They are the in-form team in Europe right now. European champions Manchester United have been far from impressive this season. Despite being top of the Premiership, they have stumbled through most matches with unconvincing performances. The same can be said for Chelsea and Liverpool.
Inter Milan are four points clear at the top of Serie A. However, Jose Mourinho’s men have not reached top gear yet. Mourinho hasn’t had the same effect on Inter as he did at Chelsea. Yesterday, they suffered a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Atalanta. And for all the big names at AC Milan, they too have been disappointing thus far.
So in our search for the best team in Europe, we look to Spain and ultimately the Catalans. With the departure of Frank Riikjard during the summer, it was the end of an era for Barcelona. During the 2006 season, under the Dutchman, they had been breathtaking. Ronaldinho was at the height of his powers and the driving force behind Barcelona winning both La Liga and the Champions League.
But for the past two seasons, Barcelona have started to come undone. Ronaldinho’s form deteriorated. Bitter rivals Real Madrid went on to win two consecutive league titles. Defensively Barcelona were vulnerable. Samuel Eto’o suffered from recurring injuries, while their other high profile striker, a misfiring Thierry Henry, was lacking confidence. Lionel Messi was unable to single handedly guide Barcelona to the top.
This season it has been a different story. In the summer, Barcelona president, Juan Laporta appointed Josep Guardiola – the B team’s coach – as manager. This sparked a complete overturn of the squad. Ronaldinho, Deco, Giovanni dos Santos and Gianluca Zambrotta departed. In came Gerard Pique, Seydou Keita, Daniel Alves and Alex Hleb. Players all with a great deal of experience in La Liga, excluding Hleb.
However questions were raised about Barca when they lost their first game of the new campaign 1-0 to Numancia and drew 1-1 in the following game at the Camp Nou. But since these minor blemishes, they have been quite simply unstoppable. With a new found resilience at the back, the attacking threat of Messi and Keita, and the clinical Eto’o and Henry up front, they have destroyed teams with an unerring ease.
In the nineteen games the have played, they have scored a thrilling 59 goals while conceding only 13. They have scored three goals or more in league games on 10 separate occasions. Particular highlights include a 6-1 battering of Athletico Madrid, 3-0 magnificent away victories against Sevilla and Valencia, and beating Real Madrid 2-0 in the ‘El Classico’.
With 18 games played and 47 points, all the Catalan giants needed was a single point to surpass the previous record held by Real Madrid for the points total at the halfway point of the season. And it was fitting that on a night where they would smash the old record, they reserved one of their finest performances of the season so far.
They took Deportivo apart. Time and time again their delicate passing sliced upon the weak Deportivo defence providing chances galore for Henry and Eto’o. Messi opened the scoring when he dribbled past three defenders and slotted the ball into the right hand corner. Henry grabbed himself a brace, with a well placed header and a simple tap in, while Eto’o matched Henry’s tally with a sharp finish and a calmly taken penalty.
Are we looking at the European Champions for 2009? I think so.
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