When Alvaro Morata scored the equalizer last night for Juventus, I feared the worst. In the immediate aftermath of the goal, it looked like Juventus was going to beat Barcelona. And Barcelona really had themselves to blame. I’m not trying to belittle Juventus here – I’m really not – but Morata’s goal was so against the run of play it might as well have been in a different game.
Until that delicious Marchisio back heel to start the move, it looked likely that Barcelona was going to score – a lot. Then Claudio laid it off for Stephan Lichtensteiner who passed it off to Tevez. Carlitos got a good shot off, only for Marc Andre Ter Stegen to punch it away towards Morata, who calmly put it in the back of the net. Barcelona, I felt, let the Old Lady back into the game. And for ten minutes, Juventus were confident. For ten minutes, Barcelona was flustered, losing the ball easily and seemingly wilting under the Bianconerri pressure.
Until Lionel Messi got a chance to run down the middle.
Ivan Rakitic, who had a hell of a game yesterday, pressing Juventus’s midfield four and scoring the opener just four minutes into the game, passed it to Messi who ran at Bonucci before firing a low shot towards Gianluigi Buffon. The Italian parried it away, but Luis Suarez, who wasn’t having the greatest of games until that point, fired the rebound back into the top corner. 2-1 Barcelona, and my nerves were settled. Barcelona would score another one just two minutes later, Jordi Alba crossing for Neymar to head in, but that was disallowed. What it did, though, was hammer home the point that this Barcelona will demolish you if you give them any space. With Juventus needing to score, you’d think that would have to happen.
Barcelona would score once more in the dying minutes of the game, in a move started by Lionel Messi and capped off by Neymar with the final kick of the game. As Neymar played a one-two with Pedro, the architect of the move was nowhere to be found, instead chilling by the center circle, probably in admiration of the carnage that he had wrought. Messi sat back, watching Neymar slot home the 3rd Barcelona goal, and his Champions League leading 11th (three way tie with Messi and Ronaldo, because of course), thinking “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.”
Or maybe he was just tired.
In many ways, that game was an encapsulation of the type of season Barcelona have had. Described by the Spanish media as a team in crisis (the Spanish are very subdued when it comes to football), few would have predicted this ending in January. And yet, despite the tumultuous nature of this season, a season that included the sacking of the director of football who put this team together, a call for elections, and the death of former manager Tito Vilanova from cancer, this team was awfully talented from the start. The front three of Suarez, Neymar and Messi were always going to grab the headlines, but this team does not win a treble without Gerard Pique’s return to form, Ivan Rakitic doing the dirty work needed to be done in midfield, and Dani Alves playing in the form of his life.
In fact, it was Alves who put it best, in his press conference a few weeks back: a team is much more different than a club. And while this club was a mess, the team was something different, something mès.
Absent of all the drama surrounding the club, all the politics, and away from what Johan Cruyff called the eterno, this team is pretty damn good.