2014/2015 has been a strange season for Barcelona under Luis Enrique. Despite much criticism of the board, the players, the coach, and the system, the results have been more than decent. Yet there’s a palpable sense that the club might have enough to actually win the major trophies at stake in the second half of the season, especially with Real Madrid showing some pretty ominous form so far. Let’s take a brief look at how the club has been doing in the three competitions they are contesting.
Objectively speaking, Barcelona’s La Liga campaign has been pretty good; with 12 wins, 2 draws and 2 losses in 16 matches, Barcelona have racked up 38 out of only 48 points available, scoring 41 goals and conceding only 7 (best defense in the league by a distance) in the process. The problem is that tally puts the Catalans 1 point behind Real Madrid, who have a game in hand, and that in the biggest game of the season so far Real Madrid beat Barcelona pretty convincingly 3-1 in El ClA?sico. That result followed by a shocking 0-1 home loss to Celta the following week have seen Barcelona get leapfrogged by their eternal rivals in the table.
Going into 2015, it’s clear that the league is Real Madrid’s to lose, but there’s also some reason for the Catalans to be hopeful; for starters, due to his suspension, Luis Suarez is a relatively recent addition to the squad and he’s likely to further improve and gel with the likes of Messi and Neymar, making Barcelona’s attack an even more fearsome one. The defense, while pretty suspect by most standards, has held up well so far in La Liga, as the 7 goals conceded in 16 matches attest to. Aside from that, it’s also unlikely that Real Madrid will just continue steamrolling everyone in their path indefinitely, their form is bound to cool down at some point and they will have away matches at the Cald ron and the Camp Nou to deal with in the second half of the season. Assuming they do beat Valencia in the game they have in hand, their lead over Barca will be of only 4 points; with 22 matches left, there will be more than enough opportunity to make up the difference should Barcelona themselves raise the bar at the turn of the year.
Copa del Rey
This is the least important competition Barcelona are in at the moment, but still one that the club will definitely be looking to capture. The draw worked out pretty nicely for Barcelona, who will face Elche in the round of 16 and then the winner of the Real Madrid vs Atl tico Madrid tie in the quarter finals. What this means is Barcelona will only have to face one of their two Madrid rivals in a potential path to the title and they will have the opportunity to do so over two legs, as opposed to a final and after Atl tico and Real contest what is bound to be a physically and mentally draining tie. Of course that for this scenario to materialize Barcelona first have to beat Elche, which, while likely, is far from a given.
January will be a key month in this competition, as Barcelona will face Elche on January 8 and 15 and then, assuming a victory, either Real Madrid or Atl tico Madrid on January 21 and 28; a fast start to the year will be key if Barcelona are to capture this trophy.
As expected, Barcelona had smooth sailing to the knockout stages of the Champions League, winning their group for a record breaking 8th consecutive year. With that said, the toughest match of the group saw Barcelona lose 3-2 in Paris against PSG; while wins in all the other 5 matches made sure qualification is easily secured, it does once again raise questions over the team’s ability to beat their closest rivals in the biggest matches – questions that will have to be answered as early as the last 16 as the draw dictacted a repeat of last year’s matchup against the Premier League champions Manchester City. The group stages also saw Lionel Messi finally break Raul’s record and become the Champions League’s all-time top scorer, a record he’s pretty much sure to build on in the coming years.
The Champions League is obviously the competition the club most want to win and the tie against Manchester City is likely to prove an acid test in that quest. The first half of 2015 will likely be the defining period of Luis Enrique’s tenure at Barcelona, if he manages to inspire the team to great heights his reign will likely continue and be remembered as a successful one; if on the other hand he falls short as Tata Martino did last year things can unravel pretty quickly. For now though, Barcelona are in with a chance in all three competitions – even if they are not favorites to the title in any of them – so there’s still everything to play for.