By Manuel Traquete
Barcelona star Andrés Iniesta has recently stated that he believes Barcelona are good enough to win another treble, even if he’s aware of how difficult it will be. But is winning the treble again a realistic expectation?
In European football history, the treble (League plus Cup plus Champions League) has only been achieved six times: Celtic in 1966-1967, Ajax in 1971-1972, PSV in 1987-1988, Manchester United in 1998-1999, Inter last season and Barcelona themselves in 2008-2009.
This is a rare feat that even some of the best squads of all-time, like Di Stefano’s Real Madrid and Arrigo Sacchi’s AC Milan, failed to achieve. Needless to say, no club has ever won the treble twice and it’d be legendary if Barcelona could do it in just three years.
It’s clear that the current crop is playing even better than their 2009 counterparts and breaking all their scoring and point records in La Liga. The core of the team is pretty much the same, but even core players like Messi and Iniesta have got better. Puyol and Piqué have improved their partnership by leaps and bounds and are now arguably the best defensive duo in Europe. In Sergio Busquets, Barcelona finally found the perfect holding midfielder for their system, Pedro has turned into the one of the world’s best forwards, while David Villa is showing to be the perfect striker for Barcelona.
On paper, the team seems to have no flaw. It’s no exaggeration to say that Barcelona possess both the best attack and the best defense in Europe, it is supported by facts: no team across the continent scores more than Barcelona and none concedes less than the blaugrana outfit.
Looking at Barcelona’s starting 11, it’s easy to believe that they can indeed win the treble: Valdés is as reliable as a goalkeeper as any, Abidal is solid and is having the best season of his career, Puyol and Piqué have formed an impenetrable duo both for Barcelona and Spain, Alves patrols the right flank like no other, Busquets is proving to be an unbreakable wall for opponents, and Xavi and Iniesta form the best creative midfield duo in the world.
And what can you say about Messi, Pedro and Villa? The trio have a combined 76 goals so far this season and are on pace to break the record set by Henry, Eto’o and Messi back in 2009 (100 goals). In La Liga, the trio have a combined 50 goals, outscoring every team in the league except Real Madrid with 52. In short, you won’t find a more deadly attacking trio in the world anywhere.
With such world-class talent in every position, including the current top three players in the world in Messi, Xavi and Iniesta, there seems to be no reason for Barcelona not to win the treble. But it’s not as easy as it looks. After all, even some of the most brilliant teams of all-time have failed to achieve the treble.
It seems as if Pep Guardiola’s Dream Team will have little trouble collecting their third straight La Liga title. This was expected, since in a regularity contest, the best team (almost) always wins and there’s a huge gulf in class between Barcelona and the other 19 La Liga sides. Only a disaster could make Barcelona lose La Liga this season.
But the Copa del Rey and the Champions League are a different story altogether. Barcelona are considered favorites in both, but these are competitions where several factors intervene. Unlike the league, in the Copa and the Champions League one bad day is enough to put an end to a team’s aspirations. You have to look no further than Barcelona’s early season debacle against Hercules; in a 38-game league, such result is meaningless. But if such bad day were to happen in a Champions League knockout tie, it’d be game over for Barcelona
In the Copa del Rey, Barcelona will play the final against Real Madrid on April 20. The 5-0 trouncing will mean nothing on that day; Real Madrid have more than enough quality for, on any given day, beat Barcelona. Only if Barcelona play at the top of their game will they capture the trophy.
Cup competitions are known for their unpredictability. A bad referee call, injuries to key players at the wrong time or simply a bad day (all teams have them) can put an end to a team’s campaign. Besides, no team wins the Champions League without a bit of luck (luck in the draw, luck avoiding injuries, luck with referee calls…). In 2009, Barcelona were incredibly lucky against Chelsea, while that very same luck deserted against Inter last season. You just can’t win a competition like the Champions League without a bit of luck, no matter how talented your team is. Being the best is just not enough.
So for now, Barcelona must take one game at the time, cementing their lead in La Liga and beating Arsenal in the Champions League. Come May, if Barcelona still lead La Liga comfortably, win the Copa del Rey and are in the Champions League final, then the treble will be on the cards. Now it’s just too soon to talk about it, even if the way Barcelona have been playing certainly does inspire confidence.
More importantly, Barcelona mustn’t believe their own hype; they might be the best team in the world today, but that is no guarantee of success. Brazil were also hands down the best team in the world in 1982, yet their negligent approach saw them eliminated of the World Cup by Italy. This is a mistake Barcelona can’t make, as underestimating their opponents might prove fatal. The world remembers Brazil’s brilliance, but it was Italy who took the trophy home.
Regardless of whether they win another treble or not, this Barcelona side will go down as the most brilliant team of their generation, a team that, in the wise words of Johan Cruyff and David Villa, has revolutionized football and will define an era in world football.