Barcelona can't be sure that they will beat Eintracht Frankfurt on Thursday night - but now is the time for them to give up on chasing La Liga.
It is a credit to new manager Xavi Hernandez and his resurgent squad that this even became a consideration. Well off the pace when he returned from Qatar to take over, with problems mounting on and off the pitch, they have nevertheless kept the title mathematically in play.
Still now, they could seize the chance if Carlo Ancelotti’s team Devon Loch it.
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Even if, as the Sopranos points out, Nobody Knows Anything, you still have to play the odds. After the international break this was the chance for Barcelona to put on the pressure.
Had Real slipped up and the Catalans kept up their own fine form, then it would be worth subjecting Real’s positive mental attitude to some thorough examination.
Instead, they came through the test, and now have the confidence garnered from dealing with Chelsea. Real have eight games left in the league. They currently have a 12-point lead over Barcelona, who have nine matches remaining.
The club know that they are well set up with the arrival of Kylian Mbappe almost certain, and players like Luka Modric and Karim Benzema might be wondering if this is their last tilt at a Champions League title with the club - as could some of the fringe players who are certainly staring an exit in the face.
Assuming Barcelona win their game, they will have nine points to make up. Unless something disastrous takes down their long-time rivals, second is the best they can do. Realistically, there is more to gain from Barcelona and Xavi from keeping their aim on the easiest silverware, not the most prestigious.

Barcelona's Spanish coach Xavi gives an interview prior to the UEFA Europa League quarter-final, first-leg football match Eintracht Frankfurt v FC Barcelona in Frankfurt

Image credit: Getty Images

Going into the match on Thursday, victory is not certain. Xavi might be tempted to negotiate a way past Eintracht Frankfurt with something left in reserve for the next round of league games, but that makes little sense. After all, if they field their strongest XI and lose to the Germans, then they will be forced to focus singularly by default. But win, and there is not a single team that should defeat them left in the tournament.
By keeping their eyes on the Europa League, they can help some of their veterans. Gerard Pique has struggled at times but at 35 he could do with some rest. Sergi Roberto, Sergio Busquets, Luuk de Jong, Dani Alves and Jordi Alba are all well into their thirties. Ansu Fati is soon to be back after a hamstring injury, and should Samuel Umtiti be fit then he needs to be handled sensitively. A high-pressure run-in would exacerbate and create more problems when it comes to the squad, so there would be a clear benefit if they can allow their more fragile players to save themselves for when it is essential.

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That also would extend to Ousmane Dembele. The Frenchman has often been accused of lacking professionalism in his time at the club, and that has not been helped when he has suffered recurrent, long-term muscle problems and a lack of consistent form when he has played. For now, things look good for the 25-year-old. He is playing well enough to make Adama Traore’s loan spell look like it will only ever be that, and there are suggestions that he will earn a new contract having looked to have played his last game for the club this winter.
Winning a European trophy might go some way to convincing him to stay. If he has finally settled into a dependable groove then there are few who would offer such quality and value on the wings. A trophy might demonstrate to the club that they should pay up, to the player that he can win things in Spain, and to the fans that he is a player who offers the club something few others can.
But a victory does not just demonstrate the worth of the players. Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola both started their successes in the Premier League when they claimed the League Cup. For Mourinho at Porto, he won the UEFA Cup in disgracefully cynical circumstances against Celtic before using the same approach to win a Champions League the following season. Manchester United ditched Ruud van Nistelrooy for Louis Saha when Alex Ferguson decided to build his next great team, kickstarting things with his League Cup win over Wigan.
Relatively minor trophies can show to a group of players that they are capable of triumph, that the path they are on is the right one, and that their manager is worthy of their trust. Money and fear are no longer the same motivating factors they once were. The nebulous concepts of legacy and respect appear to do more. Showing players the value of victory could help Xavi turn a group of also-rans into next year’s champions. It is of course more complicated than that, but the process will be better served by letting Real coast to triumph this year to better challenge them next.
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