi, the phenomenon brought back to earth by the stupid mob and humans trying to be cleverer than their own God given abilities. But those days are over and there is a team worthy in every way and I’m really so happy win or lose.
    I have a particular opinion not seen so much and offer it. When we lost our Eto’ our number 9 and then our Henry, a forward, a playmaker threat on the left someone who not only scored but created space for Messi and put assist numbers up; we lost our way. Tons of money didn’t help, the best being Villa, but he was more of a Pedro with limited ability to create chances for others. Iniesta became the only solution to create for others and provide a balance on the left. Alves also had the dual role. Fatigue and injury were the result. And it gave away titles.
    It was during these days that tiki taka and the cantera reached full volume. Possession was certainly a weapon for Pep, but he had so many; watching Barca was never so exciting. I just don’t remember falling asleep during a match in those days. Do you remember how Pep killed off games? He brought in Keita in front of Puyi, Pique and Abidal. Nothing tiki taka about it; talk about exciting! there was bodies flying, fouls galore almost complete chaos but teams couldn’t organize and games were dusted. No 50:50 hindsight in how they could have done it better.
    Alves in particular has taken so much abuse, God Forbid he get a bad attitude or down or sour or play with an injury and have a bad game. He’s had a resurgence not because he is a better player; he’s always been one of the very best players in the world, he has so much better support in front of him he doesn’t have to get in the final third twenty times a game.
    Now Iniesta gets his name dragged about. He has never had the power of a goal scorer yet his genius and skill have provided Messi the only relief these past years by taking the defensive focus off of him. He is still the same world class player providing pure quality and genius day in and out. He is developing in to a new role just like the others and is one of the very best weapons Barca have.
    Barca now have a defense worthy of our Great Messi. We have the best number 9 out there; custom made for this team, we have a restored balance in our attack. I rewatched the Celta game looking for Neymar; he had 4 early long passes in to Messi with so much space created on another day Messi would have scored all four.
    For me its the restoration of balance in the attack that has allowed us to shift our focus away from possession as a determined central theme for success, and I love it!

  6. ciaran
    April 11, 2015

    Our strongest lineup or at least the one favoured by Lucho
    Bravo
    Alves Pique Mathieu Alba
    Rakitic Busquets Iniesta
    Messi Suarez Neymar

  7. Jamal103
    April 11, 2015

    Bit off topic but Atletico scored a dubious, blatantly offside goal today to salvage a 2-2 draw. You look at the margin’s for Messi’s disallowed goal vs Atletico in our final game last year and realize that football can be so cruel sometimes..

    Still haven’t fully gotten over Pedro’s disallowed goal in the Copa that we eventually lost to a Ronaldo 103″ minute goal. Something needs to be done

  8. Cyclops
    April 11, 2015

    Oh my jingles!!! what an opener from D10… Legend say’s ‘the ball’s still curling’!!

  9. Cyclops
    April 11, 2015

    uh-oh, thats an illegal free-kick!!!

  10. ciaran
    April 11, 2015

    That has to be considered as a goalkeeping mistake, unfortunately for Bravo

  11. stefan2k
    April 11, 2015

    Sublime passing 😀 Sevilla probably didn’t know what happend to them the first 40 minutes. Neymar on fire … Alves obviously with something to prove 🙂 give him any contract he wants!!

  12. Inamess
    April 11, 2015

    Team is playing really well! Haven’t seen Alves this good in a while.

    • Jim
      April 11, 2015

      Agreed.

  13. Valdemar II
    April 11, 2015

    WOW Neymar.

  14. Jim
    April 11, 2015

    Great first half performance. Pity about the goal. Agree Bravo should have done better. Lovely passing at times though. Getting a bit end to end for me now, though.

    • Jim
      April 11, 2015

      If Pique ever gets injured I think I’ll lock myself in a darkened room.

    • Jim
      April 11, 2015

      Okay, LE. Control now !

  15. Jim
    April 11, 2015

    What is he waiting for? We starting to get overrun. Is Rakitic even on the pitch ?

    • ciaran
      April 11, 2015

      Rakitic is covering huge ground. People just expect him to be a different type of player to what he is. If you watched Sevilla last year he never was a 100 pass kind of player.

    • Jim
      April 11, 2015

      Just not sure what he’s offering. That’s the Sanchez argument. He’s slow and doesn’t get involved enough for me.

    • georgjorge
      April 11, 2015

      He is covering ground, but he didn’t offer much at all offensively, and our right side seemed to be the side where almost all succesful attacks came from in the second half. Not looking for a scapegoat here – things like the missed Suarez chance, the dreadful Pique pass and others happened of course – but I also couldn’t see him making much of a difference this match.

  16. ciaran
    April 11, 2015

    Squeaky bum time is normally only the last few mins of a match, not an entire second half

  17. Cyclops
    April 11, 2015

    Sometimes the chances suarez skews is just way inexplicable… Its just difficults to articulate your feelings each time a player of his calibre does that- expecially when you really need that goal… Suffice it to say that its hurts, really hurts. Gosh

  18. Jim
    April 11, 2015

    Don’t understand that sub. Neymar should get more chance to cause trouble now.

    • ciaran
      April 11, 2015

      I think, like the team, he had a great first half but a tough second. If we can close out this match it will be a great result

    • Jim
      April 11, 2015

      Damn. That’s all we need. Poor pass from Pique.

  19. Cyclops
    April 11, 2015

    PSG calls during the week bro, thats the idea- atleast thats what i think it is(strange as it is)

  20. ciaran
    April 11, 2015

    Pique who has been a rock just dropped a clanger. Very unlucky but Sevilla deserve to be level

    • Jim
      April 11, 2015

      Can’t argue with that.

  21. ciaran
    April 11, 2015

    That ‘cross’ just summed up Dani’s season

  22. ciaran
    April 11, 2015

    32 minutes in to that match you couldn’t have seen that result. How one little mistake from Bravo reshaped a match

  23. kosby
    April 11, 2015

    We knew it wasnt going to be easy, but after being 2 up, this draw hurts. We got overrun – all over.

    • kosby
      April 11, 2015

      I meant all over the pitch

    • stefan2k
      April 11, 2015

      Sure feels like a loss :/

    • georgjorge
      April 11, 2015

      It does. The three points would have been important, but taking home a win against a tough opponent would also have been mentally important for the next few games. Giving everything, playing well and still not taking home three points can be a bit disturbing for less experienced players.

  24. georgjorge
    April 11, 2015

    Better tacticians than me are going to tell us why we didn’t take home three points today. All I can say is ARGH! All credit to Sevilla (though not impressed by their Atlético-like hacking down of our players) but to be 2-0 up, having Suarez squander an incredible chance at the third goal and then watch such a dreadful pass from Pique for the 2-2…

    The thing is, there are almost no players I could name as having a bad game today overall. Alves, Busquets, Iniesta, Suarez…it looked like they all spent the first half playing some of the best football of this season, then spent the second half either squandering great chances, or being outplayed and outfought by the Sevilla players near them.

  25. Barcathegreatestever
    April 11, 2015

    Fail on the substitutions imo. Bartra and Masch should have come on to boss the match.

    • georgjorge
      April 11, 2015

      I can understand Masch for the double pivote, but where would you have put Bartra? Five at the back or Dani in midfield (which sounds like a bad idea)?

    • Barcathegreatestever
      April 12, 2015

      With Buequets and Pique booked I think they should have put in Masch and Bartra because the game was so back and forth and needed defensive guys with no doubts

  26. Barcathegreatestever
    April 11, 2015

    Seemed like the team was spent after 70 min

  27. Cyclops
    April 11, 2015

    Owkie-dokie, guys who do we blame now- cause i’m seriously searching for someone, anyone, anything to blame now (btw i’m saying that with a deadly calm voice , any moment from now i think i’ll be going bunkers) How are are my not screaming already anyways???

  28. ciaran
    April 11, 2015

    We should have had more than enough quality on the pitch so blaming substitutions could not be blamed for it.

    They outfought us throughout the second half. Simple as that for me. Still, getting a draw away to Sevilla isn’t a bad result. You would expect them to give a Madrid a tough match too

    • Jamal103
      April 11, 2015

      It’s not the result but the manner in which we got the draw. From what I’m hearing Sevilla had 2 shots on target and two goals..That’s unacceptable for a team of Barca’s order + the psychological impact of benching Neymar (for no reason) yet again will play out within the next few weeks.

      It’s one thing to teach a player a lesson but after Neymar clearly learned his lesson and started playing like the Neymar of January/February, Lucho had no right to take him. Especially when Rakitic was on the field in his invisibility cloak.

      Pique was bound to err atleast once after he’s been saving us with his numerous interceptions and Bravo correspondingly with his saves in previous matches so I wouldn’t look into their mistakes too much.

    • ciaran
      April 11, 2015

      The problem is that Bravo’s big error cost us all of the momentum of the opening hour. Being the last line of defense in the biggest clubs in the world mean that you have to look at their mistakes. Pique has had a stellar few weeks and alone was worth a lot of points to us. Bravo on the other hand had 2 saves to make tonight and didn’t keep either shot out.

      For around 60 minutes Sevilla bossed us so are good value for their draw. When we look to the bench and only have Pedro to bring on to change the game it’s no wonder that we drop some points.

      We are still in the drivers seat going into the last few weeks

    • georgjorge
      April 11, 2015

      On the other hand, if a team like Sevilla can only get 2 shots on target in ninety minutes then it seems like Barca did a pretty great job at keeping the ball out of their box and they were just pretty good/lucky at converting what little came their way.

    • georgjorge
      April 11, 2015

      Not that the second half looked like that…but if all you had was that variable, then I’d think it a pretty good game for us.

  29. Jamal103
    April 11, 2015

    The Neymar substitution was uncalled for, especially considering that he sat on the bench for the last game. What was Lucho thinking?!

    • barca96
      April 11, 2015

      Exactly. I’m not sure what kind of message Lucho was trying to send. The kid was doing great. Dribbling, penetrating, creating chances and scored. If a forward really had to come off I though Suarez should’ve gone off. He was hardly involved. I wouldn’t have taken any of those off actually.

      Rakitic and Iniesta were chasing shadows in the 2nd half so I thought Mascherano and Xavi should’ve come on.

      What a timing for our players to make 2 mistakes and both of them has been rock solid; Pique and Bravo. Hopefully they’ll be the last ones this season.

  30. Cyclops
    April 11, 2015

    Search me…

  31. Cyclops
    April 11, 2015

    Actually i was referring to jamal, with that last post..
    barca96, you spot on… I’d have taken off suarez if any of the forwards had to come off… i’m just disillusioned right now, really

    • georgjorge
      April 11, 2015

      It’s only one game, and a draw against a worthy opponent at that. I’ll start being disillusioned when we also lose against both PSG and Valencia next week.

  32. lala10
    April 11, 2015

    It was one of those cursed days. This team now rarely makes defensive mistakes that it deserves our leniency. Frustrating performance considering the sublime first half.

  33. TITO
    April 11, 2015

    It feels like a loss because we were two goals up and controlled the game in great manner.
    And we left them back in the game,which is never a good thing no matter of the quality of the opponent.
    Imo, Neymar sub had no logic to me, cause along Messihe was the one causing trouble in their half and was more likely to score again than, say Suarez.
    Anyway, 2 points up is not a bad thing.
    I hope we have a similar result against PSG.

  34. April 11, 2015

    What if nobody is to blame? What if players were just human? Match thoughts are up.

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