Tiki-taka maestros living off past successes as Barcelona still dominate Bayern Munich in team of the year despite the Germans' treble-winning season.
When Bayern Munich obliterated Barcelona 7-0 on aggregate in the 2012/13 Champions League semi-finals, and then went on to win the treble, you could have been forgiven for thinking Die Roten had usurped the Blaugrana as Europe’s premier club.
But when the FIFPro team of 2013 was announced at yesterday’s FIFA Ballon d’Or, it was the Catalan side that still dominated with four representatives to the Bavarians’ three.
The rest of the team was made up of Paris Saint-Germain duo Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva plus Real Madrid pair Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos.
While this is still a downturn for Barcelona who had five representatives in both 2011 and 2012, it still shows that the reputation of the club has gone relatively untarnished by their Champions League humiliation in the spring.
Bayern were truly indomitable in claiming the treble under Jupp Heynckes last season, and the arrival of former Barcelona chief Pep Guardiola at the Allianz Arena has seen them go from strength to strength, cruising into the Champions League last 16 and sitting seven points clear at the top of the Bundesliga.
Arjen Robben, Thomas Muller, Dante, Bastian Schweinsteiger, David Alaba, Mario Mandzukic and Javi Martinez can all count themselves unfortunate not to have made the team of the year after their pivotal roles in Bayern’s brilliance.
Muller contributed three goals and Robben two as the team then managed by Tito Vilanova were brutally exposed by the powerful German outfit over both legs of the tie last spring.
But while Bayern came to the fore in 2013 after the near misses of the 2010 and 2012 Champions League finals, Barcelona still have plenty of credit left in the bank from not only their 2006, 2009 and 2011 Champions League triumphs but also Spain’s dominance on the international scene.
It is fair to say that Lionel Messi’s continuing brilliance despite a couple of injuries and Dani Alves’ key role in Brazil’s Confederations Cup triumph, the year’s biggest international tournament, warranted their place in the side.
But while they undoubtedly played a role in Barca’s 2013 La Liga triumph and are still central as Tata Martino’s men lead the way on the domestic front this campaign, Xavi and Iniesta’s inclusion could be more based on their established reputation than their actual performances in 2013.
The duo have become synonymous not only with each other but also with tiki-taka football since Spain’s Euro 2008 triumph and were the two standout performers as Spain claimed the World Cup in 2010 and retained the European Championship in 2012.
This brilliance has made them a shoo-in to any kind of ‘best players in the world’ compilation now but if you look at the impact on the calendar year of 2013, surely several of the Bayern players, and even Borussia Dortmund stars such as Marco Reus and Ilkay Gundogan, have made more of an impression.
It is foolish to suggest that the votes are rigged or biased for the Ballon d’Or and FIFPro XI as votes are spread between captains, coaches and media from every footballing country in the world – it is not Sepp Blatter and the FIFA bigwigs that decide who wins.
But it is fair to say that the results are not always reflective of who has made the biggest impact on the year.
It just goes to show how incredible Xavi and Iniesta’s influence on world football over the last six years has been, as even when they do not steal the show and are dominated in Europe’s showcase tournament, their legendary status ensures their place amongst the elite when it comes to the FIFA ceremony.
The pair are by no means done though, and Manchester City would be foolish to take them lightly in this year’s Champions League last 16.
Barcelona and all their star men will be wounded by the mauling by Bayern last season and nothing would make them happier than to prove they are as strong as ever.
image: © grb1989