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PHOTO: Miquel Ruiz - FCB

The critics say it’s over; it’s lunacy to believe that being 10 points adrift from the top spot in La Liga with only 36 points left can yield anything other than defeat. By any stretch of the imagination or logical conclusion, the distance that separates FC Barcelona from Real Madrid is insurmountable. It is simply not possible to fight back from 10 points down, it’s insane to think otherwise.

Ray Hudson on FC Barcelona

The silver-tongued Ray Hudson, ex-Newcastle player and current commentator for GolTV, could only gasp as the ball buried itself into the side netting of Courtois' goal. It was midway through the second half and FC Barcelona was minutes away from saying goodbye to their La Liga bid previous to Messi's sublime strike. A rejuvenated Atlético Madrid, under the direction of newly appointed manager El Cholo Simeone, smelled blood in the water. The excitement in the Vicente Calderón stands was palpable; the Colchoneros only needed one goal to see off the La Liga and Champions League holders. To make matters worse for Josep Guardiola and his men, that collective imagined scenario in the Spanish capital was edging closer to reality as minutes ticked off the referee's watch. The red and whites pressed with more ferocity than ever, they were pinning Barça back, the chances were coming, an Atelti goal appeared to be inevitable. However,   against the odds, it was a Blaugrana player that claimed the hero’s mantle that night, not Falcao or another Colchonero. When the Catalan team needed a goal to keep their La Liga title hopes alive, Messi produced a flash of brilliance to put his team ahead. As the players trotted back to their starting positions, Hudson, still tickled with delight said, "where the insane becomes the routine." In truth the commentator was talking about Messi, but these words could just as easily been used to describe this FC Barcelona team. The match ended minutes later and Barça had secured three valuable points. Once again Josep Guardiola’s men dug deep, never forsaking their style of play, to produce a brutal collective effort that usually goes unnoticed when individual performances shine so bright.

The right mindset

Abelardo, ex-Barça defender and current assistant manager at Sporting Gijón, said “the morale aspect is fundamental” for a team that wants to succeed. Talent and skill alone do not earn titles; add drive, desire, and hard work to that powerful mix and success is close at hand. Easier said than done. However, Guardiola’s men have shown time and time again that this simple formula is the foundation upon which these players base their trade. If there are any doubts about this team’s desire to win, look no further than the three meetings with Real Madrid this season at the Bernabéu. On all three occasions FC Barcelona had to fight back from a goal down against Los Blancos: the first ended in a two-all draw (Super Cup), the second ended in a Catalan victory after conceding in the first minute (1-3, Liga), and the third ended in 1-2 (King’s Cup).

Guardiola has said on different occasions that he "will not allow this team to give up,” on La Liga. Xavi Hernández, after the convincing Champions League win over Bayer 04 Leverkusen (7-1), said that the team “feels strong” and Cristian Tello echoed the first-team vice-captain, “the team is great, with high morale, we know that we can’t lose any points.”

True grit

The critics have slowly but surely joined their voices to the dooms-day chorus: Guardiola's Barça, in its fourth year, is headed straight towards commonality. The insidious trajectory towards mediocrity is evident, they say Barça has been exposed by teams time and time again this season. It's true - Guardiola's FC Barcelona has been exposed this year in ways they weren’t in the past. But what lies out in the open for the world to see isn't a paper-thin team that rests upon past glory, but a group of men that never give up regardless of how dire the circumstances. Goal-induced rampages aside, this team has shown that they have a rock-hard chin, they can grind out incredibly difficult wins (Real Sociedad, Alético Madrid, Sporting Gijón), accept defeat gracefully after giving it everything they had (Getafe, Osasuna) and still have the drive to pick themselves up and compete seven days later with the same enthusiasm and hunger that they had four years ago.

Guardiola has molded this group of men into a team that believes that there are no limits to where they can go or what they can achieve. This manager, this team, this je ne sais quois spirit is enough to silence the most ardent nay-sayer. Winning 36 out of 36 possible points is a daunting mountain to climb, but not, by any means, insurmountable for a team that has made the insane the routine.

Ex-Barça player Abelardo Fernández talks team mentality

“To be able to mount a comeback, like in 1997 or this year in La Liga, the morale aspect is fundamental [for the squad]. In Barça’s case, they have the talent and the skill, in that sense they can win every single game they have left,” said Abelardo, former FC Barcelona player and current Sporting Gijón assistant coach. “In these situations the manager is responsible for making his team believe it is possible. However, the folks that win matches are the players. I always say that the importance of managers is very high in the buildup to matches, but the players are 95% [responsible] in games.”

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