While Barcelona hasn’t had poor seasons the last two years, they have failed to meet expectations. For the past two years, they have watched Real Madrid hoist the trophy, something that Barcelona has never done in their club’s history.
But with a huge lead in La Liga, all the talent in the world, and a dominating performance against Real Madrid in El Clasico, they look to be in a great position to win their sixth Champions League title. Join me as I take a look at Barcelona’s chances.
They Have the Talent
Barcelona has one of the most talented lineups in football. Sporting a solid defensive side of Semedo, Pique, Vermaelen, Umtiti, Mascherano, Alba, and Digne, they have conceded just nine times in nineteen games. Their wing-backs are capable of providing pace and good runs down the flank, and their defense plays a crucial part in the distribution of the ball.
Their midfield is even more impressive. Sergio Busquets, while not the flashiest, has been a cornerstone of the Barcelona lineup, and is regarded as one of the best midfielders in the world. Paulinho, the new signing, has proven solid, both defensively and in attack. Iniesta is an experienced veteran and second to none in his passing ability. Rakitic has become one of the best in the world in recent years since joining the Catalan giants in 2014. Sergi Roberto has surprised all, and with a 7.56 rating from WhoScored, he’s third best on the squad. Paris Saint-Germain may have been able to exploit this area of the field last year, but I don’t think they would be able to do it again.
On to the gem of the Barcelona lineup – the attack. Barcelona’s attack is the best in the world, sporting four superstars in Ousmane Dembele, newly signed Philippe Coutinho, Luis Suarez, and of course, Lionel Messi. Their attack has scored fifty-two goals on the season, twelve more than Real Madrid, and no defense in the world is capable of containing them. Messi is the best player in the world, creating just as much as he finishes, and surrounded by a world-class attack, there’s nothing that Barcelona can’t do.
Defense may win championships in the NFL, but as we saw in last year’s Champions League, a great attack can often best a solid defense. Simply put, Barcelona’s attack is second to none; there is no other team in the world that can lay claim to four of the world’s best in the top half of the pitch.
Looking past their starting lineup, perhaps the best in world football and one of the best in history, they also have a strong bench. They have solid reinforcements for every position – something that is necessary in a grueling sport like football. Depth is often overlooked, but Barcelona’s depth gives them a huge edge over the other top teams; they have a world-class player in every position with bench players that could start for almost any other side.
This allows them to give key players some much-needed rest, and it provides relief when their starters aren’t playing as well as they normally do. If Plan A fails, they have a Plan B.
If you’re basing your decision on talent, Barcelona has it all. They have the best attack in club football, the best bench, and in my opinion, the best player in the world without question. An argument could certainly be made for there being better teams out there, but there’s certainly no shortage of talent with this Barcelona side.
Teamwork Is Key
We have already determined that Barcelona has all the talent in the world. But all too often, talent goes wasted. We’ve seen this with Real Madrid’s dream team of the early 2000s and a star-studded Argentina lineup that has failed to find success in international competition. When you have too many stars on one team, the team aspect of the game is often neglected, leading to brilliant individual play but a failure to execute.
To make a sports metaphor, Barcelona is a bit like the San Antonio Spurs of football. That said, they are still arguably the most talented team in the world. But most importantly, they are a team. Their tiki-taka style of play has revolutionized football, and their passing and distribution of the ball is second to none.
A huge part of this teamwork is Lionel Messi. When you have one of the best players in the world on your team, you automatically get a huge boost. Defenders will tend to gravitate towards him, and consequently, passing lanes will open up. Unlike other superstars, Messi is truly a team player; his passing skills and vision are often overlooked, but are an essential part of his game. Messi can do anything at any time.
They pass the ball around, communicate, and work together to play the best football that they possibly can. Some players may make some incredible runs, but most of their goals will come from the small details – the overlapping runs, the great passing, the intelligent game scheme.
They are also very much a team at the core. Unlike other teams who switch their lineup what seems like every year, Barcelona has had time to learn and mature together. There are some new signings, but they have adapted well into the Barcelona game plan. They have leaders in the form of Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets, idols in the form of Messi and Suarez, and a pool of young players who will do everything they can to prove that they belong.
If you want to argue that Barcelona doesn’t have the best starting eleven in the world, you can go ahead. But there is no team that utilizes their talent as effectively as Barcelona does. There is no team that is more of a team than the Blaugranes.
No Pressure, No Problem
With the La Liga title practically sealed, Barcelona will be able to direct all their attention to their primary goal – winning the Champions League. Oftentimes, teams will get so caught up with one competition that they’ll end up performing poorly in the other. Likewise, teams will try to focus on both and end up with mediocre results in both.
Luckily for the Bluagranes, this won’t be an issue for them. After dominating the first half of the season, they are well on their way to their twenty-fifth La Liga title. According to statistics website FiveThirtyEight, Barcelona has a greater than 99% chance of winning the league.
Adding to this lack of pressure in league competition, Barcelona has very little pressure on them, or at least they know how to deal with it better than anyone else. Unlike the other super teams, they have not spent hundreds of millions of dollars reinforcing their team. While they might be expected to win the Champions League, they do not have to.
They know they can win it all if they play well, and they will try their very best to accomplish that goal. These are things that every player and every new signing knew full well going into the start of the season. They have been prepared for this; it is time to put this training to good use.
Something else that should be noted is the emergence of new superpowers. The spotlight has shifted over to England with Manchester City dominating the Premier League. To France where Neymar’s PSG seems almost unbeatable. To Germany where Bayern Munich looks as dangerous as ever.
But with all these teams vying for the attention, Barcelona seems to have gotten a bit lost in the crowd. For once, they are not the only team being talked about. They are not the overwhelming favorites. They are not guaranteed a victory. After ten years of going into every match being expected to win or at least perform well, those expectations have somewhat been lifted.
The pressure is gone. No more La Liga worries, no more overwhelming expectations. The only thing that separates Barcelona from the trophy is Barcelona themselves.
Looking Ahead – Betting Odds and More
While the Champions League final may not take place until May 26th, the betting odds for the winner have already been released, and Barcelona looks like a great pick. Given odds of +650 from Bovada, the Catalan superstars are not the favorites; they’re far from it, actually, and this is great news for bettors.
Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, and Bayern Munich all sit ahead of the Blaugranes, and this will give prospective bettors even more to be excited about. These odds are great for a team that has everything that it takes to emerge with the trophy. For every dollar placed on Barcelona, you will get $7.50 in return, which is a very nice return on investment.
I wouldn’t be scared to place a bet on Messi’s Barcelona; the odds are better than ever, and it looks as though this will finally be the year that Barcelona makes their long-awaited return to the top of European football.
While everyone else is distracted by City’s ascent and Neymar’s PSG success, Barcelona is doing exactly what they’ve done for the last ten years. They may not be a sleeper pick, but they aren’t being talked about nearly as often as they should. Take advantage of this silence before it is too late.
One could argue that the odds showcase the fall of the Blaugranes – a fall that all great teams must undergo at one point or another. But I would have to argue that it’s a bit too soon to make such claims; they have the talent, they have the teamwork, they have everything they need. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from the past decade of football, it’s this: never doubt Barcelona.