Classic Teams: 2014-2015 FC Barcelona

Originally Posted on The Triangle via UWIRE

FC Barcelona entered the 2014/15 season battered and broken. The past 2 years had not been kind to them, and they had fallen far below their exceedingly high expectations. The previous season, Barcelona had embarrassingly gone trophy-less.To make matters worse, Spanish rivals Atletico Madrid had won La Liga in Barcelona’s own stadium, the Camp Nou. Barcelona’s most hated historical rivals, Real Madrid, had also beaten Barcelona in the final to win the Copa del Rey, before famously conquering Europe and winning the la Decima (Real Madrid’s 10th Champions League trophy).

The wounds of Barcelona’s 7-0 aggregate defeat in the Champions League in 2013 to Bayern Munich were still being felt. Along with Spain’s capitulation at the 2014 World Cup, it seemed to many that Barcelona’s era of dominance was over, with their iconic Tiki-Taka style becoming nothing but an old relic. That, along with the death of Coach Tito Vilanova, the sacking of Tata Martino, an upcoming transfer ban, a four-month ban on new signings, Luis Suarez, departures of big names Cesc Fabregas and Víctor Valdes, captain Carles Puyol’s retirement and continuing injuries to Lionel Messi led to many people predicting failures for 2014/15. However, as only the truly great teams can, Barcelona was able to use these past letdowns as motivation and ended up achieving one of the greatest seasons in the club’s history, and solidifying their place as one of the strongest teams of recent years.

Luis Enrique, known in Spain as “Lucho,” was appointed the manager of FC Barcelona in May 2014, and was greeted with mediocre reception. His previous tenures were nothing to write home about, but by the end of the season, he would show the world that he truly was a top-tier coach. However, it did take some time for his tactics and style to set in.

Barcelona started the season well, but they were largely playing teams from the lower half of La Liga. Once they faced strong opposition in PSG on the Champions League group stage and Real Madrid in the season’s first clasico, Barcelona was soundly outplayed on both occasions. These defeats highlighted several issues at the club. Messi had been subpar, as were big-name players like Dani Alves and Gerard Pique who were being benched by Lucho. It wasn’t until Barcelona beat Sevilla 5-1 and Lionel Messi had broken the record, becoming La Liga’s all-time top scorer, that both Messi and Barcelona regained their form. From there on, Barcelona was able to get revenge on PSG and top their Champions League group before ending the calendar year in a close second place in La Liga.

Once the season resumed, Barcelona suffered another step backward when they lost 1-0 to Real Sociedad. Messi was surprisingly benched after reports claimed he and Lucho got into a verbal argument. However, once Xavi was able to bring the two to see eye-to-eye, Barcelona continued onwards and did not look back. From that point on, Barcelona began a streak of unstoppable form which didn’t end until the end of the season.

Then the following match ended up a 3-1 win over reigning champions,  Atletico Madrid. This match was historic as it marked the turning point where Barcelona started playing to their full potential as a team, putting Atleti to the sword. It also announced the attacking trio of MSN (Messi, Neymar and Suarez) to the world stage, with them finally working together as well as all scoring a goal apiece.

From there, Barcelona continued to brush aside every team they played. Facing Atletico Madrid again in the Copa del Rey, tearing their usually strong defense to shreds before qualifying for the final. Barcelona was drawn against Manchester City in the Round of 16 in the Champions League, thoroughly outclassing them before drawing PSG in the quarters. While PSG was able to get the better of Barcelona earlier on in the season, this matchup went completely different as Barcelona made easy pickings of PSG, humiliating them in Paris and finishing the tie with an aggregate 5-1 scoreline.

As the season continued, MSN continued to score an obscene amount of goals all while the midfield and defense were stronger than ever. After a 6-1 victory over Rayo Vallecano, Barcelona eclipsed Real Madrid at the top of the La Liga table for the first time of the season. Eventually the two sides lined up against each other again for the 2nd Clasico of the season. While Real Madrid proved to be a strong opponent, Barcelona was overall the better team coming out 2-1 winners thanks to a winning goal from Luis Suarez.

By the time May came around, Barcelona found themselves facing Bayern Munich in the semifinals of the Champions League, welcoming former legendary manager and player, Pep Guardiola, back to the Camp Nou. Both the legs would go down in history as probably the most iconic performances of MSN with each player in the form of their life, smashing Bayern 3-0 in the first leg. While Bayern was able to win the second leg, Barcelona still overcame Bayern with an aggregate score of 5-3, setting up Barcelona to play Juventus in the Champions League in Berlin next month. After the famous Bayern matches, Barcelona went up against Atletico Madrid yet again, with the Blaugrana needing only a single point to clinch the league title. Just as Atletico won the league the year before in Barcelona, the exact opposite happened this time around with Barcelona securing the title in Atletico’s Vicente Calderon Stadium in Madrid, thanks to a lone Lionel Messi goal.

At the end of the month, Barcelona went up against Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey Final. While Bilbao proved to be no pushover, there was only one possible winner here with MSN, and Messi in particular, playing Bilbao off the pitch. Barcelona carried this form into June when they played Juventus in the Champions League Final, the most important game of the season. As with most of the teams that came before them, Juventus came to play and did not give up. Still, they ended up being no match for Barcelona as three goals from Ivan Rakitic, Suarez and Neymar ensured a 3-1 win over the Italian giants and a historic treble of trophies for Barcelona, giving club legend Xavi, who announced he was leaving the club, the perfect sendoff.

After Barcelona won the league, the Copa del Rey and the Champions League, it meant that Barcelona won every possible trophy that season. Very few teams win multiple trophies a season, let alone the Champions League, not even to speak of all three. Barcelona also became the only team in the history of the sport to have won more than one treble, after their victories under Pep in 2009.

Barcelona became the champions of Europe in the truest sense of the word: every team they faced in the Champions League was the reigning champion of their respective league. Ajax was the Dutch champions, APOEL was the Cypriot champions, PSG was the French champions, Manchester City was the English champions, Bayern Munich was the German champions, and Juventus was the Italian champions (they also would have won the treble had they beat Barcelona in the final). Not to mention that Barcelona also beat Real Madrid, the reigning European champions in La Liga, and Atletico Madrid, the Spanish champions, in both La Liga and the Copa del Rey. The fact that this was a team that started the season broken mentally and physically, only to go and conquer both Spain Europe, is astronomical.

There are numerous moments that characterize Barcelona’s famous season. There was Lionel Messi’s aforementioned hat-trick against Sevilla that broke the La Liga top scoring record; all the matches against Atletico where MSN really showed the world what they can do; Luis Suarez singlehandedly eliminating Manchester City with extreme prejudice, before nutmegging David Luiz twice in the same match leaving PSG to the same fate; Iniesta’s mesmerizing dribble setting up Neymar against PSG; Pedro’s overhead kick vs Real Sociedad; Pique’s defensive masterclass against Real Madrid; Jeremy Mathieu scoring his first La Liga goal for Barcelona in that same game; or Messi scoring one of the greatest individual goals of all time against Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey Final.

But, the most memorable moment of the season has to be in the first leg against Bayern Munich, when Barcelona had been leading 1-0 up until late in the match. Pep, upon his return to the Camp Nou, forced his team to continue pushing forward for an away goal, only for a counterattack to develop. Messi got the ball, broke Jerome Boateng’s ankles and left him on his backside, before lobbing the ball over Manuel Neuer’s head. Both Neuer and Boateng were arguably the best players in the world in their respective positions but Messi made them look like amateurs.

When one mentions 2014/15 Barcelona, the images that come to mind are the famous trio of MSN. Combined, MSN scored 122 goals over the course of the season, making them the highest-scoring trio in Spanish football history. While Messi, Suarez and Neymar were all world-class players in their own right, the way they worked together on the pitch made it look like they possessed a telepathic connection with each other, already knowing their every move and whereabouts. It was as if you were watching three brothers play pickup in their backyard rather than three professional footballers on the world’s biggest stage. While there have been many great attacking trios throughout the years, MSN is the greatest of them all.

And while MSN was a major part of Barcelona’s success in 2015, and they deservedly receive massive amounts of adoration, that is not to say that the rest of the team was weak or lacking. This Barcelona squad was one of the most balanced and well-rounded teams in recent years. The midfield of Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic, Xavi and Andres Iniesta was unbeatable, dominating the middle of the park and supplying MSN with the ball to do their magic all while keeping Tiki-Taka alive and well. Iniesta in particular — who many thought was old, slow and past his prime — reformed his game, dropped deeper and took on an even more creative role, becoming Barcelona’s best player that season after MSN. In defense, the team was very strong and resolute with Gerard Pique coming back into form and turning in some of the best performances of his career, as with Jordi Alba, Dani Alves and Javier Mascherano among others. Even in goal, new signings Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Claudio Bravo both proved to be robust pair of gloves tending the net, with Bravo even winning the Zamora trophy for best goalkeeper of La Liga that season.

Many pundits and fans compare this team to that of 2010/11 Barcelona and argue over which team is better. While the 2010/11 squad may have played the better overall football, 2014/15 Barcelona was able to win the treble and was arguably more entertaining to watch. Whichever team is superior doesn’t matter, as many pundits and fans would agree that the best club team of the 2010s is between 2010/11 and 2014/15 Barcelona.

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