As the clock ticks down towards the final El Clasico of the season, we’re taking a look at both teams. Having already discussed the current problems Real Madrid is faced with, we now turn to the Barcelona team that currently tops the La Liga table and is the favorite to retain the Champions League trophy following last season’s treble.
Dominating La Liga with Real Madrid in turmoil is one thing, but this Barça side is the best in Europe at the moment. Could it also be the best Barcelona team in history? For decades that honor seemed to belong to the late, great Johan Cruyff’s “Dream Team,” which won Barça’s first European Championship back in 1992.
That was until Pep Guardiola –- who played in Cruyff’s team and studied at the Dutch master’s feet –- led Barça to a sextuple in 2009 and followed it up with two more La Liga titles, another Copa del Rey, and another Champions League in 2011 before stepping down as manager the following year.
But is it possible that this current Barça team, led by manager Luis Enrique, could be just that much better? Let’s compare the two.
Some of the key defensive players from the 2009-11 era Barça are still present today, namely Dani Alves and Gerard Pique.
However, one gigantic presence that is missing from the current Barça team is Carles Puyol. The shaggy haired central defender was a stalwart at the heart of the Barcelona defense for more than a decade before injuries forced him to hang up his boots in May of 2014. Since Puyol’s departure, the club has relied on a rotating cast of center backs that includes Javier Mascherano, Jeremy Mathieu, Marc Bartra and Thomas Vermaelen. While these are fine players, none has the authority to command the backline in quite the way Puyol did.
Winner: 2009-11 Barcelona.
Xavi and Iniesta had been handed their debuts by Louis van Gaal and played under a succession of managers that included Radomir Antic and Frank Rijkaard. However, it was under Guardiola that they reached the height of their powers, orchestrating the midfield with silky, rhythmic, and at times, relentless passing.
Meanwhile, Sergio Busquets, who is still a fixture in the center of Barça’s midfield today, broke up opposition play and generally made a nuisance of himself so his two compatriots could work their magic. Iniesta and Busquets were still present in the midfield for the 2015 Champions League final. But instead of Xavi, they were rounded out by Ivan Rakitic, a capable player who has distinguished himself in a Blaugrana jersey but is not quite on the level of Xavi.
Winner: 2009-11 Barcelona
In the 2009 Champions League final, Lionel Messi lined up against two of the finest strikers of their generation in Samuel Eto’o and Thierry Henry. It was a formidable attacking trio, but it had nowhere near the ability to devastate defenses that Barça’s current attacking trio of Messi, Neymar, and Luis Suarez does. The MSN is probably the most formidable attacking trio in the history of the club, and possibly, of club football in general.
Winner: 2015-16 Barcelona
Overall Winner: 2009-11 Barcelona
They say attack is the best form of defense and Barcelona’s attack is admittedly the best in the world at the moment. However, when you compare the individual components that comprise the current Barça team with Guardiola’s, it still seems Pep’s team has the edge. Although with Luis Enrique’s team still in the process of writing its history, perhaps there’s still time for it to earn the distinction of greatest Barcelona team ever.