What a shocking couple of weeks it had been for the Catalans.
They have torn through all and sundry in La Liga up until their hosting of Almeria at the Camp Nou on October 4th. They may have come away with the result but it’s a sign of the times that ONLY a 1-0 win for Barcelona is considered a bad performance. To be fair to Almeria, they put a stiff man-marking job on Barcelona but were unlucky to come away with a point.
The next performance was against a talented and always hard to beat Valencia team. Drawing 0-0 was always going to be a disappointment, but in truth Valencia have been one of Spain’s top teams for a decade.
Fast forward to last Tuesday in the Champions League, and newcomers Rubin Kazan had obviously been paying attention to that afforementioned match. Barcelona couldn’t find a way past them (barring one Ibrahimovic goal), and Kazan eventually popped up with a winner to record the most famous victory in their history. They stifled the likes of Messi and Iniesta to the status of spectator and deserved their win.
Around last Christmas, after dominating the league from the offset, Barca went on a similar kind of run. It seemed easier for the critics to write off Barca, after two years of inner turmoil and no titles, an unproven coach and Real Madrid in stalking mode.
But NEVER write off Barcelona!
Every team goes through a dip in form at sometime and they responded the way they always do – by murdering the opposition. A 6-1 result over Real Zaragoza is now usually the norm for the Catalans these days.
Barca romped to a 4-0 lead, with two apiece from Seydou Keita and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Ibra’s two goals were deserving of applause. His first an absolute screamer of a free-kick and the second a very well composed finish after a cross from Keita.
As Zaragoza found out, sometimes the worst thing you can do is score against Barcelona.
Their goal was an absolute ripper to bring it to 4-1. A minute or two later it was 5-1, little Lionel with one of those classy dinks over the opposing keeper we’ve become accustomed to seeing. But this match particulaly belonged to Keita, not a household name but definitely a crowd favourite.
He popped up with a towering header to bring Barca’s tally to 6, and claim his hat-trick. Keita is the box-to-box midfielder that all the top teams covet. He is abit of Makelele, abit of Gerrard! Though people who don’t follow La Liga or pay closely in the Champs League would know nothing about him. In direct competition with Yaya Toure, he is usually overlooked. That may be about to change, as I can’t recall a Yaya hat-trick.
Also, isn’t the much criticised deal of the summer, £40 million + Samuel Eto’o for mr Ibrahimovic now looking like a masterstroke?
Ibrahimovic’s two goals last night took his Barca tally to 7 out of 7, along with his solitary champions League goal. He has certainly settled in, and after much derision over such a deal that saw the clubs talismanic striker cast out, we may be just seeing the evolution of Barcelona.
It is true that I may be wearing my blue and red tinted glasses as I write this, but Barca’s european and League rivals are in my opinion even further behind than before.
Real Madrid, despite their millions in investments, are still far from the finished article. With Ronaldo out injured, their fantastic start has somewhat panned out. I’m sure once he returns they will certainly be competitive, but there is still a defensive frailty that lingers over the Bernebeau.
The team Barca dominated in last years European final, Manchester United, have recently lost to a Liverpool side that were on the edge of their own personal extinction, and are some way off Champions League glory with two defeats against their biggest rivals and an uncovincing win over basement boys Debrecen!
United miss Ronaldo, who was their one performer of note in that final, while Inter Milan also had a hard time against the surprising Rubin Kazan. AC Milan are a shadow of their former selves, while Bayern Munich are losing to Bordeaux and Juventus are laboring to wins over Maccabi Haifa!
I wouldn’t bank against a dream Arsenal – Barcelona final, but I think the catalans toughest test will come from Chelsea.
Chelsea look the best equipped of teams to trouble Barca in my opinion, and a fierce rivalry has developed between them in the last few years. They know how to play against Barcelona (even if it isn’t pretty) and maybe they just need a bit of luck on their side.
However, luck is definitely needed to topple Barcelona.
With players like Iniesta, Xavi, Messi so dominant last season (and bound to even get much, much better), a new outrageously gifted striker who is matching the feats of their former primary predator, plus all the other specially gifted performers who slip into the background past their more headline grabbing peers (Dani Alves, Keita, Yaya, Puyol & more) along with some established breakthrough performers (Pique, Busquets) and an ever emerging talent pool (Bojan, Pedro and Jeffren), Barca look like they will be even more scary to opponents this time round.
They are bang in form (despite a couple of hiccups), they are still evolving and they are still getting better!