Barca must not miss this unexpected chance
Barcelona will be La Liga champions if they win their two remaining matches, away at Elche and at home against Atletico Madrid.
It's an unlikely situation, especially after under-pressure manager Gerardo Martino and club captain Xavi blamed a lack of competitiveness, bad luck, injuries suffered and many below-par performances for their disappointing season.
Then, the unexpected happened. While everyone at the Camp Nou was busy looking ahead to the many changes to be made during the summer, both Atletico and Real Madrid struggled to keep their advantage at the top of table and, unexpectedly, dropped enough points to bring the Catalans back into the title race that they had publicly given up just a week ago.
At this point, it would truly be unforgivable for Barca to waste the surprising opportunity that their rivals have so generously gifted them. Bringing the seventh league trophy in the past 10 years to the Camp Nou museum now depends on adding six more points to their tally against a relegation-threatened side and in front of their home crowd against Los Colchoneros.
Many supporters and the majority of the Catalan media are already looking forward to next week's match against Atletico. While I understand the prospect of a Liga finale at home is hugely exciting, the fact is that failure to win this Sunday's game at Elche would likely make the concluding game irrelevant.
Barcelona have dropped points against teams such as Getafe, Granada or Valladolid this season, so assuming the clash at the Martinez Valero will be a walk in the park is utter nonsense. Total respect must be given to a team which, despite still being fully involved in the relegation battle at this late stage, haven't lost at home since December and have allowed only 12 goals in their stadium all campaign.
My main concern ahead of this final push for the title is whether Martino will be able to re-motivate his players for the task ahead. The Argentine manager has demonstrated a disappointing lack of energy in the last few weeks and, as a result, the team performances have gone from bad to worse. Despite the squad's insistence on supporting their coach whenever speaking to media, their frustration has been evident at specific moments and behind closed doors.
Following their terrible performance against Getafe, Martino decided to give his team a couple of days off. He then organised a traditional Argentine barbecue for the squad, in what many interpreted as an informal way to wave his players goodbye. Training on Friday was also cancelled. Personally, I hope he doesn't end up regretting giving his players so much time off.
Lionel Messi seems to be imminently close to extending his current contract after negotiations were intensified during the past week. At last, the board of directors have managed to understand that the quadruple Ballon d'Or winner must be the key to the club's present and, most importantly, future. La Pulga now has the opportunity to celebrate such great news with an instant positive impact on the pitch.
Despite the huge amount of criticism he has received in recent times, Cesc Fabregas has done enough to earn his place in the starting XI in the two upcoming matches -- and beyond, for that matter. He should celebrate his 150th game as a Blaugrana doing what he does best: Driving the team forward from midfield.
The former Arsenal captain is constantly trying to find spaces within the rival defence and has a great connection with Messi, Pedro and Alexis Sanchez, the three forwards who should be starting on Sunday. The current Barcelona definitely needs his dynamism and ability to push forward to the striking position. Right now, Fabregas' presence is more incisive than Xavi's and he should be given the start next to Andres Iniesta as a result.
As for the back line, there isn't that much of a choice, to be honest. Marc Bartra and Javier Mascherano should start in the centre, with Martin Montoya on the right and Adriano as full-back in front of only option Jose Manuel Pinto under the posts. Having said that, Martino will most likely continue to field Dani Alves despite his lack of focus, poor defending and crossing of late.
Barca have been given an unexpected lifeline and have a golden chance to save a season that most believed to be well and truly buried. Cules' only option is to trust the current generation of players have enough pride and energy left to make themselves and their supporters proud before the major rebuild in the summer.
The quote: "We have to make the most of this and not let the chance slip. We are better off now than we were a few weeks ago. We now have a chance in the league and we are not depending on results going our way. A lot of things have come up this year and a lot of it is just nonsense, almost of it lies. But I feel fine.” -- Lionel Messi.