Europe

Football Media Watch: Barca still the team to beat

IT MAY be wishful thinking that a team is coming to the end of a period of dominance or the desire to see someone else at the summit of European football, but Barcelona may not be getting the credit they deserve this season as they close-in on another La Liga title and the UEFA Champions League.

Inevitably, when a team keeps winning, the current batch of players will always be compared to past champion line-ups. In Barca’s case, it seems like “business as usual”, but there is no denying the club will soon have to come to terms with the passing of their talismanic superstar, Lionel Messi.

The statistics suggest this is a campaign that is not quite as impressive as past Barca title surges – they’ve won 22 of 31 games, which means if they win all their remaining fixtures, they can “only” get to 29, which would better their past two title wins but will fall short of campaigns that have seen in excess of 30. It’s the goals scored column that is less impressive, with 81 so far – it is unlikely that they will reach the ton, as they have on six occasions in the past 10 years.

The Independent reports that Barca are running out of time if they are to make full use of Messi, which effectively means, winning the UEFA Champions League. He’s won it four times with the club: 2006, 2009, 2011 and 2015. That’s an impressive haul, but given Barca’s reign in La Liga – if they win in 2018-19, it will be seven in 10 – some might say they should have won the top prize more often.

What galls Barca and their fans is that in a period where they have outperformed Real Madrid on the domestic front, they have allowed their rivals to win four of the last five Champions Leagues, “We are losing an opportunity,” said Carlos Puyol. “And it hurts”.

“We have a great team and we have to take advantage of Leo’s talent in La Liga AND the Champions League,” he added.

It is remarkable that Barca did not win their first European Cup until 1992 and they have also experienced severe droughts in Spain – between 1959-60 and 1990-91, they won two league titles in 30 years!

Sid Lowe, writing in The Guardian, said: “Sometimes, you can strip it down to something simple, even if you want to forget the figures and just watch them play: Barcelona are better than the rest, again.”

Graham Hunter pointed out the resilient qualities of Barca and their ability to score late, decisive goals, which have achieved in around half of their league games since August. He wrote on ESPN that Barca “are founded on the titanium tough will to win of Pique, Alba, Busquets, Rakitic, Suarez and Messi” coupled with an ability to keep going and keep probing opponents.

Barca coach Ernesto Valverde considers the Champions League can “betray you” and a bad 15 minute spell can leave a team wasted. Since winning the competition in 2015, Barca have fallen at the quarter-final stage, so they will go into the last eight clash with Manchester United knowing they have a good chance of progress. A lot of people have dismissed Barca as potential champions, but this could be their season. In all of their previous successes, they have also been La Liga Champions and it has to be noted that the ink is almost dry on another title after they beat nearest challengers Atlético Madrid ahead of the first leg against United. History may yet repeat itself.

Photo: PA

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