At this point, the most astounding thing about this FC Barcelona dynasty is just how long it has lasted.
We have gawked, gaped and marveled at everything else about it already. The transcendence of Lionel Messi. The marvelousness of Xavi and Andres Iniesta, before they aged out. All those other stars. The trophies and the records. It’s all well-worn.
But the sheer endurance of this triumphant run has somehow gotten lost for the sparkle of all that glistening silverware.
Which is a long way of saying that Barcelona beat Real Madrid 1-0 in the Spanish capital on Saturday – Real’s fifth consecutive failure to beat Barca at home – all but ensuring a fourth Spanish double in five years.
With a dozen games remaining in La Liga, Barca has built up a 10-point lead over Atletico Madrid and a 12-point advantage over Real. It hosts Atletico on April 27, but it’s difficult to imagine the Catalans giving away the league at this stage. That will make it eight Spanish championships in 11 years.
Barca faces Valencia in the Copa del Rey final on May 25 and it is, of course, the favorite against the ninth-placed Ches as well. Win that, and Barca will have lifted the cup in five straight seasons and seven in 11.
And Barcelona is, of course, still alive for a fourth Champions League title over that same timespan.
For 11 years, one of the great runs in the history of club soccer has endured unrelentingly with just one campaign that yielded no silverware at all, while two produced trebles – making Barca the world’s only club to pull off that ultra-rare feat twice.
It’s done so largely because, in spite of Real’s four European crowns in five years, the Catalans have managed to keep their arch rivals at bay domestically for more than a decade.
Saturday’s Clasico, the fourth of the season, was one of the tightest yet. Barca hammered Real Madrid 5-1 at home in October, after which recently appointed Real manager Julen Lopetegui was fired. In their Copa del Rey semifinals last month, Real gamely held Barca to a 1-1 tie away, before falling apart 3-0 at home.
In the first half, Barca had much the better of the action in this final act of their rivalry this season (barring a Champions League matchup). Three fat chances produced only one goal, though. After a tricky combination with Luis Suarez, Messi dinked his finish just wide from a difficult angle.
But in the 26th minute, Ivan Rakitic scored the winner with a chip light as a French pastry after a lovely give-and-go with Sergi Roberto (via BeIN Sport).
Before halftime, Suarez spun into some space at the top of the box and lashed a shot that provoked a strong, low save from Thibaut Courtois. Messi couldn’t quite get to the rebound.
Perhaps the most noteworthy scenes of the first half, however, were a series of confrontations between Messi and Real captain and resident dark arts-expert Sergio Ramos. The latter, who is arguably both the best central defender of his generation and its dirtiest player, first tripped Messi with a cynical kick and then whacked an arm into the Argentine’s face.
some players make no-look passes, some players score no-look goals. Sergio Ramos makes no look fouls. pic.twitter.com/Oss8PnY2DK— amadí (@amadoit__) March 2, 2019
Maybe that turned the tide. Maybe it didn’t matter. But either way, Real came out much stronger after halftime, playing Barca on even footing the rest of the way.
But Real produced few chances, if any. And it was again startlingly apparent how few attacking alternatives Santiago Solari had on his bench once he gave up on Gareth Bale – especially as compared to Barca substitution Philippe Coutinho, who injected new energy and initiative into his team. By the end of the game, Real’s stretch of minutes without scoring in the run of play had run to 335, a shocking drought for the back-to-back-to-back European champions.
The loss, in a sense, was also an indictment on Real president-cum-dictator Florentino Perez’s hopelessly stubborn transfer policy. He remains determined to make Bale, his priciest-ever signing, a success, even though the overwhelming evidence suggests that at Real’s level, the Welshman functions best as a supporting player.
Barca isn’t subservient to one man’s ego. As executives, administrators, coaches and indeed players have come and gone, the club has refreshed its squad and continued performing at its heretofore unimaginable standards.
Year after year, Barca has kept winning. The success has churned on for the last 10 seasons. And this one will be no different.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
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