The UEFA Champions League draw gods decided that Barcelona would not win this year’s tournament. It wouldn’t even make the final. Nobody is supposed to go through Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich and comes out unscathed.
And somehow, Barcelona has. It took on the very best of Europe and throttled them all. It gave the draw gods a giant middle finger.
The defending champions of England? Barca beat Manchester City, 3-1, and it was as easy as can be.
The defending champions of France? Barca had no problem, beating PSG 5-1 in a tie that was over before it even went back to Barcelona.
The defending champions of Germany? Barca crushed Bayern at home and jumped out to an early lead in Munich, making the final 5-3 scoreline look far too complimentary to the Bavarians.
Barcelona haven’t just taken on the best of Europe, it hasn’t had trouble dispatching a single one of them. Nobody’s finished within a goal The closest playoff, and the only once in which Barça was held under five goals, was its first one against Manchester City, one it never looked like the Catalans would lose. The team’s only lost one match in that run, and that was on Tuesday against Bayern Munich, when it jumped out to a 2-1 lead and 5-1 aggregate edge before packing it in and conceding a pair.
How are teams supposed to stop Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar? They’re not, and they can’t. Messi is the Champions League’s leading scorer and Neymar is tied for fourth. Suarez is way back in seventh place, but he was suspended for the start of the tournament, and an argument could be made that he’s been Barcelona’s best player in the knockout stages. It’s an unstoppable attacking triumvirate.
Meanwhile, Barcelona still employs the best defensive midfielder around in Sergio Busquets. It has a brilliant and underrated do-it-all midfielder in Ivan Rakitić, too. The leftover spot in the center goes to either Andrés Iniesta or Xavi Hernández, which, who the hell is that spoiled for choice?
Nobody would call Barcelona’s defense rock solid, but it’s better than people give them credit for, and it’s never not asked to do much. Teams can’t afford to throw numbers at them because Barça will kill them on the counter, and if they can beat the defense then Marc-Andreé Ter Stegen is there to save them.
Now Barcelona might get to finish off its massacre of champions by beating Juventus in the final. That would give them the scalps of the defending champions from four of Europe’s top five leagues. The only one it would have missed is Spain’s, but Barcelona are ahead of Atletico Madrid in La Liga, so that counts, too.
And if Juventus don’t make the final, Barcelona will face Real Madrid. That gives it one less league champion, but it would allow it to beat the defending Champions League winners. That’s not a bad scalp to have either.
No team has been challenged like Barcelona. All it’s gotten is the best that Europe can offer, and all it’s done is win. It’s not just the best team in the world and proving it, it’s making a case for the best Champions League run ever.