Barcelona need total team effort in their pursuit of history
Although it would have been unthinkable to even consider Barcelona to be in such a privileged position a mere two years ago, the Catalan giants are currently on a record 34-game unbeaten run and certainly on track to win the first back-to-back Treble.
Results so far could not have been much better, to be honest. Domestically the Blaugranas are leading La Liga with an eight-point advantage over Atletico Madrid and a whopping 12 points over historical rivals Real Madrid. Although there are still another 12 matches to be played, it is really difficult to see this on-form, ambitious group of Barca players losing three matches before the end of the season and therefore allowing their unique opportunity to retain the title to slip through their hands.
The stellar performances that Lionel Messi and co. have delivered in recent times have Cules dreaming of another golden domestic league return. While the record 100 points achieved by Tito Vilanova's side back in 2012-13 seemed untouchable at the time, the current squad would actually make it a jaw-dropping 102 if they managed to win every game until the end of the season.
Easier said than done, of course, but definitely not an impossible dream if Luis Enrique's men make it the main target on their priority list. With 21 wins, three draws and only two losses to this point, however, there is certainly reason to believe another historical collective record coulg be about to fall.
Not satisfied with that, Barca have also reached the final of the Copa del Rey and are only 90 minutes away from retaining the title -- as long as they manage to overcome the difficult challenge that Sevilla will pose, of course.
Barca have also been unstoppable in the Champions League. After the team topped Group E with an eight-point cushion over second-placed Roma after just six matches and earning a vital 2-0 away win at Arsenal's Emirates Stadium in the first leg of the round of 16, there haven't been many pundits betting against the current European champions hoisting the big-eared trophy consecutively for the first time in history.
But it is worth highlighting that Barca's recent victories have not merely come after overwhelming goal-fests against resigned opposition whose players are eagerly awaiting for the final whistle in the hope of getting Messi's autograph -- far from it in fact.
Barca have been forced to dig deep to come back from behind in a significant nine occasions since the ball started rolling in official competition in late August. Perhaps more worryingly, the Catalans have actually conceded first in front of their home crowd up to seven times since the beginning of the season.
The Blaugranas' back line has failed to remain consistent defensively far too often, particularly in the early stages, in what is a worrying tendency that must be addressed as a matter of urgency. With teams such as Bayer Leverkusen, Espanyol, Rayo Vallecano and even Eibar having opened the scoring at the Camp Nou this season, it is obvious why manager Luis Enrique continues to insist on his defensive players being fully focused from the initial whistle regardless of the opponent. Whether the manager's insistence has the desired effect is yet to be seen, however.
There's no two ways about it: Success will be achieved only if every member of the team understands his role to perfection and delivers outstanding performances week in, week out. While it is true that the brilliance of Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez has enabled Barca to break countless rivals' defensive systems, the many vital saves made by goalkeepers Claudio Bravo and Marc Andre ter Stegen are equally important. Sure, the duo are fully aware that they might only rarely, if ever, get their name on the headlines, but that does not affect their performances one bit -- which is exactly the reason behind this team's admirable success.
Despite having many world-class stars at his disposal, Luis Enrique is going to need every player to be at his best from this point onward. Nonregulars such as Jeremy Mathieu, Thomas Vermaelen or newcomers such as Arda Turan or Aleix Vidal could very well have to step up and take an even more prominent role in the next few weeks, especially in the event of unwanted injuries. While it is clear they have found it hard to break into the manager's preferred XI so far, they must be both mentally and physically ready to make an impact if needed.
Everyone in world football knows that titles are won or lost in the last third of the season and, from now on, every single play in every game left could make the difference between historical success or a disappointing failure that, let's be honest, not many expect in Catalunya. Sure, the stakes are mightily high, but the current team have more than enough quality to fulfil their ambitious targets if they can avoid unnecessary distraction such as complacency or uncontrolled euphoria.
Although having a five-time Ballon d'Or winner, a former Golden Boot-winning striker and the most promising attacking talent in the game all partnering to form the most effective attacking trident in football history certainly helps, their mere presence cannot be understood as an automatic entitlement for success.