Congratulations are in order for Barcelona, winners of the treble. They soundly beat Juventus 3-1, despite giving them a glimmer of optimism when the scores were level at 1-1 for a time. However, Luis Enrique, their incredible coach, was able to instruct the front three of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar to score two more goals, and tactically it was an incredible breakthrough on his and the club’s part. In future, they must ensure that they spend £140 million pounds every few years on strikers to keep that part of the team’s tactical ability working.
It was Ivan Rakitic who got the third goal, set up by Andres Iniesta, to finish off a move that included almost the whole team. It showed that while they still have the ability to keep the ball and involve all of the team in the process, under Enrique they are now playing tiki taka with an extraordinary gift for verticalidad at the same time. The new angles on show in the last half a season are something else, though. They say that teams go in cycles, but ideas must too.
We are told that Marcelo Bielsa is someone who educated Pep Guardiola on the importance of verticalidad, and yet for most of it, Guardiola embraced horizontilidad. The endless possession, as Brendan Rodgers explained on his behalf, is ‘death by football.’ Well, the time for verticality is passing, as is horizonticality. Enrique has coined a new passage of football tactical excellence. We are now living in the age of diogonalidad. Like a footballing Chuka Umunna, Enrique has combined the best of the two dominant philosophies of our age to propose a third way, and with it, he has won the treble.
But there’s a problem, and one that hints at why Enrique is unwilling to confirm he will be staying beyond this season at Barcelona. The club do not appear desperate to tie him down to a new contract, in fact, his position is no more secure than it was during the great bunfights of November and December. Lionel Messi has become predictable, and he is holding his side back. He is, as the experts say of other players, tactically toxic, and forces the rest of his side to play as we all know they will play. If you need evidence to convince you of what what is plain and obvious, then you can have evidence. Look at his goalscoring records. In the last six seasons he has not scored fewer than 40 goals in each of them, and has scored more than fifty of them in four of those years.
Clubs know that Messi is the most dangerous goal-scoring threat, and so they prepare to stop him - remember David Moyes drilling his Real Sociedad side to steal a win under pressure in Barcelona - that was because Moyes learned from Alex Ferguson, who shut down Messi in 2007/8 to win the Champions League. The experts, like Ferguson and Moyes, knew how to deal with Messi, and the rest of La Liga and Europe started to catch on. It wasn’t just his goals that you could predict, it was his positioning. In tandem with Dani Alves, he would attack the right wing with Dani Alves, and slalom in from the wing to send goal after goal after goal into the far corner of the goal.
Alternatively, he would dribble into the box to assist as colleague or score himself. As top goalscorer for Barcelona, it is obvious that a degree of selfishness has crept into his game. That’s when the fact tht Xavi Hernandez had to snap him out of his sloth in 2014, and he then overhauled his diet. His lethargy was one form of selfishness, doing what he wanted and almost forcing out Enrique as a result, and his goals are just the other side of the same coin. Predictable and selfish - it is no surprise that those of us in the know are of the opinion that Messi is counting down the days before he moves to somewhere more on his level, like Milan or Liverpool.
Finally, a note of recognition in the last column of the season. Xavi has been a wonderful footballer for a decade, and has revolutionised football almost as much as Manuel Neuer has. We should wish him luck as he moves to Qatar to continue his grand, leftist struggle that he has learned from the politically communal and socialist background of Barcelona the city, the environment of Catalonia, and the foreground of one of the richest clubs in the world, Barcelona the club. Solidarity, comrade.