The answer is, probably not, but that’s the unfortunate reality for the 2015-16 edition of Barcelona, who on Sunday knocked off Sevilla in the Copa del Rey final to go along with this season’s La Liga title. Unfortunately for Luis Enrique’s side, they’re the odd Spanish club out in next Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, and that’ll remain the overriding shortcoming for so many this season.
Barca fans will have to settle for seeing their side rewrite a bit of 63-year-old history, instead…
Barcelona is the 3rd team to win La Liga & Copa del Rey in consecutive seasons, 1st in 63 years (Barcelona in 1952/53, Athletic in 1930/31).
Naturally, Lionel Messi — the alien that he is — left his fingerprints all over Saturday’s victory in the capital city (below video). First, there was his long ball over the top for Jordi Alba, who scored what turned out to the be the game-winning goal in the first half of extra time, followed by a simple, yet clever through ball to Neymar for the exclamation point in extra-time stoppage time.
Final season stats (all competitions) — Messi: 41 goals, 23 assist | Luis Suarez: 59 goals, 22 assists | Neymar: 30 goals, 20 assists. For the non-math majors among us, that’s 130 goals and 75 assists between what will go down as arguably the greatest attacking trio of all time.
If only we could all “fail” so successfully as Barcelona have done…
France has already lost one defender this year due to injury in Chelsea’s Kurt Zouma, so another extended injury could really hurt the team’s backline ahead of this summer’s 2016 European Championship.
This season, Mathieu has started 12 matches for the league leaders. The loss of the Frenchman could be critical in Barcelona’s run at a treble, given their lack of options at left back. While Jordi Alba has been ruled fit enough to play in this weekend’s El Clasico vs. Real Madrid, the Catalan side lacks depth behind Alba and Mathieu.
Thomas Vermaelen could see an increased role down the stretch depending on the length of Mathieu’s absence. The former Arsenal defender has primarily played as a central defender throughout his career, however, he is versatile enough to fill in on the wings if necessary.
Following Bacca’s mother saying she would have hit Neymar with her high heel, someone close to Neymar, Barcelona defender Jordi Alba, has provided an alternate view point and backed the young Brazilian.
“I think that it is unfair, but those in charge are those in charge. It is clear that he’s a player that’s targeted.I would have exploded before him, for sure. Neymar has a lot of patience.”
Alba added: “I don’t think he’s being persecuted, but he is an important player for Brazil and for Barça and for that reason people do go after him. He has a style of play that everyone would love to have, but not everyone can do it. I’m the first in that regard.”
In the end, Neymar can be “targeted” time and time again, but it’s his responsibility as a prominent figure to deal with commotion properly. If Bacca had hypothetically been harassing Neymar for the entire game, the former Santos man would have to speak up to the referee and make this clear.
But in reality, the frustration of losing seemed to irk Neymar’s patience and thus cause the outburst, which type of occasion we have seen happen with other big names in sports. Hopefully he will learn to control his emotions in the long run.
Three things we learned from Barcelona’s win at Manchester City
Luis Suarez struck twice early on to set Barca on their way but an improved second half display from City saw Sergio Aguero pull one back as they go to the Nou Camp in two weeks still in the tie, but knowing they need at least a 2-0 win to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time. A huge ask for Manuel Pellegrini’s side.
Here’s three things we learned from the Anglo-Spanish encounter in Manchester.
SUAREZ LOVES PLAYING IN, OR AGAINST, ENGLAND
You just knew he would take center stage on his first game back in England. You just knew it. Luis Suarez scored twice in the opening 31 minutes to put Barcelona 2-0 up and the Uruguayan ace frightened the life out of Martin Demichelis and Vincent Kompany for the entire match. Suarez got a little lucky on the first goal, as the ball rebounded off Kompany and straight back into his path, but there was nothing lucky about the instinctive hammer blow from his left foot. Then, he waited patiently on the penalty spot for his second goal as Jordi Alba pulled back a perfect ball for the onrushing Suarez to tap home in the six-yard box.
4 – Luis Suarez has netted 4 goals in his last 2 games against Joe Hart (2 in CL tonight and 2 for Uruguay vs England in WC 2014). Familiar.
If fans in England had forgotten just how good Suarez was after his move to the Nou Camp from Liverpool in the summer, this was an incredible reminder of his predatory finishing. Joe Hart must be sick of the sight of Suarez. He scored twice vs. Hart (that was just the four times in his last 135 minutes vs. City’s goalkeeper) and England in the 2014 World Cup in Sao Paulo. Once again “El Pistolero” was the sharpest shooter in town at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday.
4-4-2 SYSTEM EXPOSES CITY
Manuel Pellegrini’s decision to go with the 4-4-2 system instead of the usual fluid 4-5-1/4-3-3 failed. Miserably. City’s two holding midfielder James Milner and in particular Fernando, were statues as Barcelona’s fluid attacks were allowed to build up around them. Eventually Pellegrini brought on Fernandinho and shifted out Milner to the wing, where he is much bigger threat, but it took too long. Having David Silva and Samir Nasri as traditional wingers was a flawed plan from the start, as the system almost became a 4-2-4 with neither Silva or Nasri listing “tracking back” as one of their strengths on their resume.
Dzeko wasted a glorious chance at the start of the second half as he headed straight at Marc-Andre ter Stegen from six-yards out with the entire goal at his mercy. City had chances in the second half to halve the deficit, but only because Barcelona were content to sit back and protect their 2-0 goal lead. In the first half City’s tactics were exposed horribly by Barca’s incredible front three of Neymar, Suarez and Messi. In the end City got their reward for a much improved second half display as Aguero scored to give them hope for the second leg but Pellegrini’s gamble to play two up top from the start has dug the Citizens into a hole they may not get out of.
KOMPANY’S RUSTINESS REMAINS
Kompany has struggled since returning from injury in January. There’s no two ways about it. City’s powerful central defender and captain looks to have lost his sharpness and you can no longer put it down to rustiness. For the first goal, yes he was a tad unlucky that the ball bounced off his back, but he had never truly sorted his feet out and was playing with one eye over his shoulder all game as Messi, Suarez and Neymar buzzed in-between Kompany and Demichelis. The Belgian skipper will regain his sharpness — City hope so, yet after seven games back since his Jan. 18 return it is still missing — but was his less than impressive display against Barca’s star attackers a sign of things to come? He is just 28, which means he has at least four years left at the elite level as a center back. But have various hamstring and thigh injuries taken their toll on City’s once seemingly indestructible skipper?
The 16th minute saw the match’s first goal, as Suarez fired hard and low past Joe Hart to lift Barcelona into the lead via an all-important road goal. Suarez flashed his trademark big-toothed grin as he raced across the field to celebrate with Messi.
And Barca smelled blood in the water. There was no sitting back with the lead, as the Blaugranas continued with adventurous passing and build-up.
Suarez made it a pair of goals on the half-hour, putting Man City in an awful spot. Jordi Alba sent a gorgeous cross through the former Liverpool man, who left no doubt in making it 2-0.
City continued to play second fiddle to the visitors as the match wore on, as the absence of Yaya Toure plagued the Manchester side just as it did in the Premier League during the Africa Cup of Nations.
Wilfried Bony subbed into the match in the 68th minute, and Aguero stepped up with a 69th minute goal to keep things interesting for the final 20-plus minutes. Aguero collected a backheel ball from Silva and beat Marc-Andre ter Stegen to make it 2-1.
Just when City appeared poised to break through and knot thing at 2, Clichy was sent off. A poor high challenge on Dani Alves served as a second yellow card, and City was down to 10 men.
Lionel Messi had a goal ruled null for offside in the 90th minute. He then won a penalty, had it saved by Hart and put the rebound wide.