Yesterday, the Spanish U21 team won 2-0 against Belarus, with FC Barcelona men Denis Suárez, Munir El Haddadi, and Gerard Deulofeu all starting. One name was conspicuously absent: Sergi Samper. Óliver Torres, who has long been considered a similar talent to Samper, started and played the full 90. The difference between the two midfield maestros, however, is that Samper spent last weekend playing in Spain’s third division, while Torres started for Atlético Madrid against Sevilla. This is merely the latest in a series of troubling signs for the future of Barcelona’s most talented young midfielder.
Málaga CF may have finished ninth in La Liga last season, but they are not to be underestimated. They are the only team in all of Europe to play Barcelona and not concede in 2014-15: The Andalusians took four points off Barcelona in 2014/15 and managed to win 1-0 at Camp Nou. 45-year-old manager Javi Gracia made a massive impact in his first season coaching in La Liga, and under him Málaga have become a superbly organized defensive team. Much like Diego Simeone’s Atlético Madrid in 2013/14, Málaga had Barcelona’s number last season – so can the Catalans break the curse?
On Sunday, Barça opened La Liga against Athletic Bilbao, a team that had bested them convincingly in the Super Cup and convinced the world the champions were in peril. They traveled to San Mamés without Neymar Jr., Gerard Piqué, and Jérémy Mathieu, and over the course of the match lost Dani Alves and Sergio Busquets to injury. The average age of the Catalans’ substitutes was somewhere around 20 years old. And yet, despite all that, Barça won convincingly, just as my colleague Enrique had predicted – all this while title rivals Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid struggled against newly promoted Las Palmas and Sporting Gijón. So how did they do it?
Tonight, Barcelona officially begin the 2015/16 season against Sevilla FC, contesting the UEFA Super Cup in Tbilisi, Georgia. The reigning Champions League and Europa League winners will face off for the first time since 2006, when Sevilla trounced the Catalans 3-0. Since then, both clubs have fought for the trophy twice, with Barça winning in 2009 and 2011 and the Andalusians losing in 2007 and 2014. For a one-off match, there’s a fair bit of history here.
With the first official match of the 15/16 season upon us, cules are eagerly looking forward to Luis Enrique’s second year in charge. Questions are swirling about possible departures and youth promotions, and expectations are building as to whether Barça can defend their titles in three competitions. Problem is, nobody seemed to give enough credit to how the treble actually happened in the first place. It blindsided a pessimistic fanbase who had convinced themselves of crisis in January, and by the time people actually wrapped their heads around what was happening, it was already over. Before we move into a new season, new struggles, and higher expectations for Luis Enrique, we need to retrace his monumental accomplishment.