For a time, the world of football was mesmerized by Barcelona. At times, even their opponents appeared mesmerized by the passing, the panache, the tiki-taka that ended with Lionel Messi or another of the Blaugrana elite depositing a ball into the back of the net.
Has that changed? Barca center back Gerard Pique admits it’s possible:
“Maybe they don’t fear us as before because in the last two years we didn’t win the Champions League.
“We can still be the best, but we have to show to the world we can do it.”
Barca was eliminated in the semi-finals back in 2012 by the slimmest of margins in a 3-2 aggregate affair with Chelsea, leading to manager Pep Guardiola’s soccer sabbatical of sorts. But last year’s Champions League was the real eyebrow raiser, as Bayern Munich — the eventual home of Guardiola — absolutely lambasted his old charges over two legs 7-0.
Yet Barca was fairly dominant in Group H, its only loss a late 2-1 decision at Ajax. They taunted Milan, Ajax and Celtic at home with 3-0, 4-1 and 6-1 wins and went 1-1-1 on the road overall. Drawing Manchester City provided the Round of 16 with one of its sexiest pairings, but the favorite was far from a no-brainer.
The club faces a three-way battle for the La Liga title while also dealing with off-field distractions (authorities are investigating potential improprieties in the signing of Neymar) and those doubting their post-Guardiola pedigree:
“The only way we have to speak is on the pitch. We know that in the club in the last six months there were some things that we cannot control as players.
“All we can do is play on the pitch and show the world that we can still be the best and try and play a great game against a great team like Manchester City.”
The beauty of the match-up with Manchester City is that Barcelona has a chance to reestablish its dominance against a strong opponent. While all the clubs left in the Champions League are forces to be reckoned with, Barca has a chance to raise some eyebrows in the next few weeks.
Or they could lose, and watch the remaining fear slip away.