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Are Barcelona set for a treble of trebles?

Barca are 10 points clear of Atletico Madrid atop La Liga with 10 games to go. It would take a collapse as colossal as one that the La Liga leaders haven’t witnessed this decade for the Spanish giants to not win the league this season

Are Barcelona set for a treble of trebles?

Barcelona are the only side in European history to have won the treble – league, domestic cup and European Cup in the same season – twice. Both those instances came over the past decade – 2008/09 and 2014/15.

Barca are the only Spanish side to have pulled off the treble, along with Celtic (1966/1967), Ajax (1971/1972), PSV Eindhoven (1987/1988), Manchester United (1998/1999), Inter Milan (2009/2010) and Bayern Munich (2012/2013).

With the international break this week, Barca (66) are 10 points clear off Atletico Madrid (56) atop La Liga with 10 games to go. It would take a collapse as colossal as one that the La Liga leaders haven’t witnessed this decade for Barca to not win the league this season.

With Barca having reached the Copa del Rey final, after overcoming Sevilla 6-3 and Real Madrid 4-1 on aggregate – both after failing to win the first leg – it would be a similar shock if they do not win the Spanish Cup by beating Valencia in the final. Of course, anything can happen in a cup final, but Barcelona remain the overwhelming favourites for the final on May 25.

Therefore, as is mostly the case in treble bids, the toughest task remains in Europe. And while the Champions League title might not be as straightforward as La Liga or Copa del Rey, Barcelona remain the favourites in the Champions League as well.

The draw has further bolstered those chances for Barca. The quarterfinal matchup against Manchester United is one that the Spanish leaders would definitely fancy, despite the Old Trafford side coming off the historic win against Paris Saint Germaine.

United under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer might have become a different proposition, but the juggernaut has hit a stumbling block since the memorable win in Paris following back to back defeats against Arsenal in the league and Wolverhampton Wanderers in the FA Cup. The cup exit was especially damaging for United, given the buzz that Solskjaer had created and his insistence that his side are competing for silverware.

Also, despite the disparity in the pedigree of the two team sheets, United are likely to attack as well, which plays right into Barca’s hands, who should be comfortable victors over the two legs.

Furthermore, the draw hasn’t just given Barcelona a relatively favourable fixture in the quarterfinals, it has also kept its two likeliest rivals in the other half.

With PSG and Real Madrid out, Juventus and Manchester City remain the closest challengers for Barcelona. Juventus face Real’s victors Ajax in the quarters, while City play Tottenham Hotspurs. The winners of the two ties will play in the semifinal.

Should Barca come through their quarterfinal tie, they would face either Liverpool or Porto in the semifinals. Porto, of course, don’t exactly rub shoulder to shoulder with the Who’s Who of European football, and Liverpool clearly have their focus on winning the league after almost three decades, even if they comfortably swept away a deteriorating Bayern Munich in the Round of 16.

Meanwhile, with a 15 point lead atop Serie A, Juventus have their entire focus on the Champions League. This is why they bought Cristiano Ronaldo, whose habitual heroics in Europe were visible as he scored a hat-trick to turn the Round of 16 tie against Atletico Madrid on its head.

Manchester City are engrossed in a tightly contested league race and are in the FA Cup semifinals, where they will play Brighton and then potentially play the winner of the semi between Watford and Wolves in the final.

Like Barca, City too are fighting for a treble. If City manage to pull it off, England will become the first country to host two treble winning sides – both from Manchester of course.

Even so, the task is prodigiously tougher for City, who have to ward off a determined Liverpool in the league, and potentially beat a similarly tournament focused Juve in the semifinals of the Champions League.

Therefore, a treble of trebles for Barcelona is likelier than England’s double of treble winners. But, indeed, the Premier League boasting four out of the right quarterfinalists is a major accomplishment for the league and it would now be hoping to produce a run of winners and finalists akin to the 2005-2012 stretch, after Liverpool’s runners-up finish last year.

In many ways, Real Madrid’s early ouster has opened the door for many in the Champions League, given their stranglehold over the tournament in recent years. While this might provide hope for sides that haven’t won the Champions League for a while – the likes of Juventus, Liverpool, United, and even Ajax or Porto – it can also work as a push for a team like Manchester City to finally break its duck in Europe.

Even so, the likeliest scenario remains that it would be Barcelona – the only side other than Real Madrid to win the Champions League in the past five years – that would capitalise on the fall of its archrivals in Europe. And if that happens, a treble of trebles would in all likelihood would have been achieved.

K Shahid

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