When Pep Guardiola was newly appointed as the Barcelona manager for the 2008-09 season, no one would have imagined that this rookie manager will create such a team that will set the benchmark for a squad to claim as being the best in the world. Now, with the 2015-16 season nearing its end, the Barca team under Luis Enrique makes one wonder whether his team has set a new benchmark, surpassing the one set by Pep’s team.
Pep made some eccentric decisions, one example being selling high-profile players like Ronaldinho and Deco. But it was under his reign that Messi, who is arguably the best player in the world today, took his game to a new level. Puyol was the heart of the defence, supported remarkably by young Pique, Marquez, Alves and Abidal. He made Xavi and Iniesta the lynchpins of his new ‘tika-taka’ way of football. The focus was on keeping the ball as much as possible and regaining it as quickly as possible when it was lost. This tactic proved to be a masterstroke and Barcelona became the team to beat, winning the La Liga by 9 points and their first ever treble. However, gradually the dominance of tiki-taka faded away as opposition teams found flaws in the tactic. One major drawback was that it relied heavily on a certain group of players. In today’s football, Pep’s Barca team could hardly prevail.
Barcelona’s dominance descended to new lows under Gerardo Martino which was made worse by arch-rivals Real Madrid winning La Decima. It was the season when the Catalans failed to win any major trophy and the chances of Barcelona regaining dominance looked bleak.It was then that Luis Enrique was appointed. Even his management came under heavy scrutiny because of his tactics involving several lineup changes in consecutive games and his troubles were further accentuated by a quarrel with the team members.
But this happened at the start of the season and once Enrique settled to a single lineup and employed his tactics, there was a terrific turnaround in Barca’s fortune. The signing of Luis Suarez was crucial as the prolific finisher completed the deadly trio of MSN. The departing Xavi has been ably replaced by Rakitic who has fit into his shoes comfortably. The backline looks stabilized with Pique, Mascherano, Alves and Alba performing the defensive duties well.
This Barca team gave Enrique his 42nd win in his 50th game which is the best by any manager. The team regained the Spanish title and went on to win their second treble. This season, Barcelona have performed impeccably, thanks majorly to the triumvirate attacking force of MSN. Even in the absence of Messi, Suarez and Neymar have never failed to rise to the occasion. Rakitic and Iniesta combine superbly in the midfield and are supported by the brilliant Busquets. Their bench strength is better as compared to Pep’s team with the likes of players such as Turan, Alex Vidal, Matthieu, Bartra and Sergi Roberto.
Barcelona currently sit atop the La Liga table with a 6-point lead and just saw their 37 game unbeaten run come to and end against arch rivals Real Madrid. They almost always look better in every department of the game as compared to their opponents. Barcelona look set to be the first team to defend the Champions League title in the elite tournament’s history. With hardly any competition left in the Spanish Cup, Barcelona have virtually sealed their second treble in as many years.
Anyone can infer that, maybe, this Barcelona team has something that Pep’s team didn’t.