Barcelona’s return to the top of the soccer world shouldn’t come as a surprise, as this group of players never really left the the summit it first climbed six years ago.
Barcelona clinched its second league, cup and European treble Saturday with an emphatic 3-1 win over Juventus. Barcelona outplayed Juventus by a comfortable margin, aside from a 20-minute spell in the second half.
Juventus always was going to need Barcelona to under-perform, itself to play above its normal level and also have a little luck on its side in order to upset the odds and win the game. None of the three factors broke Juventus’ way, as Barcelona demonstrated the quality and intensity of champions on club soccer’s biggest stage.
Barcelona prevailed largely because it played to its level and dominated proceedings in the midfield. Juventus’ Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio, Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal proved no match for the lesser heralded of the two, three-man units in Barcelona’s starting lineup. Barcelona outpassed Juventus in the midfield 348 to 197, absorbing and creating pressure with equal measure.
The midfield battles were key to the result, and Barcelona won the vast majority of them. Barcelona’s intense pressing forced Juventus to turn the ball over in dangerous positions. Barcelona’s midfielders circulated the ball with relative ease, sapping Juventus of energy and will and feeding its awesome attackers.
Sergio Busquets was at his subtly sublime best, while Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic combined to put Barcelona in front after just four minutes and conspired to control the game for most of the next 75.
Barcelona’s defensive unit always was likely to limit Juventus’ scoring chances. Juventus never had much hope of containing Barcelona’s attacking trident of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar — especially without injured star defender Giorgio Chiellini.
There were no breaks, only tears, for Juventus in the end.
Barcelona’s Champions League triumph neither starts a new era of dominance, nor did it revive the “Beautiful Cycle” of yesteryear. The win over Juventus and historic treble merely confirms Barcelona’s cycle of dominance, which began roughly in 2006 and surged from 2009 when it won the first of its two trebles, never really stopped.
This Barcelona group hasn’t won everything every year, but they have competed for the highest honors annually and now have won the European Cup four times in the last decade. Barcelona has been in or around the semifinals in those off-years.
The incomparable Lionel Messi has been an integral part of each triumph. Messi, 27, is celebrating his fourth Champions League title. The Argentinian superstar probably will have set his sights on a fifth before the next sunrise.
The likes of Messi and Iniesta remain, but Xavi bows out with his fourth European title in tow and the eternal affection of the only club he has ever represented. Dani Alves becomes a free agent and he must consider his future when he finishes celebrating his third Champions League title.
Barcelona could change things at the presidential, coaching and player personnel level this summer, but the Champions League final goal scorers are an important signal of what the future might hold. Luis Suarez, Neymar and Rakitic all joined Barcelona within the last two seasons. They’ll return, as will most of Barcelona’s other stars in defense and midfield.
Should Barcelona opt for stability and retain head coach Luis Enrique — which is uncertain given the expected changes among the board of directors — the club which symbolizes Catalonia and sporting success in the new century will have a great chance at becoming the first team to defend the European Cup since 1990.
If Barcelona manages to win a sixth European Cup in club history next season, it’ll have a worthy claim as being the best team the soccer world has ever seen.