Clasico at Real last chance for dejected Barca to rescue season

Friday, Apr 19, 2024

MADRID: The last chance saloon has opened its doors early for Barcelona as they travel to the capital on Sunday aiming to hold off Real Madrid’s LaLiga title run in a desperate effort to stay alive in the race for the only remaining major silverware they can win.

Barca hosted Paris St Germain in their Champions League quarter-final second leg on Tuesday after 13 games unbeaten, including six consecutive wins, in all competitions. However, they went from heaven to hell in 90 minutes and were left licking their wounds after a heartbreaking 4-1 defeat.

After winning 3-2 in Paris and taking a 1-0 lead with an early Raphinha goal in the return, the Catalans collapsed after going down to 10 men just before the half-hour mark and allowed PSG to fight back and secure a 6-4 aggregate victory.

To make their pain worse, Barca fans had to endure watching bitter rivals Real progress in the competition with a dramatic shootout win at holders Manchester City on Wednesday. That victory avenged last year’s defeat by former Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola’s City side and leaves Real on their way to a record-extending 15th European Cup triumph.

Real coach Carlo Ancelotti was beaming with pride after his team dug deep for long periods to keep City at bay and squeeze past them on penalties into the Champions League semi-finals, boosting their confidence ahead of the Clasico.

Real top LaLiga on 78 points ahead of Barca with 70 and surprise package Girona (65) and a win on Sunday would give them an 11-point lead with only six games left. Winning LaLiga already seemed like a long shot for Barca, but they were banking on the confidence boost of European success to challenge their rivals.

After their rich vein of form was rudely interrupted, however, the mood to face an in-form Real at the Santiago Bernabeu could not be worse. By contrast, Real will be mentally ready for another battle despite enduring a gruelling 120 minutes at City.

“Everyone thought we were dead (against City) but never give Madrid up for dead because Madrid never dies,” Ancelotti told reporters on Wednesday. “We have no physical problems and we have time until Sunday to recover. We will sleep calmly to recover and also to process what we have done at Manchester, it was something remarkable.”

Ancelotti has led Real to three consecutive Clasico wins, including a 4-1 thrashing of Barca in the Spanish Super Cup semi-finals in January and a 2-1 comeback away win in LaLiga in October, with a brilliant Jude Bellingham scoring twice. Those tough losses helped to add pressure on Barcelona manager Xavi Hernandez, who announced in February that he was stepping down at the end of a difficult season.

A Barca victory could help the Catalans hang on for a couple of more rounds of the league campaign but another loss would likely mean last orders being served for the season.