Barça Prevail Through Traumatic Times

It was the news that brought Spanish football to its knees, and across the country tributes were paid to Tito Vilanova. Barcelona fought emotions and Villarreal to succeed...

Last Updated: 28/04/14 at 10:03 Post Comment

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In a season during which the institutional slings and arrows fired in Barcelona's direction have had impacts perceived by fans and press as both disastrous and calamitous, everything was put into awful perspective by the dreadful news released by the club on Friday.

One of the architects of a team that was one of the greatest seen in modern club football had passed away, having lost a two-and-a-half year battle with throat cancer. At just 45 years of age, and after an ocean of experience in helping Pep Guardiola guide Barça to six trophies in a single year as well as winning the league title as the club's manager outright, Tito Vilanova could have had a wonderful career at the Camp Nou.

Instead, flags were flown at half mast at the club he joined as a teenager and where he eventually become coach. "Thank you for all you have given football and Barcelona," was the tribute from Cesc Fabregas, one of hundreds that poured in from across the world of football, including José Mourinho with whom he had an infamous touchline altercation.

It wasn't just in the Catalan capital where Tito Vilanova was mourned. Football grounds all over the country paid tribute with silence followed by applause, a recognition of the tragedy of a man who leaves a wife and two children but also the professional achievements of a popular figure, and the true bravery and stamina displayed ever since being diagnosed with cancer in November 2011.

The Santiago Bernabéu was one of those stadiums where the passing of Tito Vilanova was remembered. Soon after, the Real Madrid players, each sporting black armbands, completed a thorough job over Osasuna that was always likely to be a simple mission. Although the former Barcelona's boss's passing touched everyone in Spanish football, La Liga carried on. So too did Cristiano Ronaldo, who looked in much better shape than the midweek game against Bayern with two masterful strikes in a 4-0 win.

The victory kept Real Madrid in touch with Atlético Madrid at the top, a side with a lead of six points but one more game played. However, time is running out for Carlo Ancelotti's team in a bid for the treble. The Rojiblancos were facing a clash at Valencia that both Madrid and Barça were hoping would be a game that showed a slither of vulnerability for Diego Simeone's side. Instead, it was yet another hurdle passed in an epic steeplechase of a season. It was also a ninth league win in a row, eight of which have produced clean sheets. "We have two great rivals left and we cannot fail in the last part of the campaign," said a relentless Diego Simeone.

Atlético have just three league games left with the wiggle room built in to fail in one of them, such is the advantage over Madrid and Barcelona, who need exemplary run-ins. Barcelona still don't look capable of that achievement though, with yet more examples of extreme living to get the Catalan club through games.

Previous matches have required own goals and penalties for scraps, and it was more of the same against Villarreal on Sunday. The hosts in El Madrigal had gone 2-0 up and just as it is was looking that slim La Liga hopes were up in smoke, two own goals from Villarreal and a winner from Lionel Messi kept Barça in the game.

Of course, the game on this occasion had to be put into the context of what the players had been through over the past two days. "At times like this, football seems so unimportant," admitted Tata Martino, the coach called upon to take over Barcelona, last summer, when Tito Vilanova's suffering became too strong. "It was the job of both myself and my players but everything was of secondary importance."

"The match was like Tito's life," said Javier Mascherano, summing up the sombre yet defiant mood in the Barcelona camp. "It was a fight until the very end."

Tim Stannard - follow him on Twitter here

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