Barcelona follow familiar route towards treble
31 May 2015, 17:37
Barcelona - Another majestic performance from Lionel Messi put Barcelona on the brink of becoming the first team ever to win the treble twice as they put Athletic Bilbao to the sword 3-1 in the Copa del Rey final.
Like so much of this season for Barca, Saturday's final was a flashback to the 2008/09 campaign when the Catalans claimed league, Cup and Champions League in the same season for the first time.
Athletic were also their victims in the Cup final back then, whilst English, French and German opposition were swept aside on their route to the Champions League final.
Six years ago Pep Guardiola's men travelled to the Italian capital to complete the job against Manchester United, next weekend it is the Italian champions that lie in wait in Berlin as Juventus try to stop a side with frightening momentum.
Recreating the glorious 14-trophy haul during Guardiola's four years in charge was what the club had in mind when they hired Luis Enrique 12 months ago after a first trophyless season in six years.
As well as being a former teammate of Guardiola, Enrique succeeded his friend as Barca B coach to start his managerial career and was well aware of the demands at the club having captained Barca in a eight-year playing career between 1996 and 2004.
However, just as with Guardiola's sides, the catalyst on the pitch has been Messi with the addition of two world class strikers in Neymar and Luis Suarez allowing him the extra freedom needed to be even more deadly.
The Argentine struck twice, including a sensational individual effort to open the scoring, against Athletic either side of Neymar's tap in to take the star South American trio's tally for the season to a whopping 120 goals.
Tellingly, the two times Barca won the Champions League under Guardiola, Messi was well-supported when it came to goalscoring.
Messi, Samuel Eto'o and Thierry Henry netted a hitherto record 100 goals in the treble winning campaign, whilst Pedro and David Villa added 45 to Messi's 53 in 2010/11.
However, with Xavi and Andres Iniesta less of an influence than they were in those sides, the pace and aggression of Neymar and Suarez has also offered a more direct route that makes this Barca team arguably even tougher to stop.
"At the end of the day what makes teams great is titles. You can play incredibly well and have millions of resources but if in the trophy cabinet you don't have cups then it doesn't mean anything," said defender Gerard Pique, who was also a part of the treble-winning squad.
"If at the end you are able to win, not the quantity of trophies we won with Pep, but an important number, then we can compare the two teams.
"Now I think we have more options. We know how to play on the counter-attack, which with Pep we didn't exploit so much. Perhaps we don't have the control of the game we did then, but that doesn't guarantee you win more because this year we have won more than ever.
"They are similar teams with subtle differences. The change of coach and because the players have more experience. It is a more mature team and knows how to come through difficult situations. Experience allows you to overcome bad moments in a game."
Adversity has been an important part of the season.
Having left Messi and Neymar on the bench for a 1-0 defeat at Real Sociedad to begin 2015, Enrique looked on the verge of the sack with the club descending into institutional crisis as sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta was dismissed and club presidential elections called for the end of the season in the same week.
Since then they have suffered one material defeat in 34 matches to seal a sixth league and Cup double and to within one game of matching the best season in the club's storied 115-year history.
For the latest on national news, politics, sport, entertainment and more follow us on Twitter and like our Facebook page!