Say what you will about Gerard Pique but he’s never afraid to speak his mind.
The Barcelona defender is not one to shy away from the truth. It was he who memorably confessed after a Supercopa de Espana hammering at the hands of Real Madrid in 2017 that he felt the Catalans were “inferior” to their bitter rivals for the first time in his Camp Nou career.
So, it was no surprise to see him admit immediately after Friday night’s dismal 0-0 draw at Sevilla that Quique Setien’s side face an almighty battle with a resurgent Real to retain the Liga title.
“It doesn’t depend only on our results anymore,” Pique lamented, alluding to the fact that while Barca top the table, Madrid are just three points behind with a game in hand.
“It will be difficult to win this league. We will do everything we can. But from what I’ve seen in recent weeks, it would be a surprise if Real Madrid drop points.”
That kind of pessimism will upset Barca fans, of course. But then, the truth hurts sometimes.
And there is no getting away from the fact that while many supporters thought previous coach Ernesto Valverde was the main problem at Camp Nou, Setien hardly looks like the solution.
Indeed, it is worth remembering that after Pique spoke out in 2017, Barca went on to win La Liga; a repeat under Setien feels unlikely right now, given there has been no discernible improvement in their play since the former Betis boss took charge in January.
Of course, Barca’s problems extend far beyond the dugout. This a club blighted by boardroom incompetence, which has resulted in Lionel Messi, arguably the greatest player of all time, playing out the final stage of his career in a climate of chaos and uncertainty.
Messi can sometimes bail the Blaugrana out of trouble all by himself, of course, but not always. Against Sevilla, he struggled to deal with what was an aggressive defensive approach and he was left visibly furious with one challenge from Diego Carlos.
But then one could argue his frustration is rooted in the general disarray he now finds himself in.
This is a Barca side devoid of any real identity; a team of a few fine individuals but many fading stars and sub-standard signings because of the club’s total lack of a coherent transfer strategy.
Barca may have won their first two games after the break, against Mallorca and Leganes, but they were troubled at times by two relegation-threated adversaries. Sevilla were always going to provide a sterner test of the Blaugrana’s title credentials – and they failed it.
With Frenkie de Jong absent, they lacked dynamism and precision in midfield, while Luis Suarez unsurprisingly looked off the pace in his first start after a lengthy injury absence.
That Antoine Griezmann began on the bench and only saw 15 minutes at the end of a game that Barca were desperate to win tells you everything about how the Frenchman’s first season at Camp Nou is going.
Messi, as he so often does now, dropped deeper and deeper in his desperation to provide a creative spark in the engine room – but to no avail.
He has scored more times against Sevilla than any other side but, except for the odd free-kick, he never looked like registering his 700th career goal.
In truth, this was not one of his better games and, basically, if he doesn’t perform, neither do Barca anymore.
All is not lost, of course. This was arguably the toughest fixture the Catalans had left in La Liga. And Pique is probably wrong: Real might well drop points between now and the end of the season.
But he’s definitely right about one thing: it’s going to be difficult for this Barcelona side to win the title.
For the first time since that 5-1 aggregate loss back in 2017, they look very much inferior to Madrid.