Any fears that life after Pep Guardiola at FC Barcelona could bring some decline have very quickly been put to bed. Under Tito Vilanova, Barcelona have had the best ever first half of La Liga (beating their own record under Guardiola), with 18 wins from 19 matches for a total of 55 points, 64 goals scored and only 20 conceded – an absolutely magnificent record. In doing so, they managed an 11 point gap over their closest followers AtlAi??tico Madrid and 18 over Real Madrid – the only team to halt Barcelona’s run with a 2-2 draw at Camp Nou. It’d be an understatement to claim Barcelona have been irresistible in La Liga, they are on pace to shatter the previous point and goal records by a considerable margin. The title is pretty much wrapped up, even with 19 matches left to play. The recent news of Victor ValdAi??s deciding not to renew his contract have definitely been sad for the club but nothing that derails the general atmosphere at the moment.

 

But there are still bigger goals to pursue and Tito Vilanova is fully aware of that. While the Spanish League title is very important, there’s one title that the club and its fans are even more eager for: the Champions League. When Chelsea shocked the world at Camp Nou in last season’s semifinals, there was a feeling that Barcelona had just missed a once in a lifetime chance to win back to back Champions League titles. While that will definitely have to wait, the club is most definitely anxious to get their hands on the Champions League trophy yet again.

FC BarcelonaPep Guardiola won the Champions League in his first season at the helm and that’s the exact challenge that his successor Tito Vilanova faces now. While a repeat of the treble would obviously be welcome, the Copa del Rey is most definitely a minor accolade when compared with the biggest prize European club football has to offer. While the tie will only take place in February, the minds of everyone at the club and the fans are already at San Siro, where Barcelona will face their equally illustrious continental rivals AC Milan – who, despite some recent decline, are always an extremely tough proposition in Europe. Milan were also an opponent last season, only in the quarter finals, in a tie where Barcelona emerged victorious 3-1 on aggregate. On paper, the Italian giants have become weaker with the departures of former Barcelona player Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva to PSG, but they are still not a team that should ever be underestimated. If the Catalans win that tie, even tougher challenges will lie ahead, with the likes of Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Dortmund and Manchester United among the biggest obstacles to the club’s quest to get their 5th Champions League.

The squad seems even stronger this season – a frightening prospect for the rest of Europe. Lionel Messi has somehow become even better and is scoring at an even more incredible pace, his fellow Ballon d’Or finalist AndrAi??s Iniesta is reaching new heights himself and further developing his telepathic-on-pitch-understanding with Xavi (who seems ageless) while Cesc Fabregas has finally fully settled in the team’s dynamics. The defense has also improved considerably since last season, with PiquAi?? and Puyol consistently healthy this time around and Mascherano as solid and reliable as ever. Jordi Alba has been proving to be the ideal replacement for the maligned Abidal – who could potentially be back himself for the business end of the season – and Daniel Alves remains one of the very best in the business. Victor ValdAi??s might be leaving the club when his contract expires in 2014, but for now he remains a very trustworthy keeper. The main problems have been up front, where despite not underperforming in general players like Pedro and Sanchez have been struggling to find the net with any sort of regularity; however, with a juggernaut like Messi at the tip, that is hardly a very pressing concern, not to mention those two might pick up form for the decisive stages of the season while David Villa’s fitness only keeps improving – the all-time Spain top scorer could very well prove decisive in the run-in.

Tito Vilanova has all the resources he might possibly need to fulfill this challenge and a very comfortable lead in the league to boot, allowing him to manage his resources to perfection. Whether he will be able to emulate is predecessor remains to be seen, but he knows that with the standards the club has set in recent years, anything less than a Champions League triumph will be seen as a disappointment.

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