5 incidents that turned Barcelona's season around
As the dust begins to settle on the past weekend’s proceedings, Barcelona can sit back and bask in the glory of a job well done. Just five short months ago it seemed that the world had caved in for the Catalans. Luis Enrique, after utilising 29 different starting XIs and continuous rotations, went to the Anoeta Stadium and lost. Rumours were rife of a huge dressing room bust-up with Lionel Messi and, for all intents and purposes, the end was nigh. The axe was indeed about to fall.
Real Madrid and Carlo Ancelotti were having no such troubles. 22 wins on the bounce and a Club World Cup in the back pocket – it was a very happy Christmas indeed in the Spanish Capital.
But then something changed. Los Blancos got tired, and Enrique tired of chopping and changing.
Barca began to build up a head of steam to rival anything that Real had managed in the first half of the campaign. A mixture of momentum, a fabulous defence and a razor sharp attack would eventually bring its reward. But when the Blaugrana look back over the course of the 2014/15 season, what were the turning points? Those moments that enabled the team to kick on to an eventual 23rd La Liga title with the opportunity of a treble if they remain focused?
1) Benching Gerard Pique
Quite whether the posturing from Gerard Pique in the very early stages of the season were designed to test Luis Enrique’s resolve and authority is unclear, but the central defender was extremely ill-advised to take the manager to task. Lucho manages as he played – with his heart on his sleeve. No nonsense; someone who doesn’t suffer fools gladly.
Pique has been known to be a little foolish before now and the day he decided to take Enrique on was his biggest mistake. Pictures of him warming the bench against Levante really brought his situation into sharp focus. And the look on his face told everyone that Enrique had won the battle.
Thereafter, step forward a rejuvenated Pique who, across the season, has been up there with the best players on show. Game changer.
2) Luis Enrique’s Real Sociedad selection
Perhaps the one single moment that encompasses the change in Barcelona’s season was the first game of the new year – a trip to the Anoeta Stadium and a date with Real Sociedad. The Basque side were buoyant from the arrival of new man in charge, David Moyes. Inexplicably, Lionel Messi and Neymar were left on the bench and their introduction at half time came far too late to save a game that although was just 0-1, was well out of Barca’s grasp with the hosts in command throughout.
The result meant that Enrique would feel a media and player backlash like never before, and it finally convinced him to stop tinkering. It was the last time for quite a while where he would rotate his starting XI, and having a settled side seemed to be the catalyst for Barca to progress.
3) Breaking the Atletico Madrid hoodoo
Just a week after the Sociedad debacle, Barca would host Atletico Madrid for the first of three games against the Rojiblancos in 17 days. The first assignment would be a league match and all forms of local media were agreed that if the Catalans were to lose this one then there would be no question that Enrique would be replaced.
Given that in six meetings during the previous season Barcelona had spectacularly failed to beat Diego Simeone’s side, this was always going to be a tall order. Not for the first, or last, time Messi, Suarez and Neymar would all get on the score sheet and Barca’s superb showing saved Enrique’s skin. It’s not an exaggeration to suggest that his job really was on the line had Barca not triumphed at the Camp Nou.
Four wins followed, each without a goal being conceded, and one of which was again versus Atleti, this time in the Copa del Rey. When Barca then went to the Vicente Calderon and won again, the green shoots of recovery were well and truly blossoming.