Barcelona passes Real Madrid at the top of La Liga and Marca has no chill

Marca is amazing. The Madrid-based sports tabloid does little to hide its attachment to Real Madrid, something that results in a sea of adulatory headlines when the Bernabéu’s behemoths are at their best. Around transfer windows, that means a litany of wild and (given this is El Real we’re talking about) occasionally true transfer rumors. But when the club is sliding? Oh, boy. Marca hath no chill.

Take this morning’s print edition cover:


Caída libre? Free fall, even though the form table reads WLWWDL. Slump? Yes, maybe … sure. Free fall? Slow down, Tom Petty.

MORE: Real Madrid missed Luka Modric again against Athletic Club

Madrid’s won 20 of 26 in league, has a +51 goal difference in league and is only one point behind a Barcelona team that’s on pace to score 111 goals (while allowing only 23). But free fall. Sure.

The hyperbole is understandable, though. Marca isn’t trying to be objective. More likely, it’s trying to capture the mood around the Merengues, a passion-driven group-think that leaves a thin margin between sublime and turmoil. After yesterday’s 1-0 loss at San Mámes, the latter came into focus, particularly given the open door the loss gave Barcelona.

Luis Enrique’s side vaulted through that crack today, spending 82 minutes in the lead against visiting Rayo Vallecano. Though Luis Suárez’s opener was the only goal Barça managed before halftime, Spain’s new leaders scored five times in the second half, with a 13-minute hat trick from Lionel Messi leading the Catalans to a 6-1 win.

Athletic Club and Rayo Vallecano started the weekend close to each other in La Liga’s standings, so you can understand why some might see these games as barometers. Against their mid-table opposition, los Blancos’ 2015 ennui was on full display, while a Barcelona side that was supposed to be in crisis two months ago now embodies one of soccer’s other rhetorical clichés. The Blaugrana look imperious.

Perhaps that’s why Marca’s feeling a little insecure about its favorite team. Some headlines, on its website as of Sunday morning:

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Cliché, then clever, if puns are your thing. But wait, there’s more:

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Half-hearted seems harsh. I never got the feeling the guys weren’t trying, or anything like —

Wait, there’s more? Seems excessive, but …

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Before we move on, guess which of these headlines we made up. The answer: None. They’re all on Marca’s website. Nine different headlines, just in the English section, analyzing a relatively explicable 1-0 loss on the road.

How does this work? How do you mobilize this sheer volume of paranoia? This is a J. Edgar Hoover-level response. Did the staff brainstorm crisis scenarios before the game and have this plan in place? Or was there an emergency meeting after Aritz Aduriz’s goal, as if NORAD just received word the Soviets were about to launch?

Does Marca’s newsroom have a W.O.P.R. that evaluates all of Spain’s crisis scenarios? And are there Spanish versions of Dabney Coleman and a pre-Ferris Matthew Broderick that get to be in the room? (This is really my most important question.) Do Wargames references even make sense in the context of Spanish soccer, because nine headlines is a lot easier to explain if somebody’s hacked a 1980s super computer and convinced it to play a La Liga version of Global Thermonuclear War.

After all, Athletic is a decent team. Flawed, sure, and it’s certainly had its troubles throughout the season, but ask Espanyol how weak the Basques are right now. Athletic’s 2-0 win in Barcelona mid-week ruined what was to be an all-Catalan Copa del Rey final. Aduriz has eight goals in his last 10 appearances. Perhaps Madrid should beat Athlteic most days, but on the road, facing an in-form striker, while missing Luka Modric and James Rodríguez? It’s not the world’s most surprising result.

MORE: Third time’s a charm: Aduriz has picked up the mantle of Athletic’s attacking icons

Real Madrid fans may not feel that way. After all, the team’s now in second place. Another Clásico is only two weeks away, and there’s the lingering threat the holders, Atlético, could actually get back into the race. Beat Valencia today, and Atleti are only five points back of Barça.

But as of this morning, it’s Barça they’re chasing, not El Real. Whatever insecurities that plays into among the fans, Marca’s going to exploit.

No, Marca has no chill. It never has any chill, even in the best of times. When Real Madrid’s sliding, you can understand why it’s brainstorming crisis angles.