Previous
Real Madrid
Atletico Madrid
(5) 1
(3) 1
FT-Pens
Game Details
United States
Bolivia
4
0
FT
Game Details
Mexico
Paraguay
1
0
FT
Game Details
Switzerland
Belgium
1
2
FT
Game Details
New York Red Bulls
Toronto FC
3
0
FT
Game Details
New England Revolution
Seattle Sounders FC
2
1
FT
Game Details
Montreal Impact
LA Galaxy
3
2
FT
Game Details
Chicago Fire
Portland Timbers
1
1
FT
Game Details
Hull City
Sheffield Wednesday
1
0
FT
Game Details
Next

Can Atletico exact revenge on Real?

50-50 Challenge
Read

Barcelona's drive makes the unmentioned 'double treble' possible

The ESPN FC panel share their thoughts on how Arsenal can limit Barcelona's chances and make the most of theirs on Tuesday.

Nobody at the Camp Nou will encourage you to speak or speculate about the "Double Treble."

At the head of this Barcelona squad is a guy in Luis Enrique, whose staff includes a sports psychologist called Joaquin Valdes, who helps the manager prepare him for pre- and post-match press conferences so that the right phrases are used and the right tone set -- so that traps are avoided.

"Lucho" won't play ball if you ask him about the motivational effect that the prospect of winning La Liga, the Champions League and Copa del Rey is having. But it's something that exists, consciously and subconsciously, across every single key member of his squad.

Barcelona, who play the first leg of the Champions League Round of 16 at Arsenal on Tuesday, have enjoyed a Pavlovian relationship with the tournament for the longest time.

(No, not the raspberry-meringue confection you might get at Christmas.)

Pavlov and his dogs: If you keep them hungry and always ring the bell just before you feed them, then they'll always leap out, eager and salivating whenever they hear that bell.

Thus it is with Barcelona's players when they hear that Champions League anthem. They know, intimately, the professional satisfaction, wealth, acclaim and sporting joy associated with winning this tournament.

It's now innate and means they come out snarling whenever they hear that pre-match music; any other cares, weariness, lack of form usually melt away.

On its own, it's not sufficient but, when added to the almost unprecedented footballing excellence that exists at the Camp Nou, it's a powerful ally.

Luis Enrique has, at his disposal, a potent mix of motivation when he looks around his footballers.

In one camp there's Gerard Pique, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Dani Alves and perhaps most importantly: Lionel Messi.

For one reason or another -- never mind becoming the first team to successfully defend this title and the first in history to win consecutive Trebles -- the Champions League drives them like a whip to the rear of a high-class racehorse.

These are players who, pretty much, have achieved it all. In such circumstances, that can either sate a competitor's hunger or leave him ravenous: Two polar opposite reactions.

It's the latter with this bunch.

Heading into Tuesday's game against Arsenal, Barcelona are unbeaten in 32 games in all competitions.

Pique is openly motivated, not only by setting new marks in football history, but also because he enjoys the ebb and flow of needling some Madridistas.

If that's how you choose to live, then defeat brings a heavy bill and, thus, defeat is something you work your socks off to avoid.

Pique has been the world's best in his position for many months and, if the data tracker that he and his teammates wear in training, showed last week that the central defender was in danger of running himself into the ground then it is little wonder Luis Enrique rested him for Saturday's 2-1 victory at Las Palmas.

"What's missing in my life is winning more. I'm 28 and I love winning," said Pique ahead of the FIFA Club World Cup last December. "Two or three years ago I was playing because 'that's what I did'. Right now it's different, I've never loved football more than I do right now. When I was younger I was toying with the idea of stopping playing around 30, but I want to go on until I'm at least 35.

Pique then explained how he has adapted off the field.

"I've deliberately incorporated habits which will help me improve and to enjoy my football all the more," he said. "Once I might have arrived at the training session just in time; now I'm in the dressing room an hour early. I eat better, I sleep more, I've dumped the habits of four or five years ago when you're young and don't think about such things. But if you want to keep winning then you have to."

In the past week, Pique has admitted that he'd prefer to avoid any more public controversy, such as social media spats or being dragged into the debate over Catalan independence, because: "Now I'm focused on winning another treble."

Iniesta, with another lift of this trophy, would come within touching distance of the all-time European Cup record of six, held by Paco Gento. That matters.

Alves and Busquets constantly feel the sting of under-recognition and legitimately so. For whatever reason, both men are too little recognised for their fundamental contribution to the most dominant football of modern times -- too often called out for peripheral habits or flaws -- and it spurs each of them on to taunt their doubters.

Messi? Like a shark must keep moving or drown, he's driven by an inherent need to play.

And if he plays he must win.

There have been others, whose will-to-win might equal that of Messi, but precious few from whom that "need" didn't extract some sort of payback in their character: Being born with an absolute internal drive to compete and win often inflicts complications on a footballer's life.

Not Messi. It's rare to find an all-time elite winner, whose life is so uncluttered. Because of that, he has more time to fixate on how to keep winning.

There was a spell, about two years ago, when he admits that off the pitch issues and a decline in Barcelona's absolute elite cutting edge left him a little discouraged and thrown off-centre.

No longer. Messi has never been happier in his sporting or personal life.

If it is the case that he's not going to equal Diego Maradona's World Cup win for Argentina, the Champions League remains the competition that he can use to measure against his fellow countryman's achievement. Particularly if he can continue to dominate it.

The other sections of Luis Enrique's squad are driven in different ways.

Neymar and Luis Suarez covet success and world excellence. Neither of them has nearly 30 trophies to their name -- like Pique, Iniesta or Messi -- but it's what they desire.

Before agreeing to leave Liverpool for Barcelona in 2014, the Uruguayan needed to be certain that, at the Camp Nou, he'd be regularly in line to win the Champions League, as he recently admitted in an interview with Jamie Carragher.

Ivan Rakitic, for his part, once told me that the instant he lifted the Europa League trophy as Sevilla captain he immediately knew that what he absolutely had to do was "lift its big brother" -- the European Cup -- as soon as possible.

It's no coincidence he won those trophies in back-to-back seasons after a superb performance in one final and an opening goal in the other; the Croat isn't just talented, he's driven.

Then there's Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

The German, for 23, is exceptional. A high-class goalkeeper full stop, his sweeper-keeper qualities match anyone, Manuel Neuer included.

Ter Stegen is openly miffed that his qualities haven't earned him No. 1 status with Barcelona in all competitions and his only way of working through that frustration is by producing excellence whenever he plays.

Then there are the newbies who, while respectful, are jealous of what went before them. Only recently Arda Turan said: "Winning a second straight treble will be difficult and that's obvious because no team has ever achieved it. But this Barcelona, we are capable of doing it".

Barcelona are not invincible. Not by any means. Nor are they at their most electric right now, owing to reasons that include an excessive match load and a great deal of recent travel, as well as the efficacy which some Spanish teams have found in pressing them high up the pitch.

If the watching world is able to analyse potential weaknesses with such precision then Arsene Wenger's scouting work can surely do so just as effectively.

But even if Arsenal get on top of this Round of 16 tie, how can they stem the power and "extra" desire that flows through this group of supreme Barcelona competitors? That's an altogether different question.

Graham Hunter covers Spain for ESPN FC and Sky Sports. Author of "Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World." Twitter: @BumperGraham.

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.