The truce is over. After a 15-day break for international games,
it is back to domestic business in Spain as the country braces
itself for the most exciting championship run-in in years. With
only two rounds of matches left on the calendar, Real Madrid have
their noses in front of their old enemies, with both sides on 72
points and Sevilla lying in third, just two points back.
An exciting finish is in store as the trio enter the final furlong, an outcome that looked anything but likely just a few short months ago when the Catalans held a ten-point lead over their white-shirted foes and looked set to canter to a third straight title.
Despite stumbling down the home straight, the Barça boys are keeping the faith, and in an exclusive chat with FIFA.com, defenders Gianluca Zambrotta and Lillian Thuram discuss the team's recent form and how they are shaping up for the decisive encounters ahead.
"It's an absolutely vital phase of the season for us because the title will be decided over 180 minutes," says the Italian international. "The key is to approach the games properly and the way to do that is to focus completely on what's happening on the pitch. That's the only way we can give 110 per cent because in a situation like this 100 per cent is not enough."
Team-mate Thuram concurs and explains his method for handling such big occasions. "These are crucial games, of course, and it goes without saying that we're preparing as hard as we can to go out and win them. From a personal standpoint it doesn't matter to me whether there are two or ten games left because I try to go about them as professionally as possible."
As Zambrotta points out, Barcelona have had their ups and downs this season, but with the team showing recent signs of a return to form and the championship still a realistic proposition, he still sees plenty of reasons to be optimistic: "There have been moments when we haven't performed well but I think we're finishing the season very strongly, as the wins over Atletico and Getafe show. After a terrible week in which we lost the league leadership and the Copa [del Rey] semi-final, we showed everyone we were still very much alive."
That said, fellow-FIFA World Cup™ winner Thuram has a slightly different take on Barcelona's fluctuating season: "I don't feel there's an awful lot of difference between how we played before and how we're doing now. Every game is different. Sometimes we create a lot of chances and don't score, and sometimes it's vice versa. All that's happened is that we've been unable to get a win at critical times."
Whatever the case may be,
Barça could well find themselves trophyless at the end of
a season that initially promised so much, all of which makes league
success an imperative. If anyone is feeling the pressure, it is not
the experienced Frenchman, who is taking the dramatic climax in his
"There's no doubt at the start of the season we seemed to have lots of chances to win things. Unfortunately, though ... (pauses) or fortunately, rather, you can't take anything for granted in football and surprises always happen. Of course it would have been great for us if Barcelona had won everything, but that would have made things a little predictable."
One thing these two great players are agreed on is that Barcelona's name will be on the league trophy again come next weekend. "It's been a year in which things just haven't turned out how we expected. Nevertheless, we are sure we can finish off in style by taking the title," vows the Italian. Thuram is not one to disagree with that prediction: "We're going to give it everything. Real Madrid are in great form, that's true. But we'll be doing whatever we can to win the league."