If there was anyone to pick to make history and win back-to-back Champions League titles, the money would have certainly been on Barcelona. With arguably the best front three in history, a philosophy flourishing under a mastermind and the rest of the continent unable to come up with a definitive answer to stopping them, the Blaugrana seemed invincible.
Barcelona's Quest to Make History Falls Short as Champions League Curse Continues
Following their triumph in Berlin, where Messi, Neymar and Suárez were at the focal point when they scaled to the very pinnacle of the game, the club had a bigger chance than any before them to overcome what's almost developed into a curse - winning the Champions League on two consecutive occasions.
After the era of the straight-knockout format of the European competition ended, no one has went on to win it back-to-back. While it can be fantasised as a curse, venturing away from the mythical side of the spectrum and there are still few answers - but Barcelona became the next team on the list to try, and ultimately fail in consecutive Champions League triumphs.
In the run-up to the Clasico earlier in April, Barcelona were on another level. Breaking the Spanish record for most consecutive wins, Luis Enrique's men marched to a 39-game unbeaten streak - something unparalleled in recent times and something that many believed a stumbling Real Madrid side were incapable of halting - especially at the Camp Nou.
But despite going down to 10-men after Sergio Ramos' scandalous dismissal, Cristiano Ronaldo found a path to victory for Los Blancos. Albeit a slender margin of victory, it knocked the Catalans right off their perch. It turns out that a week and a half would not be enough time to recover.
|Image: The Guardian|
To retain the Champions League requires a sustained period of sheer dominance. Before April, the Blaugrana were reaching those heights if not exceeding them. But sometimes, it is just not plausible to keep up with the rapid evolution of the game, even if they house the best front three in the world, football just moves on faster.
But you also need things to go your way. Football is a game of very fine margins, with some things down to one man: the referee. Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli did not award a penalty for a late handball incident, instead it was a free-kick. Barcelona were that close to keeping it alive. So not only do you need to be dominant all the time, you need a slice of luck, sometimes a bit more sizeable, to find success.
Not only did they show the desire to win the game, but their relentless pressing from the front and calmness to stifle the decorated midfield proved a major difference. On a vast majority of other tests, Barça had flown through them unscathed - however on this instance, they were frustrated to the extent of becoming powerless. That's something we'd never expect to hear about Barcelona when they were at the top.
One of the wonders of the trio was that if one had an off day, the others would back them up. That held true for most parts of this era, however not only did Lionel Messi's woes continue, but Neymar and Suárez had a tough game. The Uruguayan's brace saved criticism of his performance in the first leg while Neymar was silenced on most parts. Of course they still posed a threat, but they didn't change the game as they normally would. MSN is far from its expiration date, but maybe too much reliance on them could have detrimental effects.
|Image: Getty Images|
Gone are the days in the old formats when Real Madrid won five titles in a row, or when Bayern Munich capped a consecutive trio. In those days, the pool of contenders was limited. Nowadays, with the globalization happening on a continental scale, so many teams can contend. Just look at this year's semi finalists compared to other occasions.
It's a situation where every team has there own, or multiple kryptonite. It's a trend that may only intensify. To retain the Champions League you must have a flawless team. We thought Barcelona did, but all it took was one bad patch of form to send them crashing out. You don't just need to be the best team in the world, you need to hit new standards everyday.
And with those standards always fluctuating, no team is capable yet. Barcelona were the biggest contenders to make history, but now they assemble as part of a trend. When you can't dominate, luck can sometimes back you up - but the luck went against them this time.
Maybe it's a curse. Or maybe, its just simply impossible.
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