[WORLD VIEW] We've been spoiled by Barcelona. Competing on all fronts over the last three-plus seasons may be starting to take its toll. Winner of the last
three Spanish league titles, Barca has all but conceded this season's La Liga crown to Real Madrid. We can only hope this is not the beginning of the end for one of the greatest teams ever assembled.
We'll get a better idea of what shape Barca is in when it resumes play in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday at Bayer Leverkusen.
Saturday's 3-2 loss at Osasuna -- a team it had previously beaten three times by a margin of 14-1 this season -- left Barcelona 10 points behind Real Madrid in La Liga.
Since losing to Barcelona, 3-1, at home on Dec. 10, Real Madrid has won all seven league games it played. Barcelona, meanwhile, hasn't been playing poorly, but three wins and two ties in addition to the Osasuna defeat isn't good enough to keep up with the Merengues.
Barcelona is paying the price for its domination over Real Madrid by having had to face Valencia twice in the semifinals of the Copa del Rey this month after knocking off Real Madrid in the two-leg quarterfinals in January.
Barcelona won the second leg 2-0 to advance to the final, but Coach Josep Guardiola used all his regulars, most notably Xavi and Andres Iniesta, who were rested at Osasuna on Saturday.
We'll know soon if Lionel Messi is indefatigable -- he has played in every league game this season and all six Copa del Rey games in January and February -- but Barca can't afford to be without Xavi or Iniesta.
If Barcelona isn't one thing, it's not deep. It has one of the smallest rosters of any of the Champions League contenders, and it has lost David Villa -- out with a broken leg suffered at the Club World Cup -- and Dutchman Ibrahim Affelay, also injured. Sergio Busquets is hurting, and Seydou Keita has been away with Mali at the Africa Cup of Nations.
With Barca trailing 2-0 and then 3-1 at Osasuna, Guardiola brought on youngsters Isaac Cuenca and Cristian Tello in the second half and kept Xavi and Iniesta on the bench.
If Barcelona couldn't win without Xavi and Iniesta against Osasuna, it won't win the Champions League again without them.
Guardiola recognizes pressure is on his team now that La Liga title is slipping away. He just doesn't buy the argument that Barca's season will be a failure if it doesn't make up for losing La Liga title to Real Madrid by winning the Champions League.
"You have the feeling that if we don't win the Champions League it's a failure,'' he said. "The Champions League is always difficult at this stage. We know how close it can be."
Barcelona has already won Spain's Supercopa, the UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup in Japan and will play Athletic Bilbao in the final of the Copa del Rey.
Even if it loses out in its bid to repeat in La Liga and the Champions League, Barca is on course to finish the 2011-12 season with three or maybe four trophies.
Not shabby by anyone's standards.