The juggernaut that is FC Barcelona shows no signs of slowing up, with Luis Enrique leading the Catalan club towards a potentially momentous treble.
Barcelona overcame the potential for a Bavarian second leg revival in the Champions League last night, as despite a 3-2 defeat at the Allianz Arena, Enrique’s men are through to the final of Europe’s top tournament.
Barcelona’s devastating attacking trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar continue to hog the limelight – and for good reason.
The former Liverpool striker’s addition has offered the Blaugrana a more direct threat, while the Brazilian continues to score at will and connect with his attacking team-mates. Messi is currently the best player in the world; potentially the best of all-time.
Despite the offensive prolificacy of the trident, an unsung hero’s return to form must also be attributed as a reason for Barcelona becoming such a daunting proposition.
Gerard Pique put in another strong performance at the Allianz Arena last night and continues to be a defensive talisman for a team obsessed with possession and attacking.
Amid all the ability and technique of a team that is arguably the greatest attacking side in world football, it is easy to overlook the less glamorous aspects of the game – such as shackling the opposition.
In a back four that usually comprises of two full-backs that crave to get forward in the form of Dani Alves and Jordi Alba, and a midfielder taking a step back, Javier Mascherano, Pique’s importance to the team cannot be overstated.
He has experienced the highs of vast success under Pep Guardiola, but his personal form has also dipped on occasion over his seven-year tenure back at Camp Nou.
At times during Guardiola’s tenure at the club, especially in his final campaign in 2011-12, Pique’s lapses in concentration meant he was omitted from the team.
Last summer in Brazil, the Barcelona defender was a major culprit in world champions Spain putting in forgettable showings to be eliminated from the World Cup in the group stage.
Despite this, in 2014-15 Pique seems like a man reborn and is seemingly brimming with confidence as Barcelona plunder their way towards a silverware-laden campaign.
In a team that lacks real height or stature, his presence at defensive set pieces is critical and a key reason that Benatia’s headed effort was the first of its kind that Barcelona have conceded in 2015.
Pique is more often than not the man to intercept a telling opposition pass or put his body on the line to block a shot, but it is his positional awareness at centre-half that is more critical.
With Mascherano having no shortage of commitment or desire but lacking longstanding experience of playing as a centre-half, Pique’s leadership and direction also benefits the Barcelona collective.
When it comes to attacking from deep, the former Man United centre-half is seemingly always available to receive a pass and comfortable in picking out a team-mate without issue.
Just where he ranks in terms of the best defenders in world football remains to be seen, but right now he is the ideal centre-half for a Barcelona team that looks virtually unplayable.