Bravo Barca! Catalans overcome trials and try for treble triumph
When considering the context surrounding Barcelona’s latest La Liga trophy, the 23rd time they have lifted the prestigious crown, their title success is nothing short of sensational.
Champagne should be put on ice, however, as the Nou Camp club still have much to do as they stand on the precipice of another tremendous treble, with Copa del Rey and Champions League finals both still to come.
Watch Barca’s post-match title celebrations:
Few would have predicted such a silverware-laden season was in the offing, as Barca (odds-on with Coral at 4/1 to lift the Champions League) scrambled to adjust to new boss Luis Enrique, their third coach since Pep Guardiola’s departure back in 2012.
For a club that thrives on stability, drawing its identity from homegrown heroes, such a tumultuous time, due in part to tragedy as well as poor decisions, the Catalan giants had been far from their best for some time.
An early El Clasico defeat, the blow of a transfer ban, a delayed start for controversial summer signing Luis Suarez and speculation over the happiness of Lionel Messi, all contributed to create something of a storm around the Catalan club.
Yet, just when it looked as though their challenge could be torn apart, following two league defeats on the bounce to bitter rivals Real Madrid and minnows Celta Vigo, Barca pulled together to navigate the mini crisis and since have gone on to lose just two domestic games for the rest of the term.
A recent eight-game winning streak across all competitions ended against Guardiola’s Bayern Munich men in a Champions League semi-final second leg, yet Barca had already done enough to ensure safe passage to Berlin.
Their incisive and slick interplay to dismantle the Germans showed that the club, and not just the team, had become a cohesive unit once again, with the win over two legs a turning point in the term. In banishing the ghost and legend of Guardiola, Enrique had made his mark and given the Catalan King’s the confidence to turn their attentions back to domestic matters.
Fittingly it was Messi, restored to his rampant best this season, who grabbed the sole goal and winner to secure the title on then holders Atletico Madrid’s home turf, making amends for last season’s surrender on Nou Camp soil.
Perhaps stung by Cristiano Ronaldo reclaiming the Ballon d’Or, Messi has been at his most majestic, reflected in Barca’s brilliant goal haul of 108 in 37 La Liga outings, with the superstar striking 41 of those himself.
See the best bits from Messi from this season:
Suarez’s contribution to the revival of the Argentine cannot be overstated, with the Uruguayan having come to the fore to shoulder a portion of the attacking responsibility, allowing Messi to be more creative and almost double his tally of assists for last term.
Having hit 79 between them, Barca can surely boast the tremendous trio as the top attacking force in Europe. Recognising the incredible balance in his formidable front three, with the terrific trident of Neymar, Suarez and Messi all able to stretch defences, grab goals and assists, switch positions with ease and press in tandem, Enrique deserves plaudits for switching the emphasis from midfield retention to attack.
Squad depth in defence has also arguably been just as key, however, with signings such as consistent Claudio Bravo breaking records and keeping 23 league clean sheets, and Marc-Andre ter Stegen equally promising between the posts in cup competitions.
Further to that, the return to form of Gerard Pique, previously mooted for an exit, and the addition of fellow centre half Jeremy Mathieu has given the Catalan’s more control and composure at the back.
With a perfect mix fresh faces and experience retained on the roster by Enrique, either by design or circumstances related to the transfer ban, Barca have a blended a perfectly balanced squad.
Speaking earlier in the season, skipper Xavi Hernandez, who was also set to leave last summer, spoke of Enrique’s intervention: “From the first phone conversation with Luis Enrique, I’ve enjoyed his manner. I told him my wife and I had our bags packed for New York.
“But he was telling me I’d still be a useful, competitive player, plus that Barcelona were going to have a very good year, it was decisive. He convinced me. I’m delighted that happened,” said the midfield schemer.
As the dust settles on the club’s title celebrations, veterans such as Xavi will become even more crucial and, should Barca clinch the treble, perhaps this season, trials and tribulations included, will be considered the club’s biggest success of modern times.