The narrative will say that Barça has righted its ship, that all is well again, that a tired team is no longer so after an 0-8 beatdown of a compliant Depor, that Barça is back again.
Barça never went anywhere.
At any time in the second half you could find Neymar capering about, dribbling, running free with the ball and making passes. Messi had time to pick his spots, Suarez didn’t have a back line kicking, niggling him and running offside traps. Compare that to Neymar against Atleti or Valencia, where they probably had a guy designated to follow Neymar to the toilet, and kick him there, also. Atleti never, ever let Neymar have a hint of space, never let Suarez make the same difference that he did, never let Messi have the daylight in which he thrived against Depor.
This is because had they done so, the same scoreline would have resulted. No idea why Depor marched so willingly to the scaffold but march they did. Depor committed 11 fouls and had only one yellow card. That wouldn’t even be a half if Barça was playing Atleti, who would spread the cards around, foul like crazy and turn the match into a series of chunks. 0-8 is exactly why. For the first time in the series of encounters with Barça, Simeone and Atleti didn’t bother playing Barça as equals. They got a goal then cowered on the rocks.
You can’t play Barça as equals. If you give that team playing space, you will lose. It’s the biggest reason many craved anyone except Atleti in the CL quarterfinals, because Wolfsburg wasn’t of sufficient quality and everyone else would have tried to play football against Barça — except Atleti. Valencia then came along and duplicated the Atleti formula of nicking a goal or two, then defending like crazy. Even then, in both matches, Barça had to finish like crap for that strategy to work, as both teams understood that a tired team can muster enough energy for football, but it can’t muster enough energy for shithousery. Knock a fatigued player down and he has a litltle less energy each and every time he gets up.
Suarez nabbed four goals and a pair of assists, playing like a man who was unbound because he was. It was the kind of match where Dani Alves could lay on assist that Suarez stumbled into and over, pushing the ball wide, and Alves had a laugh as he ran back on defense. No pressure, just fun. The whole team was unbound, able to remember what it felt like to play football, to be able to pass and run without violence. They’re still tired, still fatigued but that breath of footballing fresh air provided by Depor was just what the scoreline ordered. Hitting the shots where the keeper isn’t is often a lot more effective than hitting them where the keeper is. Particularly if you want to score goals. Eight goals from 19 shots (10 on goal) is rather an effective finishing rate that was enhanced by a lack of pressure. Worriers will note that Depor had 15 shots, 5 on goal, even as this match was looking like a win from the moment Depor came out and didn’t kick the crap out of anyone.
So what is there to be excited about, in the wake of a hammering of a willing victim? Mojo. Many words are bandied about football, form, slumps, dips, troughs but mojo is one that you hear less often. It isn’t to be confused with swagger, that state a team that is playing like Barça was over the winter had. Mojo is that feeling, that cognizance that “Yes, we can do this and no, we aren’t as bad as so many say that we are.” And when a team has mojo, it sometimes has that little bit of defense against the elements, against the little quirks during a football match that conspire to erode confidence and damage mojo. If one of those early chances against Valencia had gone in, during a match where Barça didn’t play all that worse than against Depor, a strolled win would have been in the cards there, also. But snakebit is another word that is often heard in the sports vernacular and after that second Valencia goal, Barça looked snakebit.
Narratives are easy, lovely and convenient. They can be used to buttress a contention or put the lie to one. Today’s match was, simply enough, the best team in the world playing against the 14th-placed side in the league standings. Three of the remaining four opponents for Barça are lower than Depor in the table and the one who isn’t, Betis, is 11th, with nothing to play for. Espanyol is also safe, but they will fight because the world loves a derby. When a team is in control of its own fate, and needs to win out to capture the championship, they don’t mind that 11th is the highest table spot for any of the remaining opponents.
Meanwhile, enjoy the 0-8 for the anomaly that it was, and read nothing more into it. Win and Barça is in. It’s as simple as that, with no margin for error.