Get over European fiasco, La Liga crown awaits

Posted by Francesc Tomas

Barcelona defender Carles Puyol has a soft spot for AC MilanPA PhotosBarcelona must pick themselves up from their Champions League disappointment and focus on finishing the La Liga season in style

Unfortunately, and as it perhaps was to be expected, the humiliating 7-0 aggregate defeat against Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-finals unlocked a dangerous spiral of disagreements between the board, the coach and players, allowed endless transfer rumours to be splashed all over the media and even brought hidden complexes from the past back up to the surface.

Despite most Cule supporters agreeing about the need for a gradual renovation of the squad by making a minimum of three fresh, renowned, experienced signings, reports indicate that president Sandro Rosell, sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta and first team manager Tito Vilanova all seem to have different ideas about what direction the team should take next.

While debate when taking decisions of such crucial importance is obviously healthy, the fact that internal disagreements may delay the start of potential negotiations in order to bring the necessary improvements to the squad is a cause for concern.

Personally, I feel the board should set the club's expense budget and allow Zubizarreta and Tito to worry about the acquisition of new signings while they focus on the most important job - selling current players that, to put it bluntly, lack the required level of either commitment, fitness or raw quality to have the privilege of defending the Blaugrana next year.

Sentimentality aside, the progressive renewal of the squad is a crucial step that must be taken to ensure the recent level of continued success doesn't just become Barcelona's glorious past but a part of an ongoing, exciting future.

Tough, perhaps unpopular decisions must be taken to ensure the golden Blaugrana generation continues to challenge for silverware in years to come. Despite many of the current members of the squad having enjoyed resounding success over the years, the obvious truth is that nothing lasts forever and those who have dropped their level of performance must make way for fresh, new blood.

Let's hope Rosell, Zubizarreta and Vilanova find the best possible solution to this incredibly complicated puzzle - Barcelona's future is in their hands.

Time to reconquer La Liga

After many months of tremendous hard work and dedication, Barcelona will have their first chance to lift their 22nd domestic league title against Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon on Sunday - a difficult away clash against the most improved team in the competition.

I am fully aware that some Cules may disagree with me at this moment in time but, putting the disappointing end to team's European journey aside, I would consider the current season a success if, as seems inevitable, the team manages to clinch the Liga title.

While the Blaugranas have won the competition 11 times since 1990, it is also true that only 10 of the previous 62 league trophies were taken back to the Camp Nou museum. As a result, winning this title must be considered a major achievement that should be celebrated euphorically around the streets of the Catalan capital because, in a not-so-distant past, the club was certainly not as dominant they would have hoped to be.

As I normally say, numbers rarely lie: Only four draws and two defeats in 34 matches, scoring 105 and conceding 37 goals in the process; 12 wins in 17 games as visitors; only 2 points dropped at the Camp Nou in the whole competition. An impeccable run, to say the least.

Personally, it is obvious that seeing the team allowing more than one goal per game is far from encouraging but, as I said above, I am certain that the board has now realised the need to strengthen the team's back-line and trust they can recruit a couple of quality defensive reinforcements in order to fix the ongoing goal leak.

Looking at the situation from a more positive point, the fact that the team has averaged over three goals per game so far is encouraging. The contribution of Lionel Messi, scoring 43.8% of the team's total, has been impressive for yet another season. La Pulga adds an extra spark of desire, speed, commitment and magic that no other player around the world of football has.

Having said that, I would love an increase in the number of goals from other attacking players next year as a club of Barcelona's calibre should definitely not depend so heavily on one individual's performance, however talented he may be.

Some Cules have voiced their remarkable disapproval of Tito Vilanova's performance this season which, to be honest, I am unable to agree with. Sure, football moves so quickly that it sometimes feels as if only the you-are-only-as-good-as-your-last-result philosophy applies, but a more detached analysis shows that the 44-year-old Catalan manager is about to win the most important title at domestic level and reached the semi-finals in the other two competitions entered during his first season as a professional - an achievement that many more experienced managers can only dream of.

Sure, Tito did inherit many individually talented players from Pep Guardiola, but it was up to the new manager to keep players motivated and focused towards further collective improvement and perform well together for yet another year.

The team's explosive start to the league, with 18 victories and only one draw in the first round, ensured the stability of the dressing room after the departure of one of the most charismatic men in Barcelona history. Contrary to what many thought at the time, such impressive results were down to the new manager's leadership and his ability to keep the Blaugrana boat afloat during potentially difficult times.

Unless major disaster strikes, Barcelona will be crowned domestic champions in the very near future - an impressive success which should not go unnoticed or be taken for granted.

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