Deep within Spain, two giants of football are licking their wounds from massive Champions League disappointments. With 99.9% of the world predicting an El Clasico final in this year’s Champions League, there is certainly an air of disappointment for both clubs. Real will take heart in knowing that they are about to finally snag their 32nd league title, and, in doing so, will prevent Barcelona from bringing the gap in title totals to within 10. Madrid won’t be able to solidify the changing of the guard by getting the Champions League trophy this season, but, with Pep Guardiola’s announcement on Friday that he will be departing in the summer, we have to ask if the balance of power in Spain (and perhaps in Europe) is about to shift to the Bernabeu.
Guardiola’s announcement comes on the backside of one of the most disappointing stretches in recent Barcelona history. Although, getting to the Champions League semi’s, being second in the league, and being in the Copa del Rey final, doesn’t seem like much of a disappointment for any team, for the quality and the recent performance of Barcelona, it truly is a disappointing season. Pep had led Barca to three straight Spanish league trophies, two Champions League titles, and numerous other cups since his tenure began in the ’08-’09 season, so the gap that he leaves (even with his assistant taking over) could be immeasurable. Although their squad may remain mostly unchanged in the offseason, the loss of the only coach to seem on the level of the Sir Alex’s and Jose Mourinho’s could solidify the recent shift. Guardiola has certainly seen Barcelona through one of the greatest stretches in the story of football. If there was a record of how many times this Barcelona squad had been referred to as the best all-time team, I’m sure it would be a massive number.
Real’s struggles within the shadow of their hated rival have been extremely well documented. With the arrival of Mourinho and many, many high-profile signings, the expectations have been at an all-time high for the Madrid club. Although there won’t be a 10th Champions League trophy entering into Real’s trophy cabinet this year, the victory in the league will certainly encourage supporters and players alike, especially with the way they ended up snagging the league. IF Madrid had not had to beat Barcelona to truly walk away with the title, there would have been rumblings and doubts coming from every angle. Luckily, the point stretch in the April match-up between Real and Barcelona provided the perfect situation for Madrid. The victory over Barcelona AT the Camp Nou made sure that no one will doubt that Madrid truly EARNED and won this title.
The future for Real seems very bright, and Barcelona’s future seems a bit cloudy. There is young talent in both camps, but Barcelona definitely have some key players staring old-age in the face. The midfield fulcrum that has been (and probably will continue to be) on the Ballon D’Or shortlist, Xavi, is now thirty-two years old. Now, Barcelona definitely has some younger talent on the squad, but the loss of Xavi is something that can’t even be measured. Will Fabregas be able to properly replace the midfield maestro? I don’t know if Fabregas has the patience of Xavi because Cesc has a definite propensity for getting into the box, but he certainly has massive shoes to fill. We also see Carles Puyol two years OLDER than Xavi in a position where speed is becoming more and more important. Gerard Pique is a great central defender for Barca, and Mascherano has really become a dependable option over this last season, but the loss of Puyol seems to also be one that there will be difficulty measuring.
Barcelona has also been in the mix of a plethora of transfer rumors this season. Nearly every player that is entering into their thirties (with the exception of Puyol and Xavi) has been involved in a transfer rumor of some kind. Players like David Villa and Seydou Keita have been involved all season long with transfer rumors, and both have even been linked to Premier League clubs at some point during the season. They have also seen Victor Valdes look more and more out of his depth when he has started against good teams in the Champions League. With another Spanish keeper that has proven himself for years possibly looking for greener pastures in Liverpool’s Pepe Reina, this may be a great step towards solidifying a defense that has had some issues in Europe this season.
Real have many players on the older side of things, but Mourinho has so many options at every position that any one player leaving would never have the same impact as losing Xavi or Puyol. Most of their core are rumored to return, but even their older players play a style that shouldn’t change too much with their age. Xabier Alonso never pushes too far forward and prefers to play most of his passes from deep, he also hasn’t ever been an overly physical presence, so his career doesn’t seem in much doubt as his age advances. Ricardo Carvalho is easily the oldest player on the squad, but his appearances have been so reduced this season that his advancing age isn’t very concerning. Casillas is also entering into his thirties, but for goalkeepers, their thirties usually tend to contain the best years of their careers.
The exit of Guardiola has set the stage for a fantastic transfer window and a great season in the fall. You have to wonder how much money the new Barcelona manager will be trusted with, especially since Real’s higher ups will want to make sure that they can make the push from semi-final in the CL to the final. They have already shown a major trust in Mourinho, and there is little doubt that he will have some serious financial backing entering into the summer to ensure that Real remain the top dog in Spain and Europe for years to come.
Will next season see Barcelona once again asserting the world dominance that they have produced for the past few seasons under Pep? Or will Mourinho’s Real take another step in their path towards restoring Madrid’s once constant spot at the top of the World footballing food chain? Has the power actually shifted?