The Best Damn Team in the WorldBy: Alfonso Duro
FC Barcelona made it seem effortless.
The Catalans clinched their fifth Champions League putting their best tools to work, and showcasing the greatness of their footballing-style to the world. Juventus was so perplexed by the performance of the squad in front of them that even when they felt they had a chance, they weren’t able to do anything to contend the hurricane of attacking soccer that came their way.
The Culés’ recipe for success? It had four key ingredients:
ONE: PUNCH FIRST, PUNCH HARD. Rakitic scored the fastest goal Barcelona has ever scored in a Champions League final, beating Samuel Etoo’s 10th-minute shot past Van Der Saar in Rome in 2009.
The goal was a work of art, in which nine players of the Catalan side were involved. The final stretch of the play, with Alba connecting with Neymar connecting with Iniesta to feed an assist to Rakitic, was the best example of how simple this game —which some try to overcomplicate— can actually be.
Juventus, a team built on the strength of its defense, didn’t even know what hit it, and was never able to fully recover.
TWO: OLDIES BUT GOODIES. There’s been an effort in Barcelona in the last few seasons to “regenerate” a team that was supposed to be in a clear decline. Messi was the first one to raise the alarms last season, with a year to forget, but Pique’s performance up until six months ago was also nothing to write home about, and the same could be said of Iniesta. Yet when it mattered most, these legendary players came to the rescue and reached peak performance at the same time, crowning Barça as the only team in history to get two trebles.
Iniesta was chosen MVP of the final, and rightly so. The Spaniard hero in 2010 came back to claim his personal glory in Berlin, and had the most perfect 90 minutes of soccer any one can recall. Simply brilliant.
And what to say about Xavi Hernández? The best Spanish player in history played his last match with Barcelona, and crowned a brilliant trajectory in which he led the Culé club to 24 titles, the best stretch in the team’s glorious history.
THREE: CHANGE IS GOOD. Many will comment on the victory of a style over the ever-changing frenzy of modern soccer, but I beg to differ. There’s very little in common between Luis Enrique’s team and Guardiola’s (which won 19 titles out of a possible 24).
Both teams love possession, but while Guardiola’s Barcelona was obsessed with high-pressure and quick turnovers, Luis Enrique’s is actually quite comfortable in its own skin, even giving up the the control of the game fully during long stretches of the games. With Luis Suárez, Neymar and Messi in front, it doesn’t really matter how long you hold the ball for, because you know that once you have it, you will be very dangerous. Luis Enrique has shown a new and exciting path for Barcelona.
FOUR: THE IMPORTANCE OF THE SUPPORTING ROLES.Lionel Messi did not have his best night in the Berlin final. He didn’t do anything wrong (in fact, by many standards, you could say he had a great game), but he was not the decisive player he’s gotten us accustomed to being in the last few months.
His most important play was the shot that gave way to Luis Suárez 2-1 goal, but beyond that he never really imposed himself during the match. However, with Rakitic, Neymar or Iniesta ranging way above their usual performance levels, Messi’s heroics weren’t needed.
Many great teams that don’t have standout achieve the glory by working together, yet usually teams with a talent such as Messi depend on their stars when things get tough. But in Berlin Luis Enrique’s Barcelona proved to be more than the sum of his parts.