Yet another La Masia season is over. Barcelona’s academy sides are now preparing for the customary summer tournaments, and for us here at totalBarça, the time has come to run the ruler over the young Blaugranas who stole the eye this season. Read on to find out about all the stars, the surprise packages, and the disappointments of the 2015-16 season in the world’s best football academy.
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.
Barça’s rocky season is finally over, with yet another historical league title and the club’s 28th Copa del Rey sealed to end this magnificent season with a double. And now that the season is over, football fans shift their attention to the summer segment of the beautiful game – the transfer window. And luckily, for the first time since the summer of 2014, Barça will have a transfer window open to all sorts of possibilities, which means transfers are inevitable.
That said, the opponents aren’t here to hand the trophy to the Catalans. Sevilla have just come back from Basel after easing past Liverpool to retain the Europa League and make it their third in a row, and their fifth in history (including the Uefa Cup).
By wrapping up the Liga with Saturday’s win against Granada CF, FC Barcelona secured its sixth league title in eight years. There’s nothing inherently special about six in eight. It’s an arbitrary range that begins with the exit of Ronaldinho and, consequently, the beginning of the Lionel Messi epoch. Pep Guardiola took over in the summer of 2008, sold a few of the team’s most celebrated players, and focused the team’s attack around then 21-year old Messi. Since that summer, Barça have won six league titles and three Champions League trophies, as well as a bunch of other cups history cares less about.
This never would have flown if Pep Guardiola were still around. The Catalan coaching legend, the man who did more than anyone to shape the current generation of FC Barcelona players, would have hated every minute of the team’s play against Granada CF in the climactic finale of a long Liga season.
Instead of weaving intricate short passing patterns, even Barça veterans like Andrés Iniesta and Javier Mascherano fired long-range missiles over the unkempt pitch. Instead of counterpressing to win the ball back high, the team did most of its defending in its own half. Each time Neymar worked the ball into the opponent’s box and pulled it back to the penalty spot, à la Pedro Rodríguez or David Villa, Lionel Messi was nowhere around to slot it home. In fact, the greatest player on earth, the spark that fired the Guardiola-era engine, barely featured in the match. Messi strolled the sideline in the shade and distributed with mixed results from midfield, looking slow, beat up, worn out from a long year. If his team had played like this, Pep would have blown a gasket. He also might have lost the game.
This is it. Today, FC Barcelona face Granada CF in the title-deciding fixture in the final Liga round of the season. The work of an entire season could either be rewarded or rendered null at the end of the 90 minutes, which only highlights how incredible are the expectations of a club like Barcelona. After three consecutive Liga defeats against Real Madrid, Real Sociedad, and Valencia, the point gap between Barca and Madrid has shrunk to a single point leaving zero room for error. That was the moment when the players promised they wouldn’t slip up again, that they wouldn’t let the league trophy fall into the hands of their rivals.
We all know that time passes without us noticing. That is, after all, the only way in which we can justify the fact that Andrés Iniesta, the eternal baby-faced Ilusionista has turned 32.
It feels like it was yesterday when a fresh-faced midfielder from Fuentealbilla came onto the Stade de France pitch to change Barcelona’s fate in the 2006 UEFA Champions League final and guide the Blaugranas to victory with a brilliant display from midfield. If one fast forwards to the present and looks up Andrés Iniesta he will most likely stumble upon a stunningly packed trophy collection that belongs to the otherwise shy Castilla-La Mancha native. In fact, it is a trophy cabinet that most footballers can only dream of, given that it includes 4 Champions League winner’s medals, 7 La Liga winner’s medals, 2 European Championships and 1 World Cup, on top of a host of individual prizes like the UEFA Best Player of the Year.
Of all the phony feelings sport produces, regret is dumbest. These are games, and they don’t matter, and for the most part, nobody gets seriously hurt. We should enjoy it. We shouldn’t let it stress us out.
Still, it isn’t as if I listen to that wisdom. Supporting a team, even one as dominant as FC Barcelona, entails its share of agony, and yes, regret. Even now, on the verge of a double, there are things I want to change. The psychosis runs that deep.
Barça went into today’s game knowing they had to do the business. With Atlético sitting up next to them, only behind on goal difference, and Real Madrid breathing down their necks, they had to be clinical, ruthless and brave.
With every key player fit in the squad, there was no place for excuses. In recent games Barça have squandered the first 45 minutes in place for a slow tempo, but today it changed. Lionel Messi notched up a gear, Neymar Jr put a pause to his second half of the season slump, and Luis Suárez battled and put away his chances like his usual self.