The blaugranas celebrate at the “Font de Canaletes” their first league title in the post-Messi era after winning the derby against Espanyol 2-4. Unlike other league triumphs, Barcelona conquered the regular tournament more due to its defensive solidity than to a great scoring record.
It was the year of the levers, the “1-0”, economic suffocation, off-field problems, and, most importantly, the second year without Leo Messi. There were grounds to expect a disaster, and some even predicted a transitional year, but Barcelona defied expectations by winning a league title that was unthinkable a year ago.
The league of defense
But Xavi’s FC Barcelona is not the same as the FC Barcelona of previous years. Guardiola, Vilanova, and Luis Enrique’s teams were among the most prolific scorers in history. Teams that crushed opponents with goals, even if the defence was sometimes hesitant or prone to errors. This was not the case for Xavi Hernandez’s Barcelona, who was present as the captain of those coaches’ ships.
Xavi has won the league from the back, courtesy to Europe’s best defensive quality and a massive Marc André Ter Stegen. The German goalkeeper has conceded only 13 goals in the domestic league and has been able to keep a clean sheet in 25 games. Staggering figures for the goalkeeper who will break the record of a Zamora in Spain: Jan Oblak conceded 18 goals in 38 games in the 2015/2016 season, just like Paco Liaño in 1993/1994.
While Ter Stegen deserves much of the credit, he is not the only one who has performed admirably from the back. The signings of Christensen and Koundé in the summer have added depth to a defence that was in desperate need of reinforcements, and they have proven to be exactly what Barça required. This, combined with the unexpected rise of Alejandro Balde from the academy, who has taken the left lane ahead of a Champions League winner like Jordi Alba. The absences in defence had the greatest impact on Barcelona in Europe, a team that looked better when they were healthy.
The goals of Lewandowski
Things have been a little different in terms of attack. Robert Lewandowski was one of Barcelona’s high aspirations at the start of the season, and while he is the league’s leading scorer, he hasn’t scored as much as predicted. The Polish striker has scored 20 goals, which is fewer than he was used to in Germany. Nonetheless, his adaptation phase has been positive, and more is expected of him as he adapts to the Barça style of play.
Another signing in the attacking zone was Raphinha. The Brazilian dazzled and showed great skill on the right wing. Dembelé was not missed, and he is one of the main reasons for that.
The league of farewells
More departures from Can Barça are yet to be confirmed, but two are already certain. One of them has already been completed, that of Gerard Piqué, who will add one more league title to his record before the World Cup. Sergio Busquets, who took over as captain after Piqué left the club, is the other. Two players who defined an era leave with one more league title, one to the Kings League and the other to a club where he can enjoy his final years of football with less pressure.