Going into this game, I didn’t think this team could make me any happier or prouder than it had last season. After the buzz last season created, with the team coming from the depths of Anoeta-induced despair to win the coveted treble, this season had a lot to live up to. If any team could live up to the lofty expectations a treble creates though, it was this one, and this game proved beyond any doubt that this group of players and its extremely underrated coach are special.
In a few years’ time the history books will call this game a formality, where the favorites overcame a few obstacles to beat a team they were always going to beat. Doing so, however, is not only a huge disservice to Luis Enrique and his players, but also to a brilliant Sevilla team that pushed Barca to its absolute limits. Unai Emery’s men have now won three consecutive Europa League trophies, unheard of in the modern era, and having already tested Barca this season on multiple occasions came to the Vicente Calderon with only the trophy on their mind.
If there was ever a notion of this game being somewhat straightforward, it all went out the window when Javier Mascherano thought it would be better to bring Kevin Gameiro down than to let him shoot on goal. Some will call it taking one for the team, but it was a bad call from the Argentine, who has otherwise been almost faultless, especially when the team was crumbling around him but a month and a half ago.
The result was a straight red, meaning Barca had to play with a man down for an hour. If my memory serves me correctly, there hasn’t been a red card that early in a major Cup final for at least a decade, if not more. The red card meant that Barca would suffer; of that there was no doubt. The question in my mind, at that point in time, was how they would react.
They managed to go into the break level, with Ter Stegen making an important save from an Ever Banega free kick. The second half had the potential to be a torturous affair, and Sevilla definitely dominated for large parts of it, but we have two men to primarily thank for keeping us in it and putting on arguably their best displays ever in the blue and red of the blaugrana.
Gerard Piqué is known more for his jokes and jabs at rivals than he is for his defending skills, but any critics watching him yesterday have hopefully realized just how good Mr. Shakira is. He was in the way of every opportunity, so much so that his name was all I heard for a ten minute period in the second half as Sevilla upped the ante. Piqué has always been under-rated and misunderstood, with people dismissing him as a bad defender since Pep’s last season in charge. Today’s game was a slap in the face to any critic and in my humble opinion cements beyond any doubt Piqué’s status as the best defender in the world. You don’t have to take it from me though; Mr. Graham Hunter can attest to something similar:
The best centre back in the world, @3gerardpique man of the match by miles and miles
— Graham Hunter (@BumperGraham) May 22, 2016
The second player we owe this final to is the man for all finals, the man who always steps up when the occasion demands it. Andrés Iniesta was immense yesterday, and for large chunks of the game was the a one-man dribbling machine, running rings around Sevilla and forcing them to bring him down. On a night where Messi, Neymar and Suarez were ineffective (until the latter stages), Iniesta made it his goal to make sure Sevilla had something to think about. Perfect on the night, and a slap on the face to everyone who said him time was up. Another final and another man-of the match performance for Don Andres then.
Iniesta is one of the best players in the world & still it feels he’s underrated!
— Jamie Carragher (@Carra23) May 22, 2016
Two players, poles apart in both height and personality but essential to the victory and the double, but neither had a hand in either of the goal scored on the night. There was one man who did, who also leaves a mark on important games. On the periphery for large periods, especially when Suarez was hauled off in the second-half, two other worldly passes ensured that Barca went home with the trophy. Whether he’s playing as a scorer or a creator, he has proven that he is the best and it will take someone really special to knock him off his pedestal.
Alba scores for Barça from one of the passes of the season from Messi.
— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) May 22, 2016
Sergio Busquets and MAtS are the other two in the five-man team that really won it for Barca, the core of a team that showed immense character and fight to win a final they could have given up after the red card. Having won the league a week ago, you could have forgiven these players for taking it easy in a trophy they’ve won more times than any other team, and against a team as hungry and intense as this Sevilla team. They never backed down. They suffered, they held on and they took their chances when they presented themselves.
The five players mentioned above deserve a lot of the credit, but every single player on that team should feel proud of what they have managed to achieve both yesterday and in this season as a whole. This team has it all: talent, quality and bucketloads of skill, but yesterday they demonstrated their unwavering character and belief in their ability to get the job done when all the odds were against them. When their most consistent player over the last two months got sent off; when their top goal-scorer and season MVP had to be taken off; they went through it all and they came out on top.
Celebrate this team people, because we simply aren’t going to be seeing one like it for quite a while, not one that is both as incredibly talented and stubbornly resolute and fierce as this set of warriors that Lucho has led to seven trophies in two seasons. In conclusion, let us not forget the tournament MVP who has surprisingly been left out of the news: Denis Cheryshev, we thank you for the joy you have brought us all.
O le le, i la la, ser del Barça es el millor que hi ha!