When we get towards the crunch part of the season, teams like Barcelona have to decide whether they value domestic glory over European triumph.
Tata Martino’s side are going strong in two competitions—La Liga and the Champions League—and have reached the Copa del Rey final as well.
Although Barcelona’s squad is far from threadbare, resources always have to be managed carefully at moments like this.
Like most managers, Martino has a firm core of players that he needs to feature on the biggest occasions and the other players fit around that, flitting in and out of the side.
Obviously, the plan for Barcelona is to win as much as possible—the treble is still on.
They are now favourites for La Liga and if they win the remainder of their games, they will lift the Spanish domestic title for the 23rd time.
That would likely entail beating Atletico Madrid at the Camp Nou on the final day of the season, a tough but far-from-impossible proposition.
Diego Simeone’s team are also Barcelona’s quarter-final opponents in the Champions League and the two sides square off on Tuesday night in Catalonia.
Martino is no fool and knows he will need to manage his squad wisely to give his team the best chance of success in both competitions.
But which would he prefer Barcelona to triumph in?
For the Espanyol clash on Saturday, which Barcelona won 1-0, Martino rested a couple of players who are expected to get the nod against Atletico.
Andres Iniesta came on as a substitute late in the second half and usually is a key player in the team.
Benching the Spaniard was a risky move, because Barcelona looked bereft of inspiration in the second half and the game was calling out for his arrival.
In the end, they broke the deadlock just before he entered the fray, thanks to the penalty converted by Lionel Messi.
It was a fortuitous decision, given that the ball bounced off Neymar’s arm before it hit Javi Lopez.
Alexis Sanchez was also left on the bench for the majority of the game and he is Barcelona’s top scorer this season in La Liga with 17 goals, if you discount Messi on 23.
The Chilean has scored all his from open play, whereas the Argentine’s total is boosted by five penalties.
Had Saturday’s game not been against Catalan rivals Espanyol, Martino may have rested more players.
He knew that the outfit fronted by Sergio Garcia, who impressed throughout, posed a threat at home.
Pizzi blasted two good chances over the bar and on another day, Barcelona may have not been able to take anything from the Cornella.
La Liga is finely balanced at the moment and any slip-up will be costly.
Former Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola said in February that securing Bundesliga success with Bayern Munich was more important than retaining the Champions League.
As per Soccerway, Guardiola said:
The Champions League is the most prestigious title, but the Bundesliga is the most important. When we'll win the Bundesliga is irrelevant, but it is the most difficult one to win. For me it's a dream to be able to try and win trophies with this club.
Of course, Guardiola is now in a fortunate position.
His all-conquering Bayern Munich side have already sealed the Bundesliga and now can feel free to pile all their resources into trying to defend their Champions League crown.
Guardiola is right—Europe’s premier club competition does have a lot of prestige attached to it.
Winning your domestic title doesn’t bring you the worldwide respect that lifting the Champions League trophy can.
It’s important financially too, when you consider how much merchandise and replica shirts get sold in the Far East and other parts of the world, to clubs that have a record of doing well in Europe.
Those songs about “being the greatest team the world has ever seen” have added credence when backed up by a Champions League victory.
Another good reason that Barcelona might prefer to win the Champions League rather than La Liga is to crush one of arch-rivals Real Madrid’s dreams.
Ancelotti said at a press conference, as per AS: "On Wednesday we'll have a great atmosphere at the Bernabeu because everyone is dreaming of the Decima and they know we can win if everyone gets behind the team.”
It shows that Los Blancos are desperate to seal their 10th Champions League (or European Cup, as it was known before) triumph.
Barcelona winning it would be their fifth and put them back on track to catching up with Madrid’s total.
But, all that said, there are a lot of excellent reasons for Martino and Barcelona to focus primarily on winning La Liga once again.
To emerge on top of the table after a gruelling 38-game season is no mean feat.
Luck plays only a small part in the equation, a smaller part than ability, skill, determination, courage and tactical nous play.
The league is Barcelona’s bread and butter. Hours upon hours of playing and preparation go into the domestic competition each season.
Whereas a Champions League campaign can be helped or hindered by chance—for instance a favourable cup draw—in La Liga you know that you’re playing each team twice.
You need to be able to set your side up right for the big games and punish the smaller teams at every opportunity.
If Chelsea played the 2011-12 season with their backs to the wall like they did in the Champions League, they would have finished far lower than the sixth place they eventually secured.
Barcelona also have scores to settle with Real Madrid in La Liga too—they are 10 titles behind their nemesis.
Having the domestic bragging rights is important, particularly in a country like Spain where the two biggest clubs in the country harbour such great resent for each other.
Being the best side in the land is a demand that Barcelona fans have of their side, and the players have of themselves.
Winning the Champions League would be the icing on the cake, but the base? That’s La Liga.
We’ll leave the final say on the matter to that man, Iniesta.
Last season he came up with some words which sum up the attitude Barcelona should take this time around.
Iniesta said, as per Goal.com:
The league is the most important, as it reflects consistency and the work you put in. The Champions League is very prestigious, but it's a competition which is very tough, special and unique. People do value the league.