FC Barcelona: Life Beyond The Phase Group, Hard Times, and Messi-Dependence

Atreyu WhetuCorrespondent INovember 26, 2008

Once again an astounding score has been the result of the very last FC Barcelona match against Sporting Portugal. The team that was a complete mystery at the beginning of the season has now turned into a powerful and fearsome machine. How did it all start? What will the future tell?

As the coach and player-buddy Frank Rijkaard was sacked and his top rival won his second Liga in a row, the directive took some drastic decisions. The feeling that they had just give those couple of years to his archfiend as a present was in the head of many supporters.

As a matter of fact, the blue and red team played better football than anyone else in the home competition. By the same token, the Spanish national team's main core (midfielders Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and defender Carles Puyol) were one of the basic ingredients of the achievement of Euro 2008. The three of them were usual starters.

With such individual quality, the problems started to break out in the teamwork. Nobody knows exactly when, how or why the star of Barça's idol Ronaldinho de Assis began to fade away. Faking injuries, having an intense nightlife, not attending the training sessions...until the club said "enough is enough." People were getting tired of the eternal promise of his best version's comeback, so he was finally sent to AC Milan.

Something similar can be said about Brazilian-Portuguese Deco. Neither Eric Abidal nor Gianluca Zambrotta were the incredible defenders that amazed the world in World Cup 2006. Liliam Thuram's unquestionable experience contrasted with his best form. Thierry Henry was far away from that world-class player in Arsenal, Samuel Eto'o was about to be traded for Arsenal striker Adebayor.

All these operations were ordered by a young and inexperienced coach: Josep Guardiola. He was a key midfielder in the unforgettable Dream Team, that FC Barcelona squad of the nineties coached by Johan Cruyff that won four Ligas and the 1992 Champions League in Wembley against Sampdoria among other trophies.

Guardiola's leadership in the field is nowadays reflected in the bench. Many fans trembled to see such a big club in hands of such an inexperienced person (he only managed the second team of FC Barcelona). However, the sum of discipline, hard work, communication and the confidence in the youngest players made it possible. Ranked #1 in la Liga, still alive in the Cup (Real Madrid can't say so), and way ahead in the Champions League with four wins and one draw, 16 goals for and five against.

The truth is FC Barcelona has been incredibly lucky in the UEFA CL draw lately. This year are FC Basel, Sporting Portugal and Shaktar Donyetsk the rivals, thus far its qualification for the next round was 99 percent foretold. What is going to happen next?

Even in the last years they found easy rivals right before quarterfinals (no offence to Celtic Glasgow, Shalke04 or Benfica) but when the first challenge comes, they are out of the competition. Incidentally, the responsible for that anticipated knockout are squads from the Premier League such as Liverpool, Chelsea or Manchester United.

Now the Catalonians have another problem to face off. Leo Messi is a player who can decide a match by himself. The team may look different if he is not in the pitch, but the media has invented the term "Messi-dependence."

The Argentinian is a fragile player and he has broken sometimes because of his sudden and explosive moves and sometimes due to the defenders' roughness. We are about to witness the most important part of the season for the Spanish team. Sevilla, Valencia, Real Madrid and Villareal will be their next rivals in La Liga.

Will FC Barcelona be up to scratch? Will rookie coach Pep Guardiola be able to guide the blue and red ship through the storm in the hard times?


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