Barcelona in its best position in years to win the Champions League
By Leander Schaerlaeckens – April 21, 2015
Barcelona’s Neymar, center, celebrates after scoring the opening goal with teammates, Lionel Messi, right, and Luis Suarez during the quarterfinal first leg Champions League soccer match against Paris Saint Germain at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, France, Wednesday, April 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
It’s been – ahem (cough) – quite the drought for Barcelona. After winning the Champions League three times in six years from 2006 through 2011, the Catalans haven’t won it in the three seasons since. In spite of still consistently being one of Europe’s elite teams.
A weird, “crisis”-ridden season saw manager Luis Enrique almost lose his job in January and his boss, director of football Andoni Zubizarreta, did get fired then. Despite the drama, Barcelona faces its best opportunity in a few years to finally conquer Europe again. And that isn’t just because Lionel Messi has been Lionel Messi-ing particularly hard lately.
The bracket of Barcelona’s fellow quarterfinalists should inspire much confidence going into the second legs this week.
Firstly, Barca advancing to its seventh semifinals in eight years seems a fait accompli after besting Paris Saint-Germain 3-1 in Paris last week. The Catalans can afford to lose by two goals – which they’ve done just once this year, to Real Madrid, back in October – and still stand a good chance of advancing. PSG welcomes back star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic from suspension but remains plagued by injuries, the latest to center back Thiago Silva.
Then there are the other matchups. Bayern Munich, one of the other big contenders, is in deep trouble having lost to a savvy and athletic Porto side 3-1 in Portugal. The Bavarians are certainly capable of scoring against any opponent, but they’ll have a seriously hard time doing it to a team that knows it can probably ride out the tie by bricking up its goal.
Real Madrid, meanwhile, faces crosstown rivals Atletico Madrid after their first leg at Atletico’s Vicente Calderon ended in a 0-0 stalemate – which Real mostly dominated, to be fair. On Wednesday, at the Santiago Bernabeu, Atletico will doubtless prey on the counter again and try to frustrate Real with its unshakable defense.
But even if Real gets through, the news is good for Barca. Either way, one of last year’s finalists, and one of its main competitors, will be out. Barcelona is 3-0 against Atletico this campaign and has split its regular season series with Real, but it has arguably been in better form than its arch-rivals lately.
Of the other would-be remaining teams – Porto and either Juventus or Monaco – none should present serious problems to Barca. It’s unlikely, after all, that Porto, should it advance, will have a second perfect series in a row.
If Bayern does advance – or Barcelona’s lack of depth in a lot of positions, most notably its defense, catches up to it – this will all be a very different story. Not to be forgotten is how Bayern destroyed Barca 7-0 on aggregate in the semifinals two seasons ago on its way to the trophy.
But as things stand, the near future looks bright for Barca, which also leads La Liga, in spite of all the club has been through this season.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter@LeanderAlphabet.