It would be easy to overlook the year Barcelona had, given the fact that their biggest rival just took home a third consecutive Champions League trophy, so let’s take the hard way.
Back in August Barcelona were a mess. The club had the anointed heir to the Messi throne, Neymar, stolen in broad daylight by PSG. They could not get a deal for Liverpool’s Coutinho done before transfer deadline and new boss Ernesto Valverde must have had at least one second thought about what he’d gotten into. Barcelona is not a football blub used to being pushed around… especially not by a French club. But there they were looking their biggest rivals in the face for a two-legged Spanish Super Cup tie.
It did not go well. Real Madrid swept aside the Blaugranes with a combined 5 to 1 score line and their manager was on the hot seat before the league season began. The rest, however, went well and that is due one of the best managerial performances in quite some time as Valverde went back to basics and turned his Barca side into one that was practically impossible to beat.
His tactics were spot on and to his credit the players took his instructions on without a whimper as they proceeded to carve up La Liga week by week. Without Neymar the Barcelona attack was unbalanced so Valverde switched to a good old fashioned 4-4-2 formation with Saurez and Messi leading the line. This proved to be a masterful move by an insightful manager who understood how easy it would have been for his side to capitulate to the pressure. Instead, he rallied the troops from that early season Real Madrid drubbing, and went on the capture the La Liga crown with plenty to spare.
To be honest this Barcelona side did not play particularly exciting football, but given the circumstances of a bad summer transfer window, it should not have been expected. His bosses completely misread the Neymar situation from the beginning and screwed the team as a result of their arrogance. End the end Valverde kept his cool, not easy in that Barca media bubble, and Barcelona lifted the league trophy while losing only one La Liga match all season.
It will be interesting to see what Barcelona do in the summer transfer window. The notion of another year of 4-4-2 football is not acceptable at Barca but with Coutinho fully embedded and a year under his belt at the helm Valverde will have more up his sleeve come La Liga kickoff in the late summer. Additionally, they will surely be focused on Champions League in the coming year as the only shadow cast on this season was from those men in white lifting a third consecutive Champions League trophy albeit while finishing third to Valverde’s Barcelona.