How Barca Got Back to Business

Messi, Neymar, and Suarez

Image: Reuters

At the conclusion of the 2013-14 season, Barcelona fans must have been unsure of what this feeling of emptiness was. For years their beloved team had provided them with countless titles and trophies from Spanish and European competition alike, but when the final bell rang in May, there were no trophies to be celebrated. This was the first time since the 2007-08 campaign that the famed Blaugrana had ended a season without silverware, and an impending FIFA-imposed transfer ban over the summer made many fans doubt that Barca would be able to have a bounce back year when the season began in August.

But, when you have talent like Lionel Messi and Neymar on your team, it seems like it will only be a matter of time before you find the winning formula. An appeal to FIFA about the potentially hamstringing transfer ban allowed the Spanish giants to spend freely during the summer months and it was these summer signings that proved to be the catalyst for a possibly historic season at the Nou Camp. The introduction of goalkeepers Marc-André ter Stegen and Claudio Bravo made many fans forget that they had lost Victor Valdes, and the introduction of Ivan Rakitić in the midfield helped to bolster an already stacked area for the team.

However, it was the signing of Liverpool star Luis Suárez that may have been the final piece of the puzzle for Luis Enrique’s men. Fans would have to wait until October to see the Uruguayan striker step on the field in the famed blue and red striped kit due to his lengthy four-month suspension for biting Giorgio Chiellini during the World Cup. Before his introduction into the lineup, Barcelona were already rediscovering the dominant form that made them one of the most feared teams in Europe in years past. In their first 11 matches of the season, only PSG was able to claim a narrow victory over Barcelona in the Champions League, and domestically the Catalan side won seven of their eight league matches and outscored their opponents 18-0 in that span.

It was during Suárez’s debut that Barca finally suffered their first loss in La Liga. A potentially devastating 3-1 defeat to rivals Real Madrid at the Bernabéu. The following week, Barcelona suffered another shocking defeat as Celta Vigo travelled to the Camp Nou and walked away with a hard fought 1-0 victory (one of only two home losses suffered the entire season). The unforeseen losing streak seemed to spark the Catalans as they rallied to 11 straight matches without a defeat.

Going into the January transfer window, a sense of tension appeared to coming from the Barcelona camp. Media outlets flooded viewers and readers with rumors of a possible rift between star man Lionel Messi and manager Luis Enrique, and fans started to question whether or not the three-time Ballon d’Or winner would still be at the club in February. To make matters worse, when the calendar year came to a close, Barca sat one point behind Real Madrid in the table.

Messi and Luis Enrique

As the January transfer window came and went, Lionel Messi remained with his boyhood club, and Enrique remained as the man in charge. Despite all of the rumors and distractions, Barcelona was still able to string together yet another 11-game undefeated streak to bolster their title challenge. As the points continued to flow and the deadly trio of Suárez, Messi and Neymar continued to develop into arguably the most lethal front-line in the world, whispers of a possible treble started to grow amongst the fans. The club eased their way past their opposition in the Copa del Rey, and battled past a stubborn Atlético Madrid to push themselves into the finals.

On the European front it was no different. Even with tough draws against teams like Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and most recently Bayern Munich, the Catalans continued to show the world that they are still one of the best, if not the best, team in the world. In their 12 Champions League matches this season, only twice have they been beaten, and six of those games have ended with a clean sheet for the Spanish outfit.

A couple of crucial dropped points from Madrid paired with a nearly perfect second half of the season for Barcelona also meant that the club found themselves on the precipice of claiming yet another La Liga title. Other than a tough defeat to David Moyes’ Real Sociedad to start 2015, Barca lost just one more game in league play during this calendar year. This amazing form allowed the club to mathematically clinch the title a week before the season finale with a victory away from home against Atlético Madrid.

In the next two weeks, Barcelona can achieve one of the greatest team feats in world competition: the Treble. This team is no stranger to achieving this landmark as they accomplished just six years ago in 2009. All that is required of the team now is a victory over Athletic Bilbao on May 30th in the final of the Copa del Rey and a victory over fellow Treble challengers Juventus in the Champions League Final in Berlin on June 6th.

The quest for the Treble nearly came to a premature halt, however, as legislative problems almost stopped domestic competition in Spain. A proposed change in the distribution of TV rights appeared to shift power towards the league, and diminish the influence that the players’ federation has leading to a strike from the players. This strike halted both La Liga games and Copa del Rey games, meaning that Barca’s push for the two crowns was put on hold. Luckily for fans, however, a Spanish court postponed the strike, thus allowing the competitions to continue and the quest for the Treble to resume.

Messi and Barca celebrate

AP Image

If they are to win their final two games of the year, it will require the continued dominance of both their attack and backline. However, the front line may be without one its key components for the Copa del Rey final as Luis Suárez’s fitness for the match is yet to be determined. As we near the conclusion of the season, the combination of Messi, Suárez and Neymar have managed to combine for an astonishing 124 goals and another 57 assists. This three-headed monster appears to be unstoppable as just four teams all season have managed to maintain a clean sheet against the Spanish squad. If they are able to play to their potential in the closing matches, the dream of a second Treble may just become reality.

Perhaps the most overlooked part of this Barcelona team is the defense. Domestically, the Barca backline has maintained the best defensive record in La Liga allowing a measly 21 goals through 38 matches (0.55 goals a game). In European competition, goals have been equally as difficult to come by for the opposition. Other than two three-goal performances from PSG and Bayern Munich, Barcelona have only allowed four goals during the Champions League.

This mixture of dominant attacking play and a suffocating backline have paved the way for Barcelona to accomplish what most other teams only dream of. However, if they are unable to secure victory in these final two competitions, most fans will still look at this season as a disappointment considering the talent that Luis Enrique had at his disposal. Only time will tell if the near future holds more silverware, but at the moment, this squad looks unbeatable.

 

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About the author: Collin Carpio

 

I am currently a senior at the University of Missouri in the Journalism School. I have been an avid follower of Manchester United since 2006 and of course I support the Stars and Stripes. Due to my St. Louis high school allegiances, I am a big supporter of Brad Davis and Sporting KC in MLS.


 

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