How far away the month of February seems right now. Barça trashed Valencia 7-0 in the Spanish Cup, with the trident having fun and scoring goals and the whole squad being capable of mixing up their game, combining the pause and the acceleration, creating fluid plays thanks to the ball recovery, whether with short passes or long ones. Barely two months after this, the outcomes claim there’s nothing left of that football. Eliminated from the Champions League by giving away 45 minutes, donating all the leadership points in the La Liga’s table -a lead obtained with a 39 unbeaten games streak- and transforming any recent match in a suffering close to trauma because of unexplainable reasons.

Despite they were not displaying an excessive fluidity, Barça showed up in the Camp Nou with the pride of an historical club willing to end with three points the debate of the last weeks regarding to the team’s fiability and their solvency to win the titles which somehow were a fact by the press and fans. The defenders and midfielders were high up the pitch, Messi started off again from the right wing with a license to lead from the central lane, Neymar was involved by looking for the empty spaces and Luis Suárez was aware of everything that was happening near the rival area. The result was 25 minutes that were enough to overcome the fear and the scoresheet and for Diego Alves to justify his presence. One shot from Neymar, Luis Suárez arriving late to a chance generated by Alba, a double scoring chance for Messi, even threatening from the set pieces. But the goal was for Valencia. Siqueira reached the goal line and Rakitic’s own goal brought back the astonishment to the Camp Nou. The terror and the randomness.

Mascherano’s runs exemplified the squad’s doubts. A team thought out for the accuracy, the fine details and the precise execution, was becoming a paradigm of nervousness and ball conductions. There’s little to reproach to the Argentinian but it’s difficult to witness his energy in the absence of, for example, Busquets’ position so far away of the opponent's area, that spot where the ball recoveries and pressure make the difference among an in-tune team and another one with just willpower, with Barça sometimes at the mercy of Parejo and Javi Fuego, unable to regain the ball and much less to offer Messi an advantage. It’s required from Leo to be the beginning and the end which supposes a 40 meters perpetual haul. You don’t work on a game style for nearly three decades just to need that. A nice collective play by Valencia left the 0-2 in the scoreboard by the end of the first half and an impossible-to-conceal atmosphere of disbelief in the Camp Nou. The perfect season was vanishing away.

After the halftime break, Barça confined Valencia to their own area but they weren’t capable of hindering the visitors’ counterattacks. The siege didn’t resemble at all those in which the rivals end up in their goal area praying for the ball to go out of lines or taking advantage of the time between goal kicks. This is not the same Barça who if they didn’t score they drew their match, because they disturbed the opposite build-up plays with their positioning and the meticulous efforts of the defensive gear pieces. This team is in a hurry and concedes nowadays scoring chances to almost any rival: Arsenal in the second leg match, Villarreal, Real Madrid, Real Sociedad and Atlético. A few months ago this could happen sometimes but it wasn’t relevant considering the surgical precision they finished off their matches. That is over and now any petty infection is a risk to the patient’s well-being.

After five matches going through the statistical desert, Messi achieved his 500th career goal, benefiting from a Jordi Alba’s pass but actually being himself who started the play by combining with his teammate on the wing. It was one of those frequently-seen plays of last year when he performed as the quarterback given Iniesta’s irrelevance in the game and Leo’s pass to Alba or Neymar was one of the most customary solutions. Nowadays, despite Iniesta’s unquestionable influence, the team seems with much less resources than a few months ago, depending excessively of the individual brightness. As much as the board insists on it, trident and treble are not directly proportional concepts.

Almost half an hour Barça had to save some of the points at stake, but the episode of good football was only helpful to confirm Neymar’s wanderings, suddenly without brilliance and orphan of any connection with his teammates, the dependence on Messi but not the one based on the game (which compels the best player on the turf to take on the leadership) but rather on that almost-forgotten feeling of helplessness in which their teammates wait for him to solve the issue and the rivals close in on the Argentinian. Near to stoppage time, Piqué failed what would have meant the equalizer, confirming that the purpose of an important club should be to avoid to depend on the skill of your central defender facing the opposite goal. To reduce to the minimum expression the risk of the unexpected.

“That’s football”. “Injustice”. “Very good match”. It’s a given that behind close doors in his office with his staff, Luis Enrique’s analysis is much deeper than what he explains in the press conferences. To label a question just for the journalist’s last name only can be described as a disrespectful mistake produced by the heat of the moment. And if after the third consecutive defeat (the fourth one in the last five matches), the Barcelona coach thinks “who do I sub in now?”, maybe the collapse after all it’s not accidental or related to the physical state but to the tactics and the game style. For better or worse, that's what has been branding this club’s success or failure since 1988.

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Article translated from Spanish to English, originally published at the Perarnau Magazine by Daniel Cana.