After watching Barcelona completely outplay Arsenal in the 2nd leg of their Champions League tie, former player and manager Graham Souness said that their performance reaffirmed his belief that this Barcelona side is the greatest team of all time. It’s a bold statement to make but it may not be far away from the truth at all.
Last night’s game will unfortunately be remembered for a ridiculous decision made by Swiss referee Massimo Busacca rather than Barcelona’s masterclass. Arsenal forward Robin Van Persie was shown a second yellow for going through with his shot after the referee had blown for offside. The Dutchman undoubtedly couldn’t hear the whistle due to the cauldron of noise inside the Nou Camp and things were made worse when replays showed that he took his shot only a second after the referee’s whistle went. However, people should not forget that Van Persie’s stupidity of throwing a hand into the face of Dani Alves led to his first yellow card. It was a petulant a thing to do and the forward should remember that.
While everyone associated with Arsenal will certainly feel a sense of injustice, they will soon realise that even if Van Persie had stayed on the pitch, it wouldn’t have altered the result. If they persist with the belief that were robbed by the referee’s decision then they need to come back down to Planet Earth! Even before the sending off, Arsenal were clinging on and were only level due to an own goal by Sergio Busquets. Who’s to say that Barcelona wouldn’t have continued to dominate the game and gone on to win against 11 men?
The hardest thing for Arsenal and their fans to accept will be that were beaten by a team which plays the same style of football as them…just better. After last night’s encounter, the tag ‘Barcelona lite’ still remains and rightly so. The Catalan giants made an excellent Arsenal side look very ordinary and showed everyone that they have the potential to reign European football for years to come. As the old cliché goes, stats don’t lie. Barcelona had 19 shots to Arsenal’s none, 67% of possession and made an incredible 724 passes while the North London side made just 119. The fact that Arsenal couldn’t muster an attempt on goal even before they were reduced to ten men shows that people who say the decision affected the game are treading on water. Had it not been for Barcelona’s wastefulness in the second half and their desire to score the ‘perfect goal,’ the scoreline would have been embarrassing for Arsenal.
So the question to be asked is, ‘is this Barcelona team the greatest ever?’ Does Pep Guardiola’s side who have won eight trophies in their past three seasons (including this one) match the likes of the Brazil side at the 1970 World Cup and the Real Madrid side that won five consecutive European Cups between 1956 and 1960? What about the Hungary side of the 1950s and the 1984 Liverpool side that won the treble? As usual, it’s hard to compare teams from different eras. Was the level of competition when Real Madrid won their five European Cups at the same level as it is today; probably not? How would the 1970 Brazil side fare against the current Barcelona team; no one knows. There are so many questions to be asked.
However, it is evident that this Barcelona side is very special and has the potential to be considered the best side ever if it isn’t so already. Obviously they are graced with individual talents; Messi, Iniesta, Xavi and David Villa to name a few, but it’s their playing philosophy which makes them such a great side. They play a simple passing game ‘tiki-taka’ and are without doubt the best team in the world at keeping the ball. Skysports pundit Jamie Redknapp pointed out after the game that the players look disgusted with themselves when they lose possession; it’s almost as if they consider it to be a crime. What makes them such a daunting prospect is that they are as equally good off the ball as they are when in possession. They are relentless in closing down the opposition and they won’t stop until they have the ball back at their feet. It’s this level of work-rate that probably separates them from the great sides of the past.
Last night, it was frightening to see how Barcelona walked over a team that is fighting with Manchester United for the English title. A couple of years ago, English sides dominated the Champions League but it seems Barcelona are now a step above everyone else. As time goes on, this side could not only go down as the greatest football team ever but one of the finest in sporting history.