FC Barcelona and the search for the back-to-back trebles

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Image Courtesy: © Facebook - FC Barcelona

FC Barcelona and the search for the back-to-back trebles

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Manuel Traquete

02/19/2016

On V day, when love was all around in the air, Celta de Vigo had the misfortune of suffering the wrath of the Catalans. A loss for the away side was expected, but the way the defending champions sliced their rivals into pieces made for a staggering scene at the Camp Nou. Barcelona have been so dominant lately – they haven’t lost for 31 matches - that there have been whispers about the historic possibility of repeating the treble achieved last season, when the Catalans won the La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the Champions League.

With the win against Sporting Gijon, Barcelona now lead La Liga with a 6-point gap over Atlético Madrid and 7 to Real Madrid. In the Copa del Rey, they are in the final against Sevilla and almost unanimously considered the favorites to win the Champions League. Some bookies are giving Barcelona odds of 3 to win all three competitions, which is quite incredible considering the sheer enormity of the task.

The way they demolished Celta on the weekend only added to the treble conversation; with Messi looking as ominous as ever, Neymar dazzling with some insane skills, Suarez bagging a hat-trick, Messi and Suarez pulling off a ‘Cruyff penalty’, etc… Barcelona looked nigh on unstoppable, and it’s hard to see how they can be beaten at the moment.

To make things even better for Barcelona, their chief rivals Real Madrid aren’t exactly in the best shape at the moment; with a new and inexperienced manager in Zidane at the helm and a transfer embargo looming over their head among other internal turmoils, it doesn’t look at the moment that they can seriously challenge Barcelona, at least in the La Liga. But history and common sense tell us that things will probably not be as easy as many may think right now – in other words, don’t expect Barcelona to walk over to collect the treble unopposed, if they do end up doing it (and the odds are probably against it) it will take something really special.

Barcelona are undoubtedly in a great position at the moment, but it needs to be kept in mind, first and foremost, that no team has ever defended the Champions League in its current format; that includes Guardiola’s Barcelona, who were arguably even better than the current incarnation and the clear favorites to defend the title in 2010 and 2012. Inter and especially Chelsea’s victories were considered massive upsets at the time, but in a Cup competition things like that are always bound to happen. Being the best team over a season doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll win a competition where one or two bad matches are enough to end your campaign. While La Liga seems to be in Barcelona’s hands at the moment and they’ll also be huge favorites to retain their Copa del Rey title against Sevilla, the Champions League is a different story altogether.

On paper, you’d favor Barcelona in any potential matchup against Europe’s best. With the likes of Neymar, Suarez, and Messi firing on all cylinders and staking a claim for being perhaps the best-attacking trio the sport has ever seen, backed up by the likes of Busquets and Iniesta in midfield, Barcelona are currently the most-feared side in the continent. The biggest challenge is expected to come from Guardiola’s Bayern and for good reason: the Bavarians have been absolutely dominant this season, and while Barcelona did eliminate them last season the tie happened at a time where most of Bayern’s starters were sidelined by injury. Should that match-up happen again this season, it will most likely be much tougher for the Catalans, especially since you’d imagine Guardiola will be desperate to not leave Munich without adding another Champions League title to his roll of honours.

But again, it needs to be remembered that Inter and Chelsea weren’t really perceived as ‘obvious threats’ back in 2010 and 2012; in fact, Barcelona were unanimously considered the overwhelming favorites for both ties (and the title). In a tournament as competitive and with such a format as the Champions League, danger is bound to come from where you least expect it.

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The upcoming tie with Arsenal is considered by most as a shoo-in for the Blaugrana, but it’s unlikely to be that easy. Arsenal are capable of beating anyone on their day and especially at home. It will take a very focused performance from Barcelona to book their expected place in the quarterfinals with Arsenal unlikely to surrender without a fight. Aside from being perhaps one of the favorites to win the Premier League title this year, Arsenal have one Alexis Sanchez in their ranks. Sanchez was sold by Barcelona back in 2014 and was replaced by Luis Suarez. While most would agree that was a highly beneficial move for the club, Sanchez will most certainly be out to prove a point to his former employers.

Another quirk of cup competitions is the possibility of key players picking up injuries at the worst possible time. As ominous as Barcelona look right now, an injury to someone like Iniesta or especially Messi could be enough to make the difference between winning and losing against a European heavyweight. A 6-point lead in the La Liga is relatively comfortable, but not comfortable enough that Luis Enrique will be allowed to rest players for the Champions League. In that sense, though, the additions of Vidal and Turan will prove invaluable as they’ve added some depth to a very thin squad that has played a huge amount of matches over the past two years. Vidal provides cover for Daniel Alves while Turan’s versatility will allow him to play in either midfield or on the wing, according to the team’s necessities.

The next 3 months have the potential to be another glorious page in Barcelona’s rich history, as well as another feather in Lionel Messi’s legacy as arguably the greatest player ever, but it will require everything to go right. Winning La Liga and Copa del Rey will be hard enough, but becoming the first team to defend the Champions League title will be a monumental task.

*Note: All Images Courtesy: © Facebook - FC Barcelona

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