On the back of a 15 game unbeaten streak and with club legend Xavi at the helm, the pieces finally looked to be falling in place for FC Barcelona.
Unfortunately, their recent fixtures have been doused in off-field controversy, and eventually ended in defeats.
The first one came against Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League.
Players and fans alike were shocked to see the Camp Nou painted in a sea of white, which eventually resulted in the animation stand being emptied for the opening phase of the game, as a sign of protest.
While fans returned to the stand to cheer on their team later in the first half against Frankfurt, they opted for a different stance for Barca’s game against Cadiz.
What is the Animation Stand and what do they do?
For the uninitiated, the ‘Grada d’Animació was created by former president Sandro Rosell, its aim was to replicate the magic the Camp Nou produced on European Nights, on a regular basis.
A stand was created and stationed right behind the left-sided goal, it includes transparent partitions and sectioned enclosures.
It is only accessible to nominated season ticket holders, and they also have to be a part of the Ultras fan groups that populate the stand. The groups are – Penya Almogàvers, Nostra Ensenya, Creu de Sant Jordi, Front 532 and Supporters Barça.
These vocal supporters bring out flags and crucially add to the overall atmosphere of Camp Nou. Such is their impact that even club legend Xavi was taken aback, and upon his return as manager, he labelled the atmosphere as “extraordinary”.
Unfortunately, the famed stand was absent against Cadiz.
The fan section, La Grada d’Animacio or ‘Animation Stand’, released a statement and announced their intention of boycotting the game against Cadiz.
And so they did, and images of the empty seats went viral online.
The reason for their absence lies within the ticketing fiasco that came to light after 30,000 Frankfurt fans ‘invaded’ Camp Nou, despite the allocation allowing for only 5,000 away supporters.
According to Barcelona President Joan Laporta, the tickets were purchased via a third party, as a large number of season ticket holders skipped the game due to holidays.
Unsatisfied with his assessment, fans chose to boycott the game in protest, ignoring manager Xavi’s request for fan support in the final stage of the season.
While it’s impossible to gauge the impact of these developments on the players, the side certainly didn’t look like themselves against relegation contenders Cadiz.
A 1-0 defeat moved Cadiz out of the relegation zone, and Barca now trails league leaders Real Madrid by 15 points.