This was the call of many culés when FC Barcelona suffered defeat away to Real Sociedad on January 4th. Reports spoke of a rift between Luis Enrique and Lio Messi that caused the latter to be benched at Anoeta. In the following days, Andoni Zubizarreta would be sacked by Barcelona and his assistant Carles Puyol resigned. FC Barcelona was seemingly in crisis and elections were called for the summer to alleviate tensions within the club.
Five months later on June 6th FC Barcelona defeated Juventus by a 3-1 margin to win the UEFA Champions League final and create history as the first European team to complete two treble-winning seasons. Luis Enrique was now praised for his ability to marshall the club back to domestic and European dominance after a dismal 2013-2014 season under Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino.
So what changed?
For one, Lucho showed a less authoritative, more positive demeanour which helped to alleviate tensions within the team. There were hardly any rumours of discord within the team since Messi followed Chelsea FC on Instagram in January.
During the first half of the season, Luis Enrique implemented a highly criticised rotation policy. While this resulted in enhanced player fitness and endurance towards the end of the season, he realised that the team needed solidity and continuity. After the January crisis, rotations were minimised and the core squad’s ability to gel was noticeable.
It is tempting to compare Guardiola’s and Enrique’s treble winning teams. Pep relied heavily on the Xavi-Iniesta dynamic, along with Busquets, to control the midfield and enforce the tiki-taka philosophy. However, the 2014-2015 Barcelona team displayed more flexible tactics and more direct play than the 2008-2009 squad. With Xavi playing more of an impact role, the primary midfield of Busquets, Rakitić and Iniesta focused on delivering greater and faster vertical play.
Credit must also be given to Barcelona’s improved defence. Actually, much of this credit should be given to Gerard Piqué’s return to form.
(I take back my sentiment that Shakira stole Piqué’s youth and talent). Luis Enrique has also managed to bring out the best out of both Jordi Alba and Dani Alves. Jordi has really matured and improved under Lucho’s watch.
Perhaps the most riveting feature of Luis Enrique’s treble winners is the MSN trident. Messi, Suárez and Neymar have created a formidable attack for FC Barcelona- collectively scoring 122 goals this season. Messi’s return to the right was the change needed to prevent Suárez from suffering the same fate as Zlatan Ibrahimović, David Villa and Alexis Sánchez. Lio’s role was now one of a playmaker with the freedom to move into false 9 position. This system allowed for a genuine striker to coexist with Messi.
Thankfully, Luis Enrique has extended his contract with Barcelona until 30 June 2017. Culés can expect to see the same team in action, at least until January 2016, as a result of the transfer ban. Dani Alves’ decision to extend his contract for another two years with an optional third is excellent news for the Catalans. Personally, I could not fathom the thought of Douglas as a starter….in anything….at all. All in all I await the new season with bated breath.