Barcelona is the champion of Europe. Barcelona is pretty much the champion of the world. And it became the first club in European history to win the treble twice.
La Liga – ✓
Copa del Rey – ✓
UEFA Champions League – ✓
Barça conquered everything in its path, creating a season for the ages. And yet in a treble-winning season, the three trophies isn’t the team’s biggest accomplishment. It is one, the Champions League, and not because it’s the biggest club tournament in the world. It ran a gauntlet only the devil could have drawn up, and didn’t just survive, but slaughtered giant after giant along the way in arguably the most impressive run the sport has ever seen.
It all started with a group that included Paris-Saint Germain. Remember, this was before Luis Suárez was even permitted to play. Yet Barça came away with five wins from six matches and a +10 goal difference.
The knockout stage set up a meeting with Manchester City, but the Premier League champion barely put up a fight. Then it was PSG again, and this time, Barcelona throttled the defending Ligue 1 winner in both legs.
Even Bayern Munich presented no problems, with Barcelona winning easily at home and even going ahead in Germany to see out a comfortable elimination of the Bundesliga champion.
Just the fact that Barça made it through all that is amazing. If it then needed penalty kicks to advance through each round, racking up nary a win, the team would still be deserving champion. But Barcelona won. And it won again. And again. And did so convincingly each time.
Only against one team did Barcelona win by a single goal, and that was in the round of 16 against Manchester City, with scores of 2-1 and 1-0. But even then, the results were never really in doubt, with Barcelona cruising much of the way. That was the toughest test of the entire knockout stage. Every other tie was nearly one-sided be it going 3-0 up in the first leg at PSG, beating Bayern Munich by that same scoreline in the first leg of the semifinals or even Ivan Rakitić putting his side in front four minutes after the final started.
Barcelona wasn’t just the best – Barcelona was a class above. The performances were clinical, yet conducted with incredible flair. The front line of Lionel Messi, Suárez, and Neymar proved unstoppable, Sergio Busquets reclaimed his place as the world’s best defensive midfielder, and Rakitić proved to be as good a signing as anyone made last summer. Andrés Iniesta and Xavi might as well have been afterthoughts, the rest of the team was so good, and Iniesta and Xai are never afterthoughts.
They say that it doesn’t matter who a team draws in a tournament because it’ll have to top each and every other squad to lift the trophy at the end. Though that may be true theoretically, we all know that isn’t true. Draws are incredibly important, and a harsh one can doom a great team that would otherwise be champion.
But Barcelona was dealt a horrific draw and it didn’t matter in the slightest.
This team went through the Premier League, Bundesliga, Ligue 1 and now Serie A champions from a year ago – three out of four of which again claimed their domestic titles. And in the knockout stages, against that competition, the final tally read: six wins, one loss, 16 goals for, six goals against, +10 goal differential.
Barcelona won the treble and yet that wasn’t the most impressive thing it did this season. Just look at that knockout stage run. Savor it. Remember it. We may never see anything quite like it again.