El Clasico: The real test for Barcelona's aura of invincibility
Barcelona has glistened in 2017/18. Last term, they could only win the Copa del Rey while losing their La Liga crown to Real Madrid. They were also dumped from the Champions League in humiliating manner, thanks to Juventus.
This campaign began poorly. The Cules were swept in the Spanish Super Cup by the Merengues. But the Catalans have now turned last season's flaws into success. With four games remaining, they are La Liga and Copa del Rey champions. On the downside, they've crashed out of the Champions League to another Italian club. Memories of Roma will fade, however, if they can complete a sweep in El Clasico today.
The rivalry has never ceased to amaze. It's always filled with immense dribbles, career-threatening tackles, goals galore, and most importantly, drama. This one should be no different. Although Barcelona have already won the League, they still have something to protect: their invincibility.
No Primera Division team has gone unbeaten for an entire Spanish season. In Europe, only five teams: Arsenal and Preston North End in England, Celtic in Scotland, Milan and Juventus in Italy, have accomplished the feat.
So far this term, Barca has yet to taste defeat in La Liga, although there have been some scares. Valencia put a fright in them in April, jumping out to a two-goal lead; but the Catalans survived. Before the holidays, Real Madrid gave it a try at the Santiago Bernabeu but lost 3-0 to their arch-rivals. Los Blancos finally get their second bite at the cherry. Who says they can't succeed this time?
It is not early season anymore. Real may have slept in too late to defend their title or contest the Copa, but they are awake now. They've been fantastic in the Champions League, eliminating three different title winners from other leagues in Bayern Munich, Juventus, and Paris Saint-Germain. A chance to win three Champions Leagues in succession is on their plate. They are in form and will approach Camp Nou brimming with full confidence.
While the Castilians are hitting their stride and rediscovering their fabled luck, Barcelona is fading. The near defeat to Valencia was one thing. The performance or lack thereof in Rome was another.
It will be a daunting test. Barcelona must take their game to a higher level. Most importantly, they need Lionel Messi at his full power. The whole universe knows that Barca revolves around Messi, which is not the same as Blaugrana acolytes thinking the universe revolves around their diminutive demigod. He flopped against Roma and no one picked up the slack.
In the Champions League semi-final against Bayern, Cristiano Ronaldo, who can be described in similar terms regarding his club and followers, did not score. Until then, he had struck in every Champions League match this campaign. Yet, other players in white stepped into the void, most notably Marco Asensio and Karim Benzema.
The comparison does not bode well for Barcelona. One place in the table separates Madrid from Valencia but the gulf in quality between the two is vast. Barca will need others besides Messi to prevail against Madrid. They know it. This is the real test of their invincibility.