Guardiola's Gifted Generals Give Barcelona Triple Hope

Rob HemingwayContributor IApril 15, 2009

BARCELONA, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 08: Xavi Hernandez of Barcelona controls the ball during the La Liga match between Barcelona and Sporting Gijon at the Camp Nou stadium on February 8, 2009 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

Spoilt are those current owners of a 2008-09 season ticket at the glorious Camp Nou stadium. Cautious early season optimism in Catalonia at the appointment of club legend Josep Guardiola as head coach has rapidly turned into widespread acclaim for the spectacular performances being produced by his FC Barcelona side.

Initial opinion among the Spanish media was that the talented but inexperienced Guardiola would take time to mould a side capable of challenging for major honours, however such has been his impact that Barcelona currently lie six points clear in La Primera Liga, are in the Semi-Finals of the Champions League, and face Atletico Bilbao in the final of the Copa del Rey next month. 

So how has Guardiola managed to achieve such instant success? Many claim that squad solidarity is the main building block on which their mesmerising play has been founded.

With the end of the Rijkaard era inevitably came the departure of Ronaldinho, and despite also wanting to move on the disruptive Samuel Eto'o in the summer, Guardiola has now managed to incorporate him into Europe's most feared attacking triumvirate in conjunction with Thierry Henry and Lionel Messi.

There are 83 goals between them this season  and that only begins to tell the story of their hold over Spain and Europe's defences. Indeed club president Joan Laporta even went so far as calling Messi a genius when recently interviewed. 

However in spite of the deserved and effusive praise for this offensive trio, it is perhaps Barcelona's midfield where the real secret to their success lies. One only has to look at statistics for possession during the recent 4-0 demolition of Bayern Munich in the Champions League to see the control that Barcelona's lavishly gifted play-makers Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta exert over a game; 69%-31%.

Their clever and incisive use of the ball gives the players higher up the knowledge that their runs will be found and for their technical brilliance to then take over.

Guardiola's work in the transfer market thus far has also been shrewd, with the acquisition of Seydou Keita from Sevilla providing excellent cover for Yaya Toure.

The bench at the Camp Nou would also be the envy of any of Europe's elite clubs, wonder kid Bojan Krkic and former Arsenal star Alex Hleb just two of their elixir of talent. His decision to retain Bojan over fellow youngster Giovani dos Santos has also been a good decision, considering that the Mexican is now playing his trade at Ispwich Town.

Worryingly for their opponents at home and abroad, Barca appear to have already suffered their 'blip', yet are still flying high in three competitions.

The February La Liga draw with Real Betis and home loss to local rivals Espanyol had allowed Real Madrid to close the gap, however the return to form of Iniesta in particular after injury has seen them back to producing the sort of fluid, coruscating football that Catalonians have become accustomed to seeing. 

It remains to be seen if Barca can carry their superb form through to the end of the season and marry it with the steel required to bring home major silverware, particularly the Champions League where two wins in their entire history is a fact the players are determined to rectify.

However with many of the club's Spanish internationals having already confounded such doubters at last summers European Championships, there is real belief that they can acquire what would be an historic treble of trophies.