Opinion

Andres Iniesta, the spiritual leader behind Barca's success

Andres Iniesta, the spiritual leader behind Barca's success
Andres Iniesta, the spiritual leader behind Barca's success
While Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar continued to attract the vast majority of media attention thanks to their unparalleled goalscoring ability, the...

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While Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar continued to attract the vast majority of media attention thanks to their unparalleled goalscoring ability, the contribution of eternal captain Andres Iniesta should not be overlooked.

The 2016 Copa del Rey final ended with a 2-0 win for Barcelona over Sevilla. It was the fourth trophy of the season for Barcelona and gave them the double of the Copa del Rey and La Liga championships. Nevertheless, the 120 minute roller coaster of the Copa del Rey final may be the best way to sum up Barcelona’s 2015/16 season.

It may not have been pretty, but Barcelona came out victorious, as they often were this campaign. Sevilla’s defensive shape from the start stifled Barcelona’s ability to put multiple passes together to create much offensive continuity. Sevilla had a few moments as well going in the other direction, and while they didn’t get a goal in the first half, they did cost the men from Catalunya a man. Javier Mascherano pulling down Kevin Gameiro, a target for Barcelona in the upcoming transfer window, resulted in a straight red card due to Gameiro having a clear goal-scoring opportunity.

Sevilla took the upper hand in the second half with the extra man, with Ever Banega looking especially dangerous as a deep-lying midfielder. Having beaten Liverpool for the Europa League title midweek, their third straight in the competition, the Andalusians looked full of confidence and Coke was one or two moments away from glory yet again. 

Somehow, Barcelona found a way to weather the second half storm and with the match spiraling towards extra time, Banega found himself deeper than he wanted to be and in a foot race with Neymar. Barreling down on net, Banega cut the Brazilian down with a slide tackle that earned him a straight red as well.

As extra time began, it was apparent that Luis Enrique’s decisions were beginning to pay off. Needing to remove Ivan Rakitic after the red card to Mascherano for Jeremy Mathieu and replacing an injured Luis Suarez with Rafinha were surely difficult choices, but necessary choices nonetheless. 

For all the offensive accolades of the front three, the final title of the season came down to Barcelona’s defensive fortitude. Much to the pleasure of Spanish national team manager Vicente del Bosque, Gerard Pique is rounding into exceptional form right before Euro 2016.

Jeremy Mathieu rushed himself back from injury to play not only in the Euros, but particularly for Barcelona in case they needed him. Mathieu’s inclusion into the game for Mascherano at the expense of Rakitic allowed Barcelona to keep its shape so that Jordi Alba and Dani Alves could continue to hold the ball up the flanks and assist in the attack.

Jordi Alba was able to do just that, as Sevilla were down to ten, and the magical Lionel Messi lofted a pass behind the defense for the Spanish left back to finish with just one touch. As he did in last year’s Champions League final, Neymar added the exclamation point in the waning moments to give his team the trophy.

This season may be remembered for Luis Suarez tearing through La Liga, winning both the Pichichi Trophy and the European Golden Shoe after 40 goals in the league and 59 in all competitions. The season may be remembered for Messi’s injury in the fall and way the squad answered with an unbeaten record of 39 consecutive matches. 

The season may also be remembered for the dip in form at the wrong time that led to Luis Enrique and his group being knocked out of the quarterfinals of the Champions League by Atletico Madrid. However, focusing on the negatives after Barca conquered a domestic double would be unreasonable. For all the highs and lows of the season, one thing that should not be forgotten is the consistency of excellence at the Camp Nou. 

The man of the match of the Copa del Rey, club captain Andres Iniesta, may actually be the best representative for this Barcelona campaign. Champions League trophy aside, Barcelona dominated for much of the season and Iniesta’s quiet consistency and ingenuity further helped second-year manager Luis Enrique transform a squad that is always criticized for being devoid of ideas if their patent “tiki-taka” isn’t working. 

Against Sevilla, especially when down a man, Iniesta found ways to retain possession and did his best to find the pockets of space in the defense for Neymar and Messi to exploit. He was fouled a few times, carded for dissent and didn’t pick up an assist, but Barcelona went as he went. His astute ball-possession and passing finally wore down Sevilla, and his team were able to capitalize in extra time. 

Much like Xavi Hernandez before him, the 32-year-old Spanish midfielder is the heart and soul of a Barcelona team that boasts unprecedented attacking riches. The La Masia graduate carries Barca DNA in his boots and, as a result, his privileged mastermind is capable of threading the best footballing ideas despite being surrounded by world-class talent.

The attacking MSN trident have shown that they can score goals at an historic rate and take Barcelona to a Champions League trophy. Yet, even in a season when the ultimate prize eluded them, it was the tried and true Andres Iniesta who helped Barcelona win back-to-back La Liga and Copa del Rey titles, along with the FIFA Club World Cup and the UEFA Super Cup.

Gracias por todo, Don Andres!

By Dan Hilton, columnist at Barcablog. Follow him on Twitter @HiltonD13