By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
What a difference a year makes.
This time, 12 months ago, it was Real Madrid who were fired up and flying as the season got underway, intent on making a statement by winning the Spanish Supercopa against their fiercest of rivals, Barcelona.
In August 2011, uncertainty remained over the future of Mourinho’s Madrid. With only a Copa del Rey to their name from his first campaign in charge, the Portuguese was looking to begin his second season in style.
Now, similar uncertainty can be found in Barcelona.
Despite a chaotic pre-season with injuries, experimental line-ups, players returning late and mixed results last summer, the Catalans claimed the Spanish Supercopa with a 5-4 aggregate win over Madrid, and went on to add three more titles in 2011-12 as Pep Guardiola ended his tenure with 14 out of a possible 19 trophies.
Behind the scenes, however, things were not as harmonious as they appeared at the Camp Nou last season. There were bust-ups with both Gerard Pique and Dani Alves, many players tired of Guardiola’s necessity to hog the media limelight, while Cesc Fabregas recently admitted that he struggled to adapt to Pep’s tactics on the pitch, too.
Guardiola looked to Johan Cruyff at times to resolve tactical questions and it was the side’s use of the Dream Team’s 3-4-3 system that raised the most doubts last term. There were too many tweaks and players sometimes felt uncomfortable with their roles on the pitch. Points were dropped, and ultimately the deficit could not be clawed back as Barca relinquished La Liga to Madrid, while there was an uncharacteristically poor performance in both Champions League semi-final games against Chelsea. This was not the Barcelona of previous years. Guardiola was tired – and the players were tired of him.
Vilanova has now assumed control and, while little is known about the former assistant on the outside, there is a growing feeling within the club that he was responsible for much of Barca’s brilliant play over the last four seasons.
The players, too, are eager to show they can win without Pep and are more motivated than they have been since Guardiola’s first season in charge of the Catalan club. They feel they have a point to prove.
This summer, Barca neglected lucrative offers to tour Asia and the United States, preferring instead to play their preparation games in cities like Bucharest and Gothenburg, rather than Seattle and Shanghai. Now, it is all about winning the Supercopa.
Vilanova is fully aware of the constant comparisons with Guardiola and has already claimed he cannot compete with his friend and former colleague. He knows, nonetheless, that winning the Supercopa will dispel doubts over his regime at this early stage.
However, failure to do so will bring the first voices of discontent – whatever the circumstances of the 180 minutes of action at Camp Nou on Thursday and at the Santiago Bernabeu next Wednesday.
So while he may have claimed publicly that this competition is low down on his list of priorities, Vilanova will want to win this Spanish Supercopa at all costs, in order to start his spell on the front foot and lay down a marker for the rest of the campaign. So, too, do the players.
This Barcelona is more than just Guardiola. Now, Vilanova and his squad are ready to prove it.
Follow Ben Hayward on