Catalonia was in panic mode this past month, as the shock departure of Neymar to PSG dealt a debilitating blow to a Barcelona squad that already wasn’t running at peak efficiency. For a fan base that has become accustomed to not just consistent success, but consistent domination, this was unacceptable, and without Neymar, a steeper drop appeared to be looming.
With a flawless start to La Liga play, however, and especially after today’s 3-0 takedown of fellow European giants Juventus, Barcelona have reminded everyone that they’re not only capable of transcendent soccer, but they continue to stand tall at the highest heights of the sport. Barcelona can still compete with and beat all but perhaps one club in the world.
The worrying at Camp Nou truly began when, in the Spanish Supercup that kicks off the domestic season, Real destroyed Barça by an aggregate score of 5-1 over the cup’s two legs. These defeats came in the immediate aftermath of Neymar’s record-breaking transfer, and the stark contrast between Barcelona and their chief rivals illuminated the two clubs’ growing gaps.
While Madrid look to be improving on the backs of up-and-coming stars like Isco and Marco Asensio and Casemiro and Mateo Kovačić and Dani Cavajal and Raphaël Varane (all 25 years old or younger), Barca’s core is still built around the steadily declining figures of those vintage squads that made up possibly the greatest team in history. Andrés Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Gerard Piqué, and even Lionel Messi are closer to the ends of their primes than the beginnings, and with Messi’s assumed heir, Neymar, leaving town against the club’s wishes, for the first time in this generation of unrivaled success the club had to seriously reckon with its own mortality.
But old and deteriorating or not, this team can still pull off some breath-taking shit:
Lionel Messi’s two goals today, plus the third that he created nearly by himself, were classic bits of his inimitable skill and finesse. Juventus had a fair number of chances that, had the Italians put them away when they came, could’ve altered the complexion of the match, but in the end Messi and Co. were too much to overcome. This win comes on the heels of three straight shutout victories for Barça as they’ve begun their La Liga campaign, and while said wins have all come against mid-tier sides, an overall scoreline of 12-0 to start the year is nothing to scoff at.
From a Barcelona perspective, this offseason was a catastrophe of unrivaled proportions, but an important truth was lost in the hysterics: This team, though clearly less talented than they would’ve been had they kept Neymar, is still outrageously good, and one of the best in the world.
Barcelona will be great this year, and on paper they still have a squad unrivaled by any other save that of their hated foes in Spain’s capital. Having Messi means Barça will always have a chance to win everything, and they’ve demonstrated as much this year by running out to an early lead atop the league table and, most impressively, by smashing up on Juve today.
The club’s future is still cloudy, and under savvier leadership this team would almost certainly be closer to its goals. However, as long as Messi is still Messi, Barça’s present remains incredibly bright. There will be more than enough time to worry about what comes next after Leo is no longer around to single-handedly save the day. Until then, they should savor what they’ve got.