Champions League: Why FC Barcelona Might Be the First Club to Retain the Trophy
No club has managed to retain the Champions League trophy since its inception in 1992. AC Milan, Ajax, Juventus and Manchester United came close, losing the final the year right after they won the trophy, and Ajax came the closest, losing that final only on penalties.
Just like in 2010, Barcelona have realistic chances of putting an end to this "curse." In 2010, the Catalan outfit was only one goal away from reaching the final, but it wasn't meant to be.
This time, with no Zlatan Ibrahimovic to sabotage Barcelona's European campaign, they have an even better chance.
As history shows, defending the Champions League crown is a Herculean task, but if anyone can do it, it's this current FC Barcelona crop. The following are 10 reasons why Pep Guardiola's side has what it takes to defend their title.
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1. They're the Best Squad in the World at the Moment
It is widely accepted that Barcelona are the world's best team at the moment. With world-class talent in every position and even on the bench, the Catalans are an almost flawless unit.
When you consider their unparalleled chemistry on the pitch, you have this generation's greatest team.
If the Champions League were a regularity competition (league format), it'd probably be wiser to hand the trophy to Barcelona right away. But the knockout format means that the best team doesn't always win (in fact, there are several examples of that, such as Liverpool's triumph in 2005).
It depends on several factors: the draw, luck with injuries/referee decisions, etc... One bad day can put an end to a team's hopes.
That said, FC Barcelona are clearly the team to beat in next season's Champions League.
2. Individual Brilliance of Lionel Messi (and Andrés Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez)
There is no more lethal weapon in the Champions League than Lionel Messi. The little Argentine was the top scorer of the competition three seasons in a row and is already the seventh best scorer in the competition's history despite being only 24.
Messi always shines the most in the European turf, and he always brings his scoring boots to Barcelona's European clashes. It's only a matter of time before he becomes the Champions League's all-time leading scorer.
Not only that, but with his goal against Manchester United in the final last season, he equaled Shevchenko's record for most goals scored in the knockout stages with 19.
Messi actually scores when it matters the most, unlike most players.
Besides, Barcelona have other starts like Xavi, Iniesta and Villa, who are used to the highest level of competition and tend to bring their best game to the big occasions.
Messi is only one among plenty of potential match winners for FC Barcelona when the going gets tough in the Champions League knockouts.
3. The 2010/2011 Title Was Way Too Easy
Barcelona's 2010/2011 Champions League title was probably the second easiest title run in Champions League history, right after Ajax's complete and utter domination in 1994/1995.
No opponent could even push Barcelona in the knockout stages. Shakhtar Donestk and Real Madrid were pretty much out after the first leg, and Manchester United also proved to be no match for Barcelona in the final.
Ironically, Arsenal proved to be the most troublesome opponent with an upset first leg win. But the second leg was a arguably the most one-sided match in Champions League history, with Arsenal failing to record a single shot for 90 minutes.
Barcelona's level of domination in last season's Champions League was downright scary, even more if we consider that the Catalans had to use a makeshift defense for most of the campaign.
It'd be naive to think Barcelona can reproduce the same level of domination this season, but if last season is any indication, the rest of Europe has a lot of catching up to do. It's hard to look past Barcelona as favorites to win the trophy.
4. Pep Guardiola's Incredible Record in the Competition
In three Champions League campaigns in his still short managerial career, Pep Guardiola has won the competition twice and narrowly lost in the semifinals once. You won't find any manager with a better record in the Champions League.
Ever since he took over in 2008, Guardiola has shown that he has what it takes to win in Europe and win in style.
To put it in perspective, the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson or José Mourinho also have two Champions League trophies, but they've been around for much, much longer.
Pep Guardiola's unbelievable cup record is another thing going for Barcelona as they try to retain their Champions League title.
5. The Team's Great Cup Mentality
The fact that Barcelona have won three Champions League in the past six years (two in three under Pep), and that they have only lost one out of seven finals under Pep Guardiola tells you all you need to know about this squad's great Cup mentality.
If we add the fact that most of Barcelona's first team has won the Euro and the World Cup with Spain, it's impossible to question the team's mentality.
Barcelona always rise to the occasion, and the players' experience of winning major competitions will give them a massive edge over their less experienced opponents.
The core members of the squad have been there, done that, time and again. They know what it takes to go all the way.
6. The Camp Nou Factor
While Barcelona's away record in the Champions League knockouts has been far from impressive under Pep Guardiola (only two wins, both last season), the Camp Nou has been an impenetrable fortress.
In three seasons, Barcelona won seven and tied two of their nine home knockout matches. One of these draws came after the tie was already decided (against Real Madrid).
No team has ever managed to beat Pep Guardiola's juggernaut at Camp Nou in the knockout stages, and teams like Lyon, Bayern, Stuttgart and Arsenal were simply decimated.
Barcelona's Champions League success under Pep Guardiola has been mostly based on getting an away goal and then mercilessly destroying their opponents at Camp Nou.
The massive edge Barcelona have over their opponents when they play at home should help them make another trip to the final next season.
7. Quality Depth in the Side
If Cesc Fabregas comes, Barcelona will have a reserve midfield trio of Javier Mascherano, Fabregas and Thiago. Even if he doesn't, it will be Mascherano, Thiago and Afellay.
The fact that these world-class players/talents can't even make Barcelona's starting XI under normal conditions tells you all you need to know about the squad's extraordinary depth.
In attack, if one of Messi, Villa and Pedro is injured, Alexis Sanchez is a top quality replacement, not to mention that Iniesta and Afellay can fill in if necessary.
There's enough depth in the side to make sure that the absence of one or two stars isn't dramatic.
Sometimes, teams see their Champions League hopes derailed by injuries, but that doesn't seem likely at all in Barcelona's case. They have the the world's best starting XI and extraordinary depth within their ranks.
8. Phychological Edge over Their Opponents
FC Barcelona is the most feared name in football right now. If you ask every manager in the world which team they want to avoid if possible, most, if not all, would say Barcelona.
The thing about facing Barcelona is that the matches are always played on Guardiola's terms. Ever since Pep became manager, Barcelona have had more possession than their opponents in every single match.
The opponent is forced to defend and try their luck on the break, there's no alternative. This is why facing Barcelona is the most daunting task in football right now.
Teams can't play their own game; they are forced to play on Barcelona's terms. And who would want to defend against Messi, Xavi and Iniesta?
Barcelona are a very confident side at this moment in time. They believe they can beat anyone. In fact, they know that they can beat anyone.
Their opponents, on the other hand, know that they're likely to lose to Barcelona.
9. The Team Has Been Evolving Every Year Under Pep Guardiola
It's hard to believe, but it's truth. The 2010 version of Guardiola's Dream Team was overall better than their 2009 counterparts, and 2011 was even better.
In 2009, it was all new and teams had no idea how to counter Barcelona, but the team was very prone to being caught on the break. In 2010, the team wasn't as spectacular but a lot more solid.
In 2011, the team got back some of the flair from 2009 and was more solid than ever, and it became almost impossibe to catch Barcelona on the break.
Sergio Busquets has shown to be more suited to Barcelona than Yaya Touré, while David Villa and Pedro Rodriguez press a lot better than Eto'o and Henry (despite not scoring as much), making 2011 Barcelona a much more complete unit than in 2009 despite having won fewer trophies.
Pep has been improving the squad every year to face the new challenges. The addition of Alexis Sanchez, the emergence of Thiago Alcantara, the possible signing of Cesc Fabregas and the full integration of David Villa, Javier Mascherano and Ibrahim Afellay mean that this evolving process is likely to continue.
It'd be a surprise if Barcelona 2011/2012 didn't turn out to be an even better team than their 2010/2011 counterparts.
If the 2010/2011 side walked the Champions League, it doesn't seem far-fetched to think that an improved side might very well defend their title.
10. They're the Greatest Team of the Champions League Era
No team has ever defended the title in the Champions League era, but there has never been a team as great as this Barcelona side in the Champions League era.
Ajax's invincible side of 1995 come the closest, but they didn't last as long as Pep Guardiola's Barcelona.
There have been some other great sides in the past two decades, but since Arrigo Sacchi's AC Milan, no one has managed to dominate Europe (and their domestic league) in the same way Pep Guardiola's Barcelona has been.
It would be only fitting if this Barcelona crop became the first side to defend the Champions League trophy.
You can follow me on Twitter @Manueltraquete