Barcelona closed the La Liga season on Sunday with a historic piece of data: the 19 point gap between them and Real Madrid. It's a gap which has neven been seen before, the biggest lead Barça have ever ended a season with over their Clasico rivals. It's surprising because Spanish football's big two have been spurred on by their equality throughout the years, by being so close to each other and competing for trophies.
That's not been the case this year and the distance reflects a trend: Barcelona's domination (eight league titles in 11 years) and the Madrid's apparent disinterest in the competition. Madrid's failure in the Champions League, along with their sad league campaign which ended with defeat to Real Betis, is an illustration of a team in crisis. Zinedine Zidane even ended the season on the ropes despite returning as a hero.
The French coach has not been able to turn things around. The freefall only accelerated. It's been a relief for Barça, who continue to try and recover from their Champions League KO, although Sunday's draw at Eibar suggested they're not there yet. Seeing the team, the feeling is that mentally the season ended for the players at Anfield. There's something in their body language that suggests the Copa del Rey is more of a strain than a shot at redemption. As if there was no possible consolation prize, at least this season, for what happened in Europe.
“The idea was to stay active and take advantage of the game, but Saturday will be different, firstly because it's against a different side and then because neither (Eibar) nor us were playing for much," Valverde said. With five days to go until the final in Seville against Valencia, the coach insists on the same concept: keeping the players active.
On Sunday, he was forced to experiment in attack. With Malcom and Sergi Roberto, who both failed to impress. The XI managed to get a draw because Messi appeared -- who else? -- to score two goals. And it's in the Argentine that Barça will look to heal the scars from Liverpool. If the No.10 is in the mood this weekend, Valencia will face a team that have ended the season 19 points clear of Real Madrid.