Through luck more than merit, Barcelona can claim another La Liga title next weekend, despite a frustrating and disappointing 0-0 draw with Elche on Sunday.
Elche, who secured their top-flight survival with the point, celebrated the result wildly—following 90 minutes where their goalkeeper Manu Herrera was the man of the match, but Barca nevertheless struggled to create many clear-cut chances.
The visitors, in contrast, left the pitch in something approaching despair—until news filtered through that Atletico Madrid had also drawn in their game against Malaga.
That result means Barcelona remain three points behind Atletico ahead of their meeting at the Nou Camp next weekend, with a win for the Blaugrana enabling them to win the title on head-to-head record.
"It wasn’t what we wanted, but we’re pleased with the point given the results from the other games [Atlético and Real Madrid—who lost]," Barca manager Gerardo Martino told the club's official website.
"The most important thing is to get to the end of the season with a chance of winning the title."
So that's that. La Liga will be settled between Atletico Madrid and Barcelona next week. Game on. pic.twitter.com/uamBI1ipre— Bleacher Report UK (@br_uk) May 11, 2014
Considering the impotence of this performance, however, few fans of the club will be expecting a last-gasp triumph. Elche may have had survival to fight for, but Barcelona should have had enough to see them off; unfortunately, as has been the case too often this season, Gerardo Martino’s side were too predictable and staid in attack and rarely stretched their opponents.
Elche, indeed, arguably had the best chance of the match: Forward Garry Mendes Rodrigues fired narrowly over after energetic substitute Richmond Boakye had played him in perfectly.
Beyond that, Barcelona only suffered a few defensive scares, with goalkeeper Jose Pinto tending to create most of them with his certain handling. If he had been in the opposite goal, perhaps the scoreline would have been entirely different.
Barcelona, as is often their way, enjoyed the majority of the ball over the course of the match, yet as the need for a breakthrough grew their threat only seemed to diminish.
They started brightly and had already created a couple of chances before Andres Iniesta thrashed a brilliant first-time volley off the crossbar after perceptive work from Cesc Fabregas. It would prove to be the closest they would come to a goal.
Admittedly Barcelona were not at full strength—Xavi was not fit to start, while the likes of Gerard Pique and Neymar watched from high in the stands—but they were not helped by the profligacy of those who did play. Pedro and Alexis Sanchez were both denied by Herrera whenever they got into good positions.
They may have been looking towards Lionel Messi for an example, but he too was struggling, finding himself crowded out on a number of occasions and finding his aim somewhat off on a few others.
In the second half, as the need for a goal grew, Barcelona pushed more men forward, but Elche redoubled their defensive efforts and threw themselves in front of shot after shot.
In the end, Barca were restricted to deliveries from free-kicks and corners. The best of those came in the last minute, as Messi and late substitute Xavi stood over the ball 25 yards from goal.
The left-central positioning meant it perhaps favoured the Spaniard, but Messi took the shot, curling an effort that Herrera parried away comfortably to preserve his clean sheet.
Full-time was greeted with rampant celebrations around the ground, as Barcelona waited to hear if they would be bailed out once again by events elsewhere.
Atletico’s 1-1 draw with Malaga means they still have a chance to clinch an unlikely title. To do so, however, they will have to perform much, much better.
"We hope to have the support from the fans for the remaining 90 minutes of the season," Martino concluded. "With the help of our people we can win the title."
Barcelona end their campaign in the meeting everyone wanted: a title-decider against Atletico Madrid at the Nou Camp. A win for either team will secure them the crown, while a draw will ensure Atletico finish on top.
Elche, meanwhile, finish their season with a trip to Sevilla.