Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Will Barca 2006-7 be better than Barca 2005-2006?

In terms of success, they probably won't.

It's hard to imagine a better year than 2005-2006 for futbol club Barcelona. In the last ten years, only three teams have won European and Domestic leagues in the same season: Porto (2003), Bayern Munich (2001), and Manchester United (1999). No Spanish team has done it since Barcelona won in 1992.

The German and Portuguese leagues are hardly as competitive as the Spanish. Mourinho did amazing things with Porto, but they didn't have to compete every week against the likes of Valencia, Real Madrid, et al to bring home the domestic title. What's more, they only had to beat Deportivo and Monaco win the Champions League. Only the 1999 Manchester United run can compare with last year's Barcelona triumph.

In terms of pure power, Barca's even better than last year. Zambrotta will likely take the spot of Oleguer in the starting eleven. If you watched matches against Arsenal and Chelsea last year, both English sides exploited Oleguer mercilessly. There will be no such exploitation of Zambrotta. Thuram might have been the player of the world cup. Zidane had two great games against Spain and Brazil, but Thuram was dominant throughout. If he can produce anywhere near the level he did in the last world cup, he'll be a huge addition, freeing Marquez up to play as a defensive midfielder, and providing further depth in the back at every position. Now, Barcelona can afford to lose a player or two to injury at every position and not miss a beat.

The only exception might be center forward. After Eto'o, there isn't the same power up front. Messi, Giuly, Ronaldinho, Gudjohnsen -- none is a pure center forward. If Eto'o gets hurt or struggles, Barcelona does not have a back-up at his level.

Emotionally, it's almost impossible to maintain motivation when the only thing you have to aim for is further dominance. All year, other teams will come at Barcelona hard. After seeing some mediocre performances from the stars in the world cup, other teams might be smelling blood.

The talent is there, in spades. The question is whether Barcelona can sustain the energy level sufficient to repeat as either Spanish League or European Champions. It is no small task. If they do, Frank Rijkaard deserves to be considered among the elite coaches in the world.

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