Barcelona wants to bring its golden boy home. For Arsenal, each attempt marks hunting season.
The milestone is somewhat of a surprise given the relentless and unctuous pursuit by trophy-gobbling Barcelona in combination with Arsenal's fallow (barren) stretch, also referred to as a trophy famine. Reaching 300 appearances will take at least three seasons and is very unlikely.
Witnessing the ideal has its drawbacks.
Barcelona just beat Real Sociedad 5—0. Any surprise there? After beating Real Madrid by the same score two weeks prior, one could almost safely claim that the season was over. Exciting, ethereal Barcelona would be before, and in the end, just as dull. Instead there's a hyper-focused attention to the present moment of each game in search for signs of a wobble, a hairline fracture, a letdown, some hint of desublimation. But when could it happen? The effort to sustain these heights is put in terms of mental strength, the internal management of individual and team requires dialog and reflection. Barcelona still has to tell themselves that they can do it.
Shaky legs can’t happen of their own doing. Osasuna was next. They fit some criteria of foil: unassuming; a good home record; and the feel of soft relegating sand underfoot. Osasuna could show up with stiff hair and scrappiness. In turn, Barcelona could have looked beyond them to a thorny Rubin Kazan, last year’s Champions League troublemakers. A club from the coldest climes, much colder than a cold day at Stoke, Ruben Kazan had become masters of the draw against them. But there was no letdown, not against sleepy Osasuna.
This year’s Clássico marked the thirteenth league game of the season and Barcelona were now 11-1-1. The Mourinho-effect, those preternatural and incessant waves of light and sound, carried an additional intensity into the fixture. Two games, so highly anticipated that one wonders if the other thirty-six matter beyond their role in delaying gratification.
Estadio San Mamés, home of Athletic Bilbao is regarded as one of best stadiums to see a La Liga match. A new stadium has broken ground and once completed the old San Mamés will be razed.
It is sad to think that one may never have the chance to see a game here. Last season's 1—0 win over Real Madrid was a game I didn't erase from the DVR until the late rounds of the World Cup forced me to erase it. Here was a pilgrimage to undertake.
If ESPN's coverage of European football has a single defining merit (no, not Steve McManaman), it is the freedom of the camera crew to spend time showing the crowds and the two teams in the tunnel before the match hugging and laughing before it gets serious.