Xabi Alonso took up his favourite position at the Camp Nou, easing into a seat in the stands and looking silently out across the pitch, feet up, job done. It was some time after Real Madrid had won the Copa del Rey semi-final second leg 3-1 against Barcelona, the clock ticking towards midnight, and the Camp Nou was quiet. The stadium had been emptying for a while, ever since Raphaël Varane headed Real Madrid‘s third; by the time Jordi Alba scored Barcelona’s only goal in the 88th minute, there were not that many fans left to celebrate and those that were still there did not much feel like doing so.
If Alonso took it all in, it was difficult for Barcelona fans to do the same. Difficult for their players too. In little over a week, they have been beaten by Milan in the Champions League and knocked out of the Copa del Reyby their greatest rivals. Alonso sat outside, not saying a word. Down the tunnel and up again, past the chapel and to the left, other players were giving their views. Cristiano Ronaldo was beaming, socks pulled up to the knees, cap on backwards, Varane too. And through the doors, Iker Casillas, who had not played, was giving the official press conference: another victory for José Mourinho.
Xavi Hernández was trying to put a positive spin on events. “We have lost the least important of the [three] titles,” he said. On one level, he was right and Barcelona will win the league. But he was also very wrong: Barcelona have lost far more than the least important title. They have lost identity and supremacy, fitness and confidence. They are a team that have been beaten before; what makes this different is that this time they have been well beaten, so deservedly defeated. The cover of AS shouted: “Toma, toma, toma!” Take that, and that, and that! Sport called it “a painful knockout”.