Unlike most seasons, Barcelona finished the league strong, despite securing the title weeks ago. Too many players feeling they need to show they belong on the team next season, or some feeling they disappointed the fans with their abysmal Champions League exit. Neymar still isn’t here, while Lionel Messi was shut down for the season’s ending. Andres Iniesta had his opportunity to show he’s who the team should count on to lead their midfield in the next few years.
So few of Barcelona matches have been pure fun to watch. It wasn’t just the lack of pressure on their shoulders in a 4-1 win over Malaga, ensuring Barcelona reach a club record 100 points in a season that was flawless for most of the way, but had to many down moments away from the league to turn it into something truly special. The football, that Tici-Taca style that made them the most popular club in the world, has gotten a little tiresome, continuing the trend of criticizing the Spanish national team during its “boring” performances in Euro 2012.
It’s hard to decide what has been the most important factor in Barcelona’s success over the last five seasons. Pep Guardiola, and the changes he made to the team’s tactics, most importantly turning Lionel Messi from a fun-to-watch winger into the most efficient scoring machine in the world? Was it the short and patient passing game, masking excellent deep off the ball movement from wingers and forwards, orchestrated by Andres Iniesta and Xavi? The high pressure? The Underrated defensive qualities, that deteriorated over the last couple of seasons as Carles Puyol finally became old?
Barcelona began entering a phase of change club officials won’t take too long. Carles Puyol can no longer be trusted to stay healthy and lead the defense and the team with his leadership and all-out approach. Xavi, the flawless playmaker, finds it harder and harder to cope with pace and physical pressure, while Barcelona struggled to find the man who’ll fill his shoes, but probably have answer, looking to things done with the national team last summer. Lionel Messi can no longer be the only scorer on the team, or can the team continue to go on without a presence in the box.
Next season, some of these conclusions will start being answered. The most interesting of them? Not seeing Neymar playing next to Lionel Messi, as mouth-watering as that prospect sounds. It’ll be exciting to watch, or at least wait for, but the most important change Barcelona have to look forward to is Andres Iniesta, the European footballer of the year not too long ago, moving more and more to the middle, and slowly pushing Xavi out of the lineup.
Because Thiago Alcantara isn’t that good at the moment, and Cesc Fabregas’ strengths don’t involve a slow build up and patience in the middle of the pitch. Too many Premier League years have made him an alien in the Barcelona system, regardless of how good of a finisher or passer he is on his good days.
Iniesta holds the key to the next golden-era of Barcelona, which will be measured by a continuing dominance in the league (another 3-4 titles in 4-5 seasons?), remaining one of the top 4 teams in the Champions League, like they have been since 2008, and maybe even more importantly in terms of fashion and creating appeal: Dictating the kind of style in the middle of the field that will look more lively than it did this season, without sacrificing success or effectiveness.