These Heady Times

The train picked up speed as we left the suburbs and went into the undulating hills. I remember the countryside was steeped in fog, the sunshine slipping through every now and then between clouds to create a peaceful wonderland. I alternately stared out the window at the passing scenery and read a book. We were heading east, into what was forecast to be a hot and sunny day, but for now things were calm and happy. I was relaxed. My Twitter timeline, which I checked in on once my phone was back within steady reach of a cell tower, was awash in anxiety and trouble sleeping. I mean, I was excited. Don’t get me wrong, but I was also relaxed. The day before, I’d written, “I gave up fear and a little over 24 hours before kickoff as I write this, I’m somewhat surprised to find that it hasn’t crept back in.”

That kickoff was, of course, the Champions League final in Berlin on June 6, 2015. I was on a train to the German capital and I was excited. We were in a major final and I was going to be nearby when we lifted the Big Ears trophy. It worked out, of course, but the thing that has stuck with me is a sense of happiness, of completeness, even when we get dumped out of that same competition less than a year later. It’s hard not to be happy given the recent run of success. Just since I began blogging in 2007 (has it been that long!?), the team has racked up 6 out of 9 league titles, 4 out of 9 Copa titles, and 3 Champions League trophies. That’s a hefty haul, regardless of how many times Barça Twitter has panicked over a transfer fee (color me as guilty as the next person) and it should give us all a measure of tranquility when approaching the coming season. The question these days is no longer whether or not the team will win any trophies, but how many? And that’s just absurd.

Last year’s squad seemed thin, its depth questioned at every turn. The quality of bench players wasn’t high enough for Lucho to rotate effectively and there was the impression that the team was dragging itself over the finish line, burdened by heavy legs and the weight of expectations. And yet, a league title and a domestic cup is the stuff of legend for almost every other team on earth. Bayern Munich, the standard bearer for “top heavy league” in most people’s eyes, has also won 6 of the last 9 Bundesliga titles. They’ve also won just 1 more domestic cup and 2 fewer Champions Leagues in that same time. Ours, this Barcelona team, is the stuff of dreams. And the squad got a hell of a lot stronger over the summer with significant investment in its depth. There are no new, undisputed starters, but there are a host of 22 and 23 year olds lining up to produce a continuity generation. It may smack of financial largess or institutional rot (a post for another day) while putting us squarely in the realm of fan bases that others loathe, but it undeniably feels good.

Maybe if you’re Kxevin, staring down off this mountain of success, you see naught but the terrors of the abyss below thanks to a lifetime of living at the base of the mountain. Or maybe you see your neighbors scaling behind you, the determination to knock you down etched on their faces. Or, perhaps, you’re aware that empires never last forever. These are all logical reactions to the coming of a new season and I am hardly immune to such pessimism. I have lived the shared pain of the early 2000s and studied the history before that, after all. You can’t say “Joan Gaspart” without me pulling a face, but I also know that since 2005-06, we’ve been a barn-burning rocketship of awesome. Rainbows (and league titles) burst out of our backsides regularly enough for some to question the validity of the league itself.

The squad is phenomenal at this point, but there are always going to be fitness concerns, opponents with deep pockets, Mono Burgos growling from what I imagine are purpose-built dark alleyways in the bowels of the Calderon, and, of course, the annual frustration of Anoeta. However much I’d love to discount both Zidane’s slightly improved squad (Morata in for Jese; perhaps they’ll miss their traffic cone named Alvaro), they’re actually rather serious title contenders. We’ll have to see if Zidane has any long-term impact on the team or if they’ll sink to the Benitez doldrums of last December. Atleti too have improved, adding Gameiro and Nico Gaitan (though also losing Borja Baston)

It may all come down to the mini league played between the 3 teams because each of the teams is likely to put on a season-long thwomping of minor opponents. And yes, I know that Alaves went into the Calderon on day 1 and Manu Garcia’ed them, but until they do it 5 more times, Atleti are still firmly in the running. They had something like infinity shots on target to 1 and are more flexible this year than they were last year without Gameiro, so they’ll put up a string of wins at some point that will have them breathing down everyone’s necks.

Below the Big 3, though, there’s a precipitous drop off in quality. Sevilla may have added Sampaoli to guide them, but he seems to have just stuffed all the matches with dynamite and lit a short burning fuse. A 6-4 win to start the season off at home is definitely something, but what that something is may not really be decipherable for a few more weeks. Athletic Bilbao ran into a buzzsaw named Sporting Gijon (in a match that had to be stopped for racist chanting because some things never change—here’s hoping for a hefty punishment), Villarreal and Atleti drew their matches against Grenada and Alaves, respectively, and Valencia got walloped by Las Palmas. It could be a really crazy year outside of the Champions League spots.

And so:

20. Alaves
19. Eibar
18. Real Betis
17. Leganes
16. Deportivo la Coruna
15. Osasuna
14. Espanyol
13. Real Sociedad
12. Granada
11. Las Palmas
10. Sporting Gijon
9. Athletic Bilbao
8. Celta Vigo
7. Malaga
6. Valencia
5. Sevilla
4. Villarreal
3. Atletico Madrid
2. Real Madrid
1. Barcelona

This should be an excellent season in terms of quality of play, but the top 3 are simply so much better than everyone else, that it will matter more when particular matches are played between the 3 teams (in terms of weather, injuries, and other competitions) than any significant talent or coaching difference. Still, Barcelona are the best team in the league and the one everyone else has to prove they can take on. With added depth in every part of the outfield squad (assuming a striker comes in) and if Ter Stegen can maintain his health throughout the year, this is a truly fearsome outfit to face.

And I am calm. I am relaxed. This season will bring goals and joy, regardless of the outcome. These are truly heady times and I fully intend to enjoy them to the fullest. This train is picking up speed and there’s no fear here. Just remember:

I si tots animen, i si tots animen, i si tots animen, guanyarem, lo, lo-lo, lo, lo, loooo.

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Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in the greater New York City area with his wife and daughter.

14 Comments

  1. Jason
    August 23, 2016

    Isaiah, thanks for that UCL Final blast from the past! Love the positive outlook and prediction for the La Liga season. I also agree with your final standings, We are the defending champs and we still possess the most deadly attack in all world football. I look forward to the integration of our new players and more posts from the BfB mods!

  2. Davour
    August 24, 2016

    Thanks. One surely has the feeling, as you note, that Liga is very unpredictable beyond top 3. And indeed unpredictable among the top 3, too – though I would be surprised to se AM challenge for the win – Barca look very strong, and RM might keep riding the Z-wave from last season, with Asensio potentially bringing youthful enthusiasm and Morata depth in attack.

    Unfortunately it seems many teams have been weakened and will have less ability to challenge the top dogs, as well perhaps in Europe. Partly due to the top teams cherry picking, but also EPL with its vast resources. Hopefully La Liga’s new deal for distribution of tv-money will at least make a difference.

  3. August 24, 2016

    Update on the Alcacer telenovela:

    — Deal between clubs is done. (Allegedly)
    — Player has asked to leave. (Allegedly)
    — Munir might be included. (Allegedly)
    — Even though earlier reports said Munir loan to Celta done (allegedly) based on whether Barça can sign another forward (allegedly).

    Allegedly.

    • Jason
      August 24, 2016

      Kxevin, please don’t forget about Douglas. BeIN Sport panned to him on the bench during the Real Betis game and i almost threw up over my coffee table. Hope the guy gets shipped out soon, but how desperate are we that we are willing to maintain his wages on loan @ Sporting? And what do you think of Alcacer?

  4. Jason
    August 24, 2016

    Really great to start to the season. Our players, new and old have all started impressively. Really speaks to great club planning, coaching and player preparation. This is not the case over at the Arsenal. The club and their manager introduced English football to the continent. But i’m disappointed to see what is unfolding this season. I’ve held an opinion that the club should have moved direction away from Arsene Wenger before the beginning of last season. There inaction in the transfer market is comical at this point. It’ll be interesting and totally engrossing how it all unfolds.

    Does anyone here have an opinion? Wenger out?!

    • August 25, 2016

      Wenger’s recent quotes about being proudest about paying the club’s employees were bizarre. He made a good move picking up the likes of Cazorla, Ozil, Sanchez and Xhaka, then stopped. Weird.

      For me, time has long passed for Arsenal to move on. The team lacks something fundamental. We talk about what Luis Enrique has instilled in Barça, that thug spirit, backbone. Arsenal lacks that, and have for some time. Aside from the market, that is the bigger issue for me with Wenger. Inexcusable not to win the Prem last season. Might have been Arsenal’s last best chance.

  5. Davour
    August 25, 2016

    What an ass Maradona is, really. He asks the team to stay away if they lose the final. When Messi quits he plays the understanding father. Then, when Messi returns, the good old legend blurts out:”Messi was so quick to say yes (to return to NT). I think it was a plot to make us forget that we lost 3 finals”

    Classy.

    On the Alcacer: let’s just hope it settles soon, whatever it might be. Time to focus on other things for all involved.

  6. August 25, 2016

    Cilessen official. 13m+2 in variables.

    Also, buzz is Samper on loan to Granada, Munir loan to Celta.

    Alcacer still “imminent.” But so was Vietto. Stay tuned.

    • Dar_vincy
      August 25, 2016

      So, Cilessen it is. I’m flustered I must confess. Really. Heck, this whole goalkeeping conundrum has been a reverie of a sort, out of nowhere. First, we let Bravo go, now the best replacement we can get is Cilessen? Good as he is, he surely can’t the best we should have settled for (especially given his predisposition to periodic flubs), except he’s agreed to feature solely in the Copa del rey. In which case, Masip would have sufficed for the competition – without incurring additional cost. If that wasn’t the case, I believe Diego Alves would be been a very suitable option.

  7. August 25, 2016

    Champions League group:

    City (of course)
    Gladbach (of course)
    Celtic (of course)

    When there is a history, there is a draw.

    • Jim
      August 25, 2016

      Ok, I’m gonna say it again for anyone in with a shout of making it happen ie. can get tickets in Barcelona for the Glasgow tie. DO NOT miss the night at Parkhead ! As Michael Owen has just said even the Clasico pales into insignificance beside the atmosphere at Celtic Park on European night. Plus you get to sing the best anthem in the world along with 60 odd thousand who ALL sing and don’t hold back.

      Don’t take my word for it.
      http://www.thecelticwiki.com/m/page/Quotes+-+About+Celtic

      Celtic are playing poorly just now but you wouldn’t catch me putting as much as a beer on the result. Strange things happen on nights like that at that place.

      I’m just negotiating with the good lady how much we are prepared to pay for a ticket. Not much wriggle room in that group for a poor result either, if we want to finish top.

      • Jason
        August 25, 2016

        Jim, thanks for the share. Reading all of the amazing quotes made me search ‘Celtic Fans’ videos on YouTube. Totally amazing!

    • Chiu
      August 25, 2016

      the CL group just fine. Barca and City would likely qualify. and a good test for Pep City against us. and Bravo come back to Camp Nou too soon

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