Yesterday, Spain’s High Court ruled the country’s football players, out on strike over a dispute about the distribution of revenues from tv rights, were acting unlawfully, and the Spanish Royal Football Federation (RFEF) reversed itself and called off the strike.
The immediate effect is the continuation of all La Liga and Copa del Rey games. The most dramatic potential effect is the possibility that Luis Enrique’s version of the Cule juggernaut could capture the La Liga title on Sunday, if they defeat Atletico Madrid, the Copa del Rey trophy on the 30th of the month, if they beat Athletic Bilbao, at the Camp Nou, and the Champions League trophy, if they defeat Italy’s Juventus at Olympiastadium in Berlin, June 6th.
Lionel Messi, Neymar, and Luis Suarez, the most potent offense in world football, are craving the opportunity to set the foundation of their anticipated long reign atop the sport’s pinnacle. Playing the best club football this year, even though their toughest competitors were all playing without key injured stars, the Barcelona trident has been spectacular. Neymar has come into his own if still defers too much to Messi. Suarez has found his niche, creating double digit stats in goals and assists. And now Messi seems to be having fun again, as he is playing in a comfortable spot that allows him to be both playmaker and finisher, as he chooses.
As the dynasty attempts to begin anew upon the ashes of the previous one, and few would bet against a trifecta coming the Blaugrana’s way, the full squad is still a work in progress. The team is still hurting defensively, Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Claudio Bravo have both played well in goal, but neither is yet a full replacement for the likes of Victor Valdes. Similarly, offensive-minded defensive wingers Dani Alves and Jordi Alba have been often stellar but they are not yet fully balanced out by their line mates.
The often erratic Gerard Pique, whether teamed with Jeremy Mathieu or Marc Bartra, has yet to find his full stride and his years accumulate and his seasons seem a greater challenge. Meanwhile Javier Mascherano, so masterful at midfield in the 2014 World Cup, seems destined to continually step in to supplant the latest mistake-prone defensive line member. This leave Sergio Busquets as the sole first line of defense, or stopper. The combination of pieces has worked more often than not, but Luis Enrique has doubtless spent more time tinkering with this part of the puzzle than the rumors and press coverage would lead one to believe.
When that all the defensive pieces work, it allows Ivan Rakitic and Andres Iniesta, or Xavi Hernandez, to create the mischief which that Neptunian trio can turn into tsunamis of goals. But that back-line is the team’s Achilles heel and it will either be fortified over the summer or become the thing to exploit by upset minded teams this season’s end and come next year. But Barca is now the team to beat in all competitions.
Bayern Munich, playing these Champions League semis without Frank Ribery and Arjen Robben, after having lost in the semifinals of the DFB-Pokal, but won the Bundesliga for the 25th time, 10th time in 15 years, and the third time in a row, will be looking ahead to another realistic shot at Barca next year. With their squad intact and Pep Guardiola motivated, they will be force. Juventus and PSG, perhaps the other big challengers for European supremacy, are still reliant upon an unsettled mix of new and aging stars who will probably have but another shot left in them before the teams need major overhauls. So, as Barca surges few teams seem ready to keep pace.
Real Madrid, probably headed to a major summer overhaul itself, with many stars slatted to consider options, will still be somewhat rebuilding next year and might not be as formidable a domestic or European force as either Barca or Bayern respectively. At home, Atletico Madrid is a couple of buys away from challenging the top two, but those buys need to come soon if the team is to also compete on the European stage. In Spain, no other teams seem capable of keeping pace with Messi’s troops.
So as the 2014-15 European football season enters its final stages it is hard to imagine anyone not seeing the dynastic possibilities emerging from the performance of this newest version of Barcelona. Watching them attempt the treble over the next three weeks will be one of this year’s treats. If they succeed, every European club’s “next year” will be dedicated to knocking Barca off their newest pedestal.