What looked a far-flung prospect just four months ago is now within striking distance. His side having disposed of Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich in the Champions League semifinals, Luis Enrique is now on the verge of repeating his former teammate’s achievement by leading Barcelona to the treble in his first season in charge.
Having never previously done so in 109 years of existence, Barcelona could land a clean sweep of La Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League titles twice in six seasons. That looked highly unlikely at the start of January when Barcelona returned from the winter break by going down to Real Sociedad to precipitate a plunge into a seemingly full-blown crisis. Leading members of the club’s hierarchy departed, while the relationship between the coach and the greatest player in the club’s history, Lionel Messi, appeared on the verge of being beyond repair. But as Barcelona ousted Bayern to progress with a degree of comfort on Tuesday those memories were a long way from the mind. The date is now set for Berlin on June 6, when Barcelona will play not only for the Champions League title but quite possibly for the treble.
Here’s how they got to this point and what they have to do to complete a remarkable season.
Barcelona were four points behind Real Madrid in the title race at the end of February, but the stuttering form of their great rivals coupled with a vital win for Enrique’s side in El Clásico in March swung the momentum. Still there was little daylight between the two contenders, with Barcelona dropping points at Sevilla last month. But Real Madrid’s 2-2 draw with Valencia on Saturday has given Barcelona a four-point cushion with just matches remaining. One win from matches at Atletico Madrid on Sunday and at home to relegation-threatened Deportivo la Coruna on the final day would see Barcelona lift their 23rd league title. And Barcelona will have added reason for wanting to get the championship sewn up at the first time of asking, with Atlético Madrid having been the team that took the title from the Camp Nou in a final-day decider last season.
Copa del Rey
Barcelona have already beaten Atlético on three occasions this season, including in both legs of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal. Having got past Diego Simeone’s side, Barcelona then breezed past Villarreal 6-2 on aggregate in the semifinals to book a place in the final for the fourth time in five seasons. After defeat to Real Madrid courtesy of Gareth Bale’s late wonder goal in last year’s final, Barcelona will be confident of beating Athletic Bilbao in a final that will take place in their own Camp Nou stadium. Certainly Barcelona have had the upper hand in matches against the Basque side so far this season, winning 2-0 at home and 5-2 on the road. And, while sitting eighth in La Liga, an Athletic side missing key winger Iker Munian to a serious knee injury has won just two of their last eight matches. It would be a major shock were Barcelona not to lift the trophy on May 30.
Barcelona’s run to the final of the world’s most prestigious club competition has been remarkably drama-free so far. Their only defeat in this season’s event came in just their second game, against Paris Saint-Germain. But a revenge win in the final match of the group phase allowed Barcelona to top their group before, for the second year running, they ousted Manchester City with a degree of comfort in the Round of 16. A rematch with PSG then awaited at the quarterfinal stage at which they exited the Champions League last season. There was never any danger of a repeat, however, in a resounding 5-1 aggregate win.
The stage was set for a blockbuster semifinal against German champions Bayern Munich and former Barcelona midfield and coaching great Pep Guardiola. The difference, though, was Barcelona’s incredible front three. Messi’s sensational double late on at the Camp Nou, followed by Neymar’s brace, supplied on both occasions by Luis Suárez, in Munich sealed Barcelona’s place in their eighth final in the competition. Juventus now stand between the Catalans and a fifth European Cup in Berlin on June 6. While the Italian champions showed just how supremely organized and opportunistic they can be against Real Madrid, it is difficult to see any team stopping an attacking trio that stands on the brink of etching their names in the history books.