After 62 matches out of a possible 65, Barcelona win the award for the most underwhelming domestic double of all time. Another season another opportunity missed. Ever since the blue elephant group’s founder became president of FC Barcelona, the Blaugrana have had 4 attempts at emulating Arrigo Sacchi’s seminal Rossoneros. Barring the first time versus Liverpool, it has taken near superhuman efforts to put Barcelona to pasture in the season when they have been defending champions of Europe. Defeating Barcelona has given teams such a shot in the arm that they have reached the final of the UEFA Champions league every year since 2007.
Having said that a doblet domestic is a fantastic achievement in its own right. A slight wobble in the middle of the season, where Barcelona were playing 2 matches a week for 3 months straight, gave the hunting pack from Castilla an opening. Barcelona, led by the Uruguayan Masticator, just crushed the rebellion winning their last 5 matches by a combined 24-0 to win their 24th La Liga title. Later in the Copa Del Rey, Barça overcame a spirited Sevilla side 2-0 in extra time to win a record extending 28th copa. It was also their 7th domestic double including the recent brace of trebles this past decade.
Without further adieu let us recap some fine “of the season” collections.
Player of the season
Without Messi in Pizjuan, Neymar took responsibility and almost drew Barcelona level in a match they had no business winning. When news came out that La Pulga would be out for 2 months, Neymar cut out the blind alley runs, petulance and for a while made fans go Messi who? Alas, it did not last into the new year when all the old bad habits crept up. Still it was good to know there is a fix if Messi is missing.
Pique did his best Piquenbauer impression in a long time. After vacationing for nearly 3 seasons, Pique was back to best last season but this season with nearly no rotation marshalled the defence brilliantly. Busquets wrote another chapter in the art of redefining the Volante that anticipation and spatial awareness are more important that physical attributes.
Don Andres turned back the clock, especially late in the season after the mid-season slump when his leadership was more than required. He capped it with a superb man of the match performance to complete a quartet of MoMs in a world cup final, Euro final, champions league final and the copa final. Rakitic, for the greater good, gave up his creativity to work tirelessly so that El Tridente could rest and do their magic. Dani Alves responded to the competition from Vidal with vigour reminding us of his throwback Seville days.
Messi, though missing 2 months, scored freekick after freekick before fatigue took its toll but without a doubt the player of the season was Luis Suarez. With Messi out, Suarez initially took a subordinate role to Neymar and complemented him with tireless running and superb finishing but once both Neymar & Messi ran out of gas, Suarez took complete control. He score 3 hattricks (including 4 goals twice) to leave Cristiano in his wake and took the Pichichi with 40 goals, 14 of them in the 24-0 run. Gracias Luisito, El Doblet would not have been possible without you.
Moment of the season
Without an iota of doubt, last season’s biggest moment was MSN’s celebration to douse the tensions after the now ritual disappointment at Anoeta every season. After a peace brokered by Xavi, Barcelona raised their level to 11 and went on an expedition that would put Genghis Khan to shame blowing everyone away in sumptuous style.
This season had some fantastic moments as well. Messi’s tribute to Cruijff against Celta Vigo. The magnificent homage to Cruijff at Camp Nou before the El Clasico where there was nary a dry eye in a Colosseum that could hold nearly 1,00,000 people. You can choose from the innumerous moments from the record breaking 39 match unbeaten streak but my momento de la temporada is without a doubt is Mr. Shakira’s nuclear meltdown over Munir missing a sitter to make it a La Manita en Santiago Bernanbeu. If you were just tuning in, you’d have thunk Barcelona missed the last opportunity to score the winner.
Match of the season
The season was replete with exceptional performances of varied hues. Thumping wins against Roma (6-1) and Celta Vigo (6-1) at Camp Nou. An exceptional performance to crush Espanyol (4-1) in the copa just days after Los Periquitos kicked anything that moved to hold Barcelona to a goalless draw. Los Cules attained 7th heaven against Gary “vete ya” Neville’s Los Che. A 4 goal, 3 assist Suarez leading Barcelona to a romp at the Riazor after Barcelona dropped a 10 point lead in 4 weeks.
Barcelona also proved that they could win just by pure grit. After losing Messi against the Canary Islanders, Barcelona smashed & grabbed win against Bayer Leverkusen. A trio of 2-1 wins over Atletico, every single win coming after going a goal down against the toughest defence was an achievement in itself. There were also exceptionally gritty wins away from home against Malaga (2-1), Levante (2-0) & Las Palmas (2-1).
None of the above matches could top perhaps the best El Clasico performance since Mourinho’s debut Clasico at Camp Nou. Days before kickoff, Barcelona received a shot in the arm: Messi made the subs bench but he was hardly needed. Lucho boldly started the season’s utility man Sergi Roberto in Messi’s position and he duly delivered seconds after the clock turned 2 digits, putting Suarez through. Neymar made it 2-0 before half-time through a gorgeous Iniesta (Is there any other kind?) run and assist. Neymar returned the favour with an equally gorgeous backheel as Iniesta made it 3-0 and minutes later Messi came on for Rakitic. Talk about insult to injury.
Messi found Alba in a space usually occupied by the central striker and the little leftback put Suarez through to make it 4-0. With 2 minutes to go before injury time came the moment of the season as Gerard Pique chewed out young Munir for missing a sitter that could have made it 5-0. He later tweepologied with a selfie from the dressing room.
Goal of the season
Barcelona once again topped 100 goals in La Liga and more than 150 in all competitions. There are so many goals to chose from. Messi had his best single season returns from dead ball situations. There was that breathtaking counterattack at the Emirates that settled a cagey tie. That first fake shot/touch to drop Cech (against who he had never scored) was especially tasty.
Suarez scored 59 goals in all competitions and became the first player other than Messnaldo to win the Pichichi after 7 years. There were two beautiful flying volleys against Roma & Arsenal that were almost mirror images. Suarez also finished off two gorgeous backheel assists from Neymar vs Betis and Sergi Roberto‘s vs Getafe and this Zicoesque pass from Messi against Betis away. Rakitic scored a 30 yard pile driver against Deportivo and he also finished this mesmerizing dribble and dish by Neymar.
The much maligned Bartra scored two brilliant goals: a chest down volley against Levante and a driving run vs Depor. Neymar scored a wonderful drive volley from gorgeous cross from Sergi Roberto and another beaut from a 1-2 with Messi against Espanyol but the goal of the season was Neymar’s rainbow flick and finish vs Villarreal at Camp Nou. Pure unadulterated Samba improvisation reminding Ronaldinho’s glory days at Barcelona.
Barcelona showed grit, determination and no lack of hunger despite dominating Spain and Europe for the best part of the last decade. As I regularly say cup competitions (especially European ones where the margins are too small) are unpredictable and losing in the quarterfinals to a quality side like Atletico Madrid is no disgrace. The lack of recruitment over two transfer windows and some cash crunch hurt the bench as much as some second teamers’ inability to step up.
However, since the standards at Barcelona are so high that a domestic double sounds like a disappointment. Though it is anything but a disappointment I have to grade the season as an A- after an A++ last season. There is some good news that Nike renewed with a record breaking deal which would ease some cash flow problems. Hopefully the summer recruitment is smart and Barcelona can once again challenge on all fronts with renewed vigour.