Barcelona cruise past Juventus to win their fifth European Cup while Rafael Benitez starts work at the Bernabeu in dismantling their dominance.
BARCELONA COMPLETE THE TREBLE IN BERLIN
And lo it came to pass that Barcelona won the Champions League and the treble this season.
The 3-1 scoreline the history books will record suggests a comfortable win, and indeed the blaugrana never looked like losing, but at least Juventus had the cojones to fight back and equalise through Alvaro Morata instead of being taken apart like Barcelona’s victims in the previous rounds.
Italians are famous for their watertight defences and Juve had won their national championship losing a game less than Barça and conceding only three goals more across 38 games. Yet it took less than five minutes for the blaugrana to unpick their lock.
Ivan Rakitic’s opener came so early that Luis Enrique’s men relaxed psychologically a little instead of terrorising Juve as they might have done. It also made the game a little flat, as Barça maintained possession without much penetration.
The Croatian’s strike was a prime example of the Agen Dominoqq triangular passing his team have used to such effect this season, a system they know so well that their thinking is a split-second ahead of their opponents.
After Morata equalised in the 55th minute, it briefly looked like we had an even contest on our hands and that the wily old Andrea Pirlo and the younger feet of Paul Pogba could rewrite the script. But before Juve’s South American pair of Carlos Tevez and Arturo Vidal could make an impact, Barça’s South American trio reminded us they are the world’s best front line.
The second goal from Luis Suarez and the third from Neymar reiterated how effective their trident is at spreading the opposition back four and striking with rapier thrusts.
Juve, ironically, ended with two Spaniards playing up front – Fernando Llorente and Morata.
As a clash of league champions, it showed how Spanish football is still a nose ahead of Italy’s, but also how much more buying power La Liga’s big two enjoy.
“They were extraordinary,” admitted Juve coach Massimilliano Allegri of the MSN trident, “and we were not able to contain them.”
The two sides were equal on shots but Barcelona finished with 59% of possession and less than half as many fouls committed as by Juve.
Xavi enjoyed his last and final hurrah in the maroon and blue, in contrast to two veterans on the other team, the tearful Andrea Pirlo and Gianluigi Buffon, whose combined age was 73.
Barça celebrated long and hard, including giving the bumps to a sockless Enrique, who has enjoyed a clean sweep of all three trophies in his first season in charge. Enrique and their fans sang along to their club’s tuneless official song, ‘El Cant del Barça’, a 1974 number which is recognisable for ending “Barça, Barça, Baaarça!”
Andres Iniesta said it has been “a spectacular season in every sense of the word”, and that it made his hair stand on end to think of how they had repeated the treble six years on from their last. Yet he added, “I don’t think you realise how difficult it has been.”
Barcelona fielded six players who won the cup in 2009 and eight from their 2011 win, a remarkable longevity. This mutual familiarity has forged the system all the players know so well that they move the ball apparently telepathically, a machine as opposed to individual components.
But the real triumph has been the evolution from the world-beating tiki-taka to the trident, with diagonal, zig-zagging approach play instead of short passing through the middle.
The trident is made up of great individuals, but Neymar and Suarez have adapted to work within the rules while not compromising their effectiveness, as has Lionel Messi, the greatest individual of them all, still has plenty of scope for creativity and remains far deadlier within the Barça system than when playing for Argentina.
* Gerard Pique is not about to win any admirers in Madrid after citing Barcelona’s comeback as being down to Cristiano Ronaldo’s birthday party, where the Colombian DJ Kevin Roldan published selfies of the partying players and allegedly destabilised the club for a while.
“I’d like to thank Kevin Roldan,” Pique told the Camp Nou victory party. “It all started with him.”
Pique posted Instagram videos of himself with partner Shakira partying apparently worse for wear on a Barcelona dancefloor in the wake of the Champions League win.
* The Spanish TV audience was 8 million, the lowest yet for a Champions League final. Perhaps the large Real Madrid-supporting contingent in the country could not bear to look.
* Luis Enrique looks certain to continue as Barcelona manager after his clean sweep, but all is never rosy in the garden of the Camp Nou.
“The truth is I am still not clear what my future is”, he told journalists after the final.
“There is no reason for us to break our contract with Enrique,” was club president Josep Maria Bartomeu’s response to a question on the Asturian’s future, a double negative instead of a wringing endorsement, but confirmation enough that they will not dispense with his services for now.