With a single win, Barcelona's league campaign went from the verge of flatlining on the operating table to strutting around the room with their bare asses hanging out the back of their hospital gowns. That's how big of a difference Sunday's 4-3 victory over Real Madrid has already made for the Blaugrana, and that's in no way an overstatement.
Despite getting a friendly Champions League draw and having a good chance of advancing to the semifinals -- along with being one win away from lifting the Copa del Rey -- there was no doubt that Barca's season hinged on Sunday's 90 minutes at the Bernabéu. Some fans were probably ready to buy Gerardo Martino a plane ticket back to Argentina if things had gone poorly, but the crisis has been averted for now.
A loss would have dropped them seven points behind Los Blancos in the table, essentially eliminating them from title contention. Instead, they're now just a single point behind both Madrid and Atléti with nine games left to play. Because head-to-head records are the first tiebreaker, Barca have that advantage over Madrid and could gain it over Atléti with a win or draw on the final day of the season.
With just one game, Barcelona have turned their season around, and Martino deserves some credit for that, mostly because of his tactical flexibility and a willingness to try different combinations of players. He learned in the Champions League Round of 16 just how effective his team could be at taking over the midfield, and possession, with the right personnel of the pitch. It served as a reminder of what had made the Barca system so effective in previous years -- suffocating their opponent's attack by not letting them have the ball.
Another important recent event for Martino was the apparent rediscovery of Andrés Iniesta, whose form has dipped at times this season. Regularly, he's been a forgotten man, left on the bench in favor of Cesc Fàbregas and Neymar.
As great as Lionel Messi is -- and he's pretty amazing -- there's an argument to be made that Iniesta is just as influential for Barca when at his best, albeit in a different way. Shifting Iniesta into a more forward role, something Martino did against Manchester City and on Sunday against Madrid, allows him to get more involved in the attack and create match-up problems for opposing defenses.
More important than all those factors, though, is that Barca's attack is scary again. Even if their defense remains a bit swiss cheesy at times, there's no question that the Blaugrana have regained their attacking swagger, along with their ability to control the midfield, and thus control the game by using possession as a form of defense. When their attack is terrifying, their defensive flaws are covered up.
But Sunday's result wasn't just about three points and a revived title chase. Barcelona needed a bit of a pick-me-up as well.
The Blaugrana have had a rough season on and off the pitch with the on-going controversy surrounding Neymar's transfer and the resignation of Sandro Rosell, to go along with their inconsistent form. They're a good enough team to fight through most of it, but they've had some results in the past couple months that brought up questions about whether or not their heart was still in it this season. There shouldn't be any more doubts about this Barca team's willingness to fight and compete.
And what about the psychological effect on this Clásico could have on Real Madrid? If comments made by Madrid players post-match are any indication, the Blaugrana are clearly back in their rival's heads, which should bode well for the Copa del Rey final in April. It could also be a boost in the title chase with the importance of every single match now magnified even more thanks to Barcelona's win.
If Madrid's season spins out of control and they fail to win La Liga or the Champions League, we're all going to look back at Sunday, March 23rd as the day it all went wrong.
Meanwhile for Barcelona, there's every reason to believe they could still win more than one trophy and close a frustrating season in uplifting fashion. We could be looking back at Sunday as the day that everything began going right for Martino and his side.