Atletico de Madrid 0, Barça 1, aka “Campions”

team

In 08-09 Barça won a Liga that became a Treble, and nobody expected it.

Then Barça won a Liga and pretty much everybody expected it.

Then again Barça won a Liga that was tainted by Champions League failure and the departure of a player whose exit was laid at the feet of that record points total.

This season Barça has won a Liga and again there are complexities with a team that is in many ways the antithesis of the Barça that so many fell in love with during the Guardiola years. This team works its collective asses off. Winning a league championship isn’t a match or two, or getting a team hot streak at the right time. Winning a Liga is about time in the trenches, about digging matches out in Valencia and battling lesser teams buoyed by their home crowd. It’s about finding goals where there are none, about week in and week out, finding a way to win when such a thing seems illogical.

All of those things come from consistency and hard work, on the training pitch and during matches. Today, Barça won the Liga by not only winning the match that it had to, but returning the favor of Atleti coming into the Camp Nou and needing a draw to secure the Liga crown. They got that draw, and celebrated on the field of the vanquished. Even as today’s victory, for the symmetrical reasons embodied in the adage “Turnabout is fair play” was something particularly special, you wonder if the players really thought about that during the match, if they took extra motivation from that.

In many ways the ultimate characterization of this Barça isn’t just sweat and vigor, but how willing the most talented goalscorer in the game moved to the right wing, became the best passer in the game, just did what was necessary.

This Barça is as pragmatic a group of show ponies as any of us are likely to witness any time soon. This group has, all season, done enough. Today was another 1-0 victory, and a victory that showed off all of the parts of the team. Messi scored the goal, but Bravo made the saves to keep Atleti out. The team kept the ball, and finally frustrated Atleti to the point of froth. Pedro made the layoff that set up Messi for the goal, Mascherano spent the entire match saying “No” to Fernando Torres, telling “El Nino” to come back when he’s all grown up and Pique was the resurrected monster he has been for the better part of this season.

The challenge, when writing about this team, will be to search for the easy answer. People have done this all season, right from the beginning of things as the team was, week after week, match after match, castigated for not living up to some standard. This player out, that player out, this transfer was stupid, that transfer was stupid, #luchoout, they will never beat Atleti.

A football team is a sum of its parts. From the rotation to the subs to the lineup that seemed as if its coach didn’t have a clue about he wanted as a world sat in armchairs or at desks and judged, Barça became the sum of its parts, a thing that could rely on many different ways to dispatch an opponent. Counters, set pieces, golazos from distance and intricate crazy quilts of elegance all resulted in goals this season. So the sum of Barça’s parts is a championship team, something that feels as weird to type as it does to bat around in your head.

Because according to too many, it wasn’t supposed to happen. And that includes me. RM was, at the start of the season, the best team that anyone had seen since the Guardiola sides. The Liga was, according to some, going to be over by midway, a fascinating thing that, like the various crises Barça has gone through this season, didn’t have a basis in reality. It was almost like wins that didn’t come the right way were being treated as losses, and as the team stayed close to RM in the standings, finally capitalizing on some slip-ups to take the reins, people didn’t know what to do so the focus changed from psychic management of the inexplicable, to attempts to explain the inexplicable.

So many were so ready, so willing to say “Hmph. Told you so,” that when that option was no longer available it sparked a new set of evaluative challenges.

“Well, Messi did it.” “Individual brilliance.” “They are playing essentially coachless, in spite of Enrique.” The leaps of faith to make such things accurate would necessitate ignoring the improvements that were coming, and coming fast, from set piece facility on both ends of the pitch to midfield fluency of a different sort. And then, when Barça beat RM in the “wrong” way to solidify a lead in the standings, the situation was even more complex.

The summit of Mt. A-HA! was Anoeta, and the “crisis.” Messi wasn’t speaking to Enrique. Enrique wasn’t speaking to Messi. When Mathieu said that something had happened on the training ground, rather than taking that statement for what it was — don’t forget it was all because Messi and Enrique came to words over a foul that Messi wanted called in a practice match — it became the confirmation of a rift. And an off-form match by the team became something more sinister, the Crisis of Catalunya.

In many ways it was a relief to some when Barça dropping points at Sevilla, because the evidence returned, the grasping at the signs that something was broken instead of two moments of professionals not doing their work as they should have, and leaving it at that. Because this has been a season of doubt, a poisonous entorno in which so many have looked for reasons why the team would not, rather than why it would.

And through it all, this team didn’t care. I really don’t know if this team has cared all season about what anyone has said, anywhere. And as social media has whipped up semantic firestorms and various “A-HA!” moments happened the team kept working, kept building something wonderful, something that would enable it to be called Champions.

Crucial matches are always called “finals,” as in “this week there are two finals.” But we underestimate the pressure, the incessant pressure of a Liga in which every match is a final, in which the smallest slip-up could give your high-powered, eternal rival just enough of an edge to bolt the lock on championship hopes and dreams. Atleti didn’t come up short this season for lack of effort or conviction. People can reduce it to them losing Costa and Courtois all they like. But the reality, or part of it, is that when Atleti won the Liga crown it became a big team, and got the effort previously reserved for Barça and RM. It was draining, and pressure-packed and conspired to show the frailties of a group, from a thrown boot to Diego Godin wanting to fight Neymar on the pitch as the latter smiled and winked. It didn’t matter to him as it was all part of the game, part of what you do.

Pragmatic. Wind them up and they are a mess. Flick the ball, do a nutmeg or two and they become more concerned with fouling you than stopping what your teammates are trying to do. It makes perfect sense, as inelegant as it is, but that, too, has been Barça this season, a team forged in the nasty, hard-working, square jawed visage of its coach, a leader that really hasn’t been accepted as one by people who should know better.

Even in the wake of Barça dispatching Bayern, exorcising another demon that pressed hard upon the things this team was trying to build, the aftermath was about Guardiola and what he did wrong, rather than Enrique and what he did right. And he just sat in pressers and said “It’s about the next match.” All season has been about the next match because with enough of these, you become the champion.

Today’s “next match” was typical of the season, really, irrespective of the opponent. Barça played in the manner necessary to win. Today, it kept the ball, defended when necessary and relied on some saves by its keeper, another person who wasn’t good enough, until he was. And then, suddenly, an exquisite passage of play capped by a sterling finish resulted in a goal. And then the team returned to the task of being grounded, of demonstrating one of the most important things in this season’s championship run: a defense.

If you want to win, first you have to not concede. 1-0 might be a fraught scoreline, but except for the two Bravo parries, Atleti really didn’t look like scoring from open play, and because Barça has become so solid in set piece defending, they really had no available option to score. So the 1-goal win accompanied by a clean sheet got it done.

Rakitic and Pedro worked like dogs today, both typical really of the perception of this team, as so many culers found themselves wishing that both players were someone else, as they were judged to be “not Barça standard.” But as they fought, and clawed, and ran and battled you began to wonder if this Barça, the one that is now champion of La Liga, didn’t have a different standard.

You could accuse Luis Enrique of a lot of things as a player, but shirking work wasn’t one of them. So why should it be a shock that his team would be fit, physically and psychologically strong and ready to put an opponent down at the slightest moment of weakness. Football is as much about work as it is about beauty. The mistake so many made was in not recognizing the work that was being put in by this Barça in the hands of its coach.

Rakitic said, “We wouldn’t be here without Enrique,” and the quote was pretty much ignored, because “Pah! What else would he say?” But in examining the totality of this season, an arc whose apex has terminated in a celebration on the field of the vanquished, it was clear from the start that something wonderful was coming together. And now it has.

Last season, Atleti was the single-handed barrier to Barça’s ambition. They stared that demon in the eyes and were found wanting. Last year Barça never beat Atleti, and the price was the Liga and Champions League advancement. This season, Barça beat Atleti four times. Every time the two teams met, Barça won. It was a team that came of age right before our eyes, the right combination of superstar firepower and people willing to do the work. It won today as a key member of that attacking trident, Luis Suarez, sat on the bench to completely heal a tweaked muscle.

And it still won. It didn’t just win because it had Messi. It won because it had everybody. When I look back at this wonderful season, that is the most beautiful thing about it, that everybody had a hand in the team’s success from B teamers shuttling back and forth to extravagantly compensated superstars. Even the greatest star on its studded roster stepped back to revel in being part of a team, to make his personal exploits subordinate to collective success.

This team, this beautiful, unified team that didn’t care what anyone said or did, or how much doubt was piled upon it, has won La Liga. And this group, which has for so long been compared to other groups, found the ultimate satisfaction in achieving the ultimate success in its own, beautiful way.

Campions.

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Written by:

In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.

22 Comments

  1. May 17, 2015

    We’re Campions! aaaaaaaaaaah! I cried!
    This team is espectacular, no?
    truly scintillating

  2. Inamess
    May 17, 2015

    Congratulations to my fellow Barca fans on our first official trophy of the year! This is truly a day to celebrate our team that was transformed in the chaos of Anoeta to rise to the brink of Immortality.

    Here’s a great video that commemorates our struggles and triumphs so far this season.
    FC Barcelona ● Road to Berlin ● 2014/15:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLxt-4X6Zbw&feature=player_embedded

  3. Benj
    May 17, 2015

    Congrats guys and girls! What an amazing season to watch, great to see la liga back where it belongs!

    So, anyone else catch the United v Arsenal game last night? Looks like De Gea is off to Los Blancos, and Falcao is out the door too, after 4 goals in 28 or so appearances! DDG will be a huge boost to Real if they do get him, he’s grown into a great keeper.

    Anyway, onwards and upwards. Spewing about the transfer ban, this window would have been interesting indeed!

    • May 18, 2015

      Its after long I managed to watch a full PL match.
      Felt sorry for Valdes to come on and then let in a goal shortly.
      Also felt sorry for Ozil. There was this moment, when he made a good ball into the box and Giroud stayed ball watching. In la liga, that would have been a great goal.
      And finally our Alexis, he is still the same right? Lot of running around, but no results. dont know.

  4. ooga aga
    May 17, 2015

    Over the moon! Thanks you Kxevin, thank you equipo! Que grandes son!

  5. IamXavi6
    May 17, 2015

    #LuchoOut

    Oh how I laughed!

    VISCA

  6. Chiu
    May 17, 2015

    Congratulations for the players and all fans/cules around the world!

    We did a very solid performance in la liga this season, a very deserved winner! Bigger party waiting in Berlin, keep the faith cules. Visca Barca!

  7. agar2515
    May 17, 2015

    While I’m fine still eating crow… If people are going to keep frolicking in the ” Ya’ll were wrong about Lucho haha!” , especially as we’re 1/3 on the way for a treble then…
    HOOOOW ABOUT THAT SUAREZ!!! Mr. Public Enemy #1
    Without whom this would’nt have been possible.
    So many didn’t want him, thinking he’d ciorrupt, thinking he’d get banned again and we’ll look what happened.
    Take a bow Pistolero

  8. Kd
    May 18, 2015

    Visca Barcaaa!!
    Wow.. Campiones, Campiones.
    For #lucho out, take that bi**hes!!
    And so so happy. Some of us thought no trophies this year, some thought maybe one probably a cup (including urs truly), and now we r on the cusp of a treble and in such good shape that you won’t wager against it!!
    Oh n loved the way Messi stood up for Neymar.

  9. ams
    May 18, 2015

    Congratulations…CAMPEONES CAMPEONES OLE OLE OLE…CAMPEONES CAMPEONES OLE OLE OLE

    What a turnaround…Last two years were extremely difficult…This is definitely the redefining season for us…This is the season which will give this team belief that they together can achieve more if they trust each other…They together can achieve more if they believe in each other…and that together will end up winning a lot of trophies if they work hard.

    Tots Units Fem Forca

  10. Davour
    May 18, 2015

    Thanks for the article! It now obvious that LE has formed a formidable group of players into a TEAM: fit, hungry and disciplined as hell. His rotations are paying off and he has earned his players’ support. However, while to my mind it was way premature to call for LE’s head after Anoeta, a discussion was worth having, as always. It seemed that while he might’ve had his ideas right, there was something amiss in terms of communication. Doubt in that department was justified – but as so often: alarm was was not. LE found a way that worked – both regarding strategy and handling his players. And who knows, Xavi was blamed for undermining Martino – maybe this time he was the catalyst for positive change? Of many positives, handling the Suarez situation was one: trusting, seeing the positive contributions – runs, assists, vision, work, defense – resisting talk of lack of goals, and already from the start having a clear idea of how the team should be moulded, freeing Messi from the false-9 curse (as several other demons have been driven out: lost possession stat? So what?).

    Whatever happens next, this has been a tremendously interesting journey to follow. I am deeply impressed, and believe LE (and his team) is at the heart of it. But also Messi’s determination to remind everyone who’s the man, Xavi’s humility, Iniesta’s and Busquet’s adaptability, Piqué’s stepping (back) up, Masch’s heart, Neymar’s next step, Suarez’ brilliant hard (team) work, Alves’ waking up, Alba’s (metaphorical) growth, Pedro’s good spirit and acceptance, Mathieu’s headers (!), Rakitic’s dynamism, Rafinha’s emerging talent, Roberto’s sudden ‘pivoting’, Bartra’s hanging in there, Adriano’s smiles, Montoya’s hanging in there 2.0, Munir’s & Sandro’s fine cameos, and – last but not least – our brilliant keepers, both making the best out of the situation and offering a stable, final outpost.

    Thanks y’all!

  11. May 18, 2015

    There’s a remarkable absence of toilet paper football kits on the street today.

  12. PrinceYuvi
    May 18, 2015

    Lol

  13. May 18, 2015

    Visca Barca. The liga is back to its ideal cabinet.

    So glad Pedro was there today. I have always felt, he is the best player who understands Messi’s runs for those one twos. And that came in the real tight Atletico box.

    Bravo was absolutely brilliant too.

    Cant wait for Athletico…

    I wish, Neymar would stop showing his tricks, when there is no time for it.

  14. jsefutbol
    May 18, 2015

    This team is truly remarkable. Every piece seems to fit together, which is a testament to the players’ intelligence but also the coaching staff’s vision to put them in the right positions and give them the right roles.

    There was an excellent piece on totalBarca on the three big leaders of the team, one in each line (Piqué, Busquets, Messi) – http://www.totalbarca.com/2015/opinion-pieces/how-luis-enrique-rebuilt-barcelona/
    I would say that those three were the cornerstones of this title, although not the only protagonists. Bravo has been excellent, Masche has proved his critics wrong, Iniesta has adapted to his new role, Rakitic has made life so much easier on the right flank, Alves has been superb, Alba has found a new intelligence to his game, Neymar has taken a step forward and Suárez has been way too good given that it’s his first year. The quality of the team is ridiculous.

    It was a beautiful season for the most part, with some brilliant football, and even when it wasn’t beautiful, Barca found a way to win. Matches against Valencia, away to Celta, away to Almeria, home and away to Villarreal… all key moments in the season. So happy, so proud of this team.

  15. ilie
    May 18, 2015

    I would like to take this opportunity to say a big THANK YOU to all the blog’s writers and to everyone else contributing around here.

    Although I rarely post, I read every article & comments and I’m sure there’s many other lurkers just like me.

    This is a special moment, as we are very close to another treble with a new coach, changed system and new pieces to fill some of the roles.

    Although I had faith from the beginning, I wouldn’t have imagined we will be in this position so soon.

    It’s really a blessing.

    Congrats to all the Barca family!

    • Kd
      May 18, 2015

      I absolutely agree with ilie. This blog has been just fantastic. And the comments to go with it. A big thank you to all who write and post comments. It made this league title more fascinating!!

    • xris
      May 18, 2015

      mostly reader myself, too. i’ve been following the blog for quite some time and i really appreciaete the contribution and dedicataion from kxevin and other posters/commentators.
      it was a strange season, mostly noted by not being nervous when conceding possesion and at set pieces and having a solution to everything that the opponent’s defense throws at us.
      this year we watched a Team.
      Damn, it was (and still is) nice.

  16. luisthebeast
    May 18, 2015

    How true that Kxevin said.Yes we have superstars in the team but they sacrifice themselves playing for the team and not for their personal glory.Thats why we are the biggest club in the world.There are teams who buy superstars and they are victims of football star system.But we use the star system for the team.We have the 3 best players in the world and they work so hard for the team.I am so optimist for the future.With La Masia and smart transfers we will dominate the european football for years.We must no fear any team.We are the team that the others must fear.Visca Barca:-)

  17. G6O
    May 18, 2015

    Apparently Cruyff said he was wrong about Messi and Neymar 🙂

    • May 18, 2015

      Hehehehehe …

      Nice of him to admit it.

  18. Dar_vincy
    May 18, 2015

    Gutted to have missed all 4 victories against Atletico. Wise decision not to rush Suarez to action so soon…it would most certainly have proved counter-productive.
    Now that dear Messi has lost Pinchichi to CR, can he call it day in La liga now?

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