Club Focus – Barcelona – Title secured in record-breaking fashion

After the victory at Sevilla, most Barcelona fans could have been forgiven for assuming the title had already been won. However, this notion was played down by the coaching staff in the lead up to Sunday night’s clash with Valladolid (themselves still battling for survival), who demanded 100% focus in order to see out the Championship. It has been said on countless occasions already, that in any other season, Real Madrid would have won the title after amassing 93 points yet still ending up with nothing. However this is somewhat of a discredit to an outstanding Blaugrana side, who not only achieved the record feat of 99 points, but also the most wins (31), the most away wins (13) and the biggest goal difference (+74). Despite a very nervous start on Sunday, Barca were always going to have enough in the locker to get past a side who’s top scorer had only nine goals to his name all season, despite Pep Guardiola admitting the players’ tanks were “almost empty.” The fact that Real Madrid could only muster a draw away at Malaga, when they knew only a win would give them a hope of sneaking the Primera Liga title, proves beyond any doubt that the rightful champions won on merit despite a resilient effort from Los Blancos.

Now that a consecutive title is in the bag, Barcelona can look back at what has been a landmark season for the Catalan club. The team started in the same fashion they finished by bringing home the European and Spanish Super Cups, and then added to an historic period by securing the World Club Championship – therefore winning every available piece of silverware within the same year. This season also saw Lionel Messi rise to prominence. All available superlatives have already been thrown at the magical Argentinean, who at only 22-years-old has already been described by some as the greatest player ever seen (his Coach Pep Guardiola among those who have claimed this). What has been striking about Messi’s season has been his consistency, as bar the two Champions League Semi-Final legs against Inter, there has barely been a game in which he has not had a major impact. As much as Guardiola is intent on avoiding complete reliance on Messi, one can only wonder if Los Cules could have made it through the season without him. The answer would almost definitely be no, and it is frightening to envisage what Barca’s No 10 still has to offer, as the player is nowhere near peaking in terms of age. His down-to-earth and modest character should only serve him well, as with his feet kept firmly on the ground the sky is truly the limit.

A constant feature of Barcelona’s season has been the debate surrounding record signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The lanky forward has come under intense media scrutiny since his arrival last summer, despite a fairly healthy goal return during a first season in which he has struggled to adapt to the style of play used by his new employers. As Johan Cruyff highlighted, many of those who have criticised Ibra have seemingly “short memories” given his electric goal streak at the start of the season, his crucial goals in the Champions League plus the strike that decided the first Classico derby of the season – vital in the Blaugrana’s march to the title. The main theme of the criticism has been the now-tedious comparison to Samuel Eto’o. Despite it being the last game of the season on Sunday, Sky Sports’ Gerry Armstrong was still dragging out the theory that Ibrahimovic has failed to replace Eto’o. However, with Eto’o managing 13 goals in 35 league games compared to Ibra’s 17 in 33, has Eto’o successfully replaced Ibrahimovic? There are many arguments in defence of the mercurial Swede, and despite undoubtedly failing to deliver at times, this writer is of the belief there has been plenty of evidence to suggest to Guardiola that Ibra is worthy of a second chance.

The one blight on Barcelona’s season was the Champions League exit to a characteristically smug Jose Mourinho and his Inter machine. The main conclusion that can be derived from this disappointment is the need for a couple of additional players to compensate for the loss of key men such as Andres Iniesta, who spent a lot of the season on and off the physio’s table and therefore struggled to gain momentum. With the transfer of David Villa apparently imminent, and talk of Cesc Fabregas rejoining his boyhood heroes, it seems that departing President Juan Laporta already has the wheels in motion to help the Blaugrana ensure Europe will be conquered at the next time of asking. These potential additions, coupled with the never ending conveyer belt of talent arriving from La Masia, dictate that Barcelona can only be stronger next season. This will provide deep concern for the rest of the football world, but a delight for fans of the beautiful game.

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