On Saturday in Lisbon, history will be made when for the first time, two Spanish futbol clubs will vie for the UEFA Champions League title. Had wagers been taken at the beginning of the season, as to which two La Liga teams they might be -- money has it, Atletico Madrid wouldn't have been one of them.
When it comes to Spanish futbol, Barcelona and Real Madrid are no strangers to winning. Since 2000, these two clubs have won five Champions League crowns, with Barca owning three (2005-06, 2008-09, 2010-11) and Los Blancos hoping to equal that of their bitter rivals with a weekend victory.
As impressive as their UEFA stats are, La Liga is where their true stranglehold is felt. Barcelona and Real Madrid have accounted for 54 league titles since 1950, including the past 11. Not since 2004, when Valencia hoisted the hardware, has another team been able to crash the exclusive party celebrating these two global juggernauts. That was until this season and the emergence of Atletico Madrid.
Behind the sensational play of Diego Costa, Adra Turan and Diego Godin coupled with the pairing of Tiago and Gabi, Atletico Madrid's coach, Diego Simeone has crafted a team able to successfully execute his style of play: Press early, press high, press constantly and attack the goal immediately upon regaining possession of the ball. The results, their first La Liga title since 1996 and an even less familiar occurrence (40 years in the making), a place in the 2014 UEFA Champions League final against their fierce city enemy, Real Madrid.
While most of Madrid focuses on the magnitude of this weekend's matchup and the bragging rights accompanying the winner, Barcelona has quickly turned its focus back to restoring order at FCB and La Masia.
With such recognizable stars as Messi, Neymar, Iniesta, Fabergas, Alves and Xavi, coupled with their trademark tiki taka style, Futbol Club Barcelona has become a household name on the International sports stage. Their crest, their colors, their pre-match traditions are synonymous with winning and their lengthy tenure at or near the top of soccer supremacy has given the Catalan giants an air of stability, an embarrassment of riches and raised the expectations for multiple trophy-laden cases.
So it came as no surprise after Barcelona failed to repeat as La Liga champs -- losing in the Nou Camp to Atletico Madrid -- that sweeping changes must be made, molt ràpid (very fast), in order to wash away the rancid taste of a 2013-2014 campaign marked by disarray and disappointment.
Their first order of business, hiring former Barca player and Barca B coach, Luis Enrique to replace Gerardo Martino. Enrique's first order of business, make sweeping changes to the current squad. "It is a day we begin to build a new Barca, a Barca that can have hope, a Barca that gets all the results we are looking for," the newly appointed maestro announced. Signaling a host of high-profile players could be sent packing.
"The players must know that you cannot let a year pass at Barca," Enrique said. "Reinforcing the team in the best possible way." Vowing to bring together an attractive and effective team that will compete for titles and make fans smile, again. Welcomed news to legions of supporters who saw the Catalan club come up empty handed for the first time in six years.
In addition, Enrique will concentrate on teamwork, bolster his defense, intensify training sessions and go after signings. All of this in an effort to reshape the team's playing style and make Barcelona's mesmerizing and once unstoppable possession game more unpredictable.
But for this to happen, Enrique will need to do more than just thoroughly assess the team's strengths and weaknesses. He will have to learn to manage his ferocity with some while turning the heat up on others. Honoring the triumphs of the past while rebuilding for the future -- all part of the complex puzzle that is Barca and one he is all too familiar with.
The era of Pep Guardiola still intoxicates FCB, its fans and the media. It drives decisions, clouds judgment, skews perception and this season helped deliver results far from the successes it is use to achieving.
Barcelona's pedigree has taken a hit. The caliber of the Catalans has suffered. Luis Enrique's hire is meant to stop the bleeding, restore confidence and return the club to its rightful place -- and not just back on top of La Liga.
Come next year in Berlin, when the 2015 UEFA Champion is crowned, Luis Enrique hopes smart money says the Spanish team winning it all is... Futbol Club Barcelona.