It has not been the best of starts to 2014 at Barcelona as they cope with off-field problems concerning their past transfer dealings, but their aggregate defeat by Atletico Madrid in the Champions League quarter-final also raises questions as to their sudden vulnerability on the pitch. Pundits are now questioning whether the Catalan team attained their peak performance under the management of Pep Guardiola and are now locked into a downward spiral.
It had even been suggested that the Champions League final appeared set for a clash between Guardiola’s new team Bayern Munich and his former players at Barcelona, but Atletico Madrid did not read the script with their 1-0 second leg victory achieved despite the absence of their much vaunted striker Diego Costa due to injury.
An early goal by Koke settled the tie after the 1-1 draw at Barcelona in the first leg and while there will be inquests as to the early exit from the competition for the Catalan team, attention now needs to refocus on yet more difficult upcoming fixtures which will define the remainder of their season.
With just six matches remaining in the current La Liga campaign, Barcelona trail Atletico by one point in the table standings and host them in the final match of the season. An earlier visit by Athletic Bilbao to the Nou Camp will also be no foregone conclusion.
There is also the small matter of a Copa del Rey final against Real Madrid on Wednesday 16th April and defeat against their old rivals would surely add more weight to the argument that Barcelona fortunes are most definitely on the wane.
After a prolonged period of adverse publicity during which their role in the incoming Neymar transfer has been heavily criticised and a double transfer window embargo imposed due to irregularities in the acquisitions of several under-18 players, Barcelona are certainly in need of some welcome good news.
An appeal will be launched with the Court of Arbitration for Sport with regard to their transfer ban as Barca need to replace retiring skipper Carles Puyol and outgoing goalkeeper Victor Valdes as part of an envisaged rebuilding process at the club. A delay in the ban may ensue from any confirmed appeal but of more immediate necessity is to clinch any trophy from what remains of the current campaign.
After winning La Liga title last season by 15 points and losing only two matches in achieving a 100 points total, the alarm bells began ringing when defeats were incurred in three of six league games during February and early March.
Only a successful end to the season will silence the growing number of doubters and Barcelona did respond to those earlier defeats with a 7-0 home win against Osasua and then defeating Real Madrid at the Bernabeu stadium by a 4-3 scoreline.
The onus is now on Barcelona to prove that the Atletico defeat is only a minor setback.