In A Crazy La Liga Title Race, Are Collapsing Barcelona Being Haunted By The Ghost Of Carlos Queiroz?


This season’s extra dramatic La Liga title race has seen fans and pundits backing all three of the teams involved look back to history for some precedents which might help boost their side.

Just a few weeks back Barcelona were well clear of all challengers, having gone six months and 39 games unbeaten in all competitions. But Luis Enrique’s side have now taken just one point from the last 12 availablee – and are now ahead on just head to head record over Atletico Madrid, with Real Madrid one point behind in third.

Such a situation has lead the Iberian press to recall other famous blowing of similar big advantages. Most mentioned has been the 2003/04 season when a Real Madrid team full of galacticos and coached by Carlos Queiroz imploded over the final months.

Pretty excited AS editors headlined their Monday story of Barca's home defeat to Valencia with “Barca equal the collapse of Quieroz’s Real Madrid’, while Marca claimed to be able to see ‘the ghost of Queiroz pursuing Luis Enrique’.

Portuguese Carlos Queiroz (R) watches Re : News Photo

The similarities are pretty clear. More than halfway through that season Madrid’s original Galactico side were defending La Liga champions and top of the table, through to the Copa del Rey final and progressing easily through the Champions League. Which all sounds familiar.

A team including current Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane alongside David Beckham, Raul, Luis Figo, Roberto Carlos and the Brazilian Ronaldo were then shocked in extra-time by Real Zaragoza in March’s Copa del Rey final, and sensationally eliminated on away goals by Monaco in the Champions League quarter-finals.

A 2-1 Clasico defeat at home was the first of five straight losses in La Liga. Queiroz floundered on the bench, his big stars looking both exhausted and distracted, and no trust in home-grown or lower profile squad players. After being eight points clear at one point, Madrid eventually finished fourth, having taken just three points from their last seven games.

Ahead of Madrid's hosting Villarreal on Wednesday night, Zidane has played down any similarities with that year. But current Iran national manager Quieroz spoke to radio show El Partido de las 12 on Tuesday night, and defended himself by blaming club president Florentino Perez’s transfer policy for the collapse.

FBL-ESP-LIGA-REALMADRID-TRAINING : News Photo

“You cannot compare Barcelona's squad now with our squad then,” Quieroz said. “It was miraculous with the squad we had that we were eight points ahead of Valencia. As far as I know Barca haven't sold Luis Suarez, as we sold [Fernando] Morientes to Monaco. And I don’t think  they've sold [Sergio] Busquets like we did [Claude] Makelele to Chelsea.”

Other optimistic Madrid supporters have remembered 2006/07, when Fabio Capello’s Blancos side pipped Frank Rijkaard’s ailing Barca team having been six points back at one point.

Meanwhile, Catalan fans and pundits have preferred to talk about 2009/10 when Pep Guardiola’s team won their last five games to see off a challenge from a Madrid side then coached by Manuel Pellegrini.

Others around the Camp Nou have gone further back - to 1994/95. Then Johan Cruyff's blaugrana side featuring Guardiola, Ronald Koeman, Michael Laudrup and Romario looked in control of the title race, only to stumble in February, most alarmingly with a 6-3 defeat in Zaragoza.

Cruyff steadied that ship and Barca won 13 of the remaining 15 games in La Liga, allowing them to take the title on the final day, with help from Deportivo La Coruna defender Miroslav Djukic's infamous last minute missed penalty.

Barca’s goalkeeper that season was Andoni Zubizarreta, who helped assemble last year’s treble winning team, only to be sacked during a poor run of form in January 2015.

“The players will be thinking they now have a five game league which they must win,” Zubizarreta said on the El Larguero radio show on Sunday. “It’s like when we lost 3-6 at Zaragoza. Johan in the press conference said he was now more sure than ever that we were going to win La Liga.”

FC Barcelona v Valencia CF - La Liga : News Photo

Luis Enrique has tried -- in his own particularly combative way -- to send the same message. Directly after Sunday’s game he praised his players’ performance and character, saying he saw them fully capable of winning all five remaining games. While clearly not happy with the options he has to rotate his biggest stars, he repeated ahead of Wednesday’s game at Deportivo that “I’m convinced we will win the title, if I had any doubts I would not be sitting here.”

Matching the achievement of Cruyff’s team in overcoming a dodgy spell to finish strongly and take the title would be quite something for Barca. But even allowing for Quieroz's defence, 2003/04 does still look the most informative.

Instead Barca taking advantage of Madrid's slump that season, the more consistent Valencia, with Rafa Benitez in charge, finished the season strongly to take a second title in three years. The pretty clear parallel is with this season’s Atletico - featuring Diego Simeone as the level headed coach who gets every last drop out of his less expensive squad.

Atletico have their own historic end of season disasters - in 1980/81 they lead from week 7 to week 31, only to lose form and let in Real Sociedad to take the title. But Simeone’s current team showed when grinding their way to the trophy two seasons ago that they can keep their nerves when both Barca and Madrid could not.

The Argentine was asked ahead of Wednesday's trip to Athletic Bilbao if he thought five straight wins now would be enough.

“I can't see the future,” Simeone said. “But I'm sure that we are just depending on ourselves, not anyone else. That's what I think - we're in control of our own destiny.”

Atletico remain the perceived outsiders, but should they win at San Mames on Wednesday night the most recent history suggests they could shock the big two again.

 

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