The second team to win successive titles in the Champions League era and successive La Ligas in double-double winning seasons. What do you mean you never saw Barcelona do this?
That’s probably because it happened on Football Manager 2018.
By 2020, Leonardo Jardim had changed things at Barcelona. With the passing of Andres Iniesta and Xavi into retirement and other clubs, there was a distinct different shape at the Nou Camp.
Jardim set about replicating the Pep Guardiola sides of earlier in the century that were built on a tiki-taka style of passing via the solid foundations of a midfield. This constant midfield was now a midfield two, however, as Jardim shifted Barcelona from a 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1. Many called it a step back but the two midfield stalwarts in Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets were the key behind the success.
Rakitic would make lung bursting runs to join the likes of Oliver, Lionel Messi, Lorenzo Insigne and Luis Suarez in the attacking phases whilst Busquets reaffirmed his role at the club, sitting slightly ahead of Umtiti and Pique in central defence. It was Busquets fire extinguishing and metronomic qualities that were a large reason behind Barcelona’s double-winning seasons of 2020/21 and 2021/22.
Lucas Digne had usurped Jordi Alba as the left full-back with Nelson Semedo on the right-hand side. In a normal 4-2-3-1 system, they would act as a flat back four with their centre halves but Digne and Semedo often acted as wing-backs.
This allowed Messi and Insigne on the wings to drift inside. Messi was often utilised in a free role whilst Insigne often joined top scorer Luis Suarez up front, at times making the team look like a 3-5-2 with possession: Busquets dropping into a three-man defence, Messi, Rakitic, Oliver and the wing backs in midfield feeding the goalscoring machines of Insigne and Suarez.
With pressure to replicate their success of a European and domestic double the following season, Jardim made subtle differences to his system. Whilst on the ball, the 3-5-2 shape would be replaced with a more 3-4-3 and , Adrien Silva, a £35m signing from Leicester City, was used in the Rakitic role.
Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi and Lorenzo Insigne worked more as a three-man narrow attack, being fed from wide by the wing-backs and through the middle by Silva and Ousmane Dembele, who had recovered from a serious ACL injury to feature more in the 2021/22 season. Barcelona increased their points tally by 7 and stretched their lead to Atletico to fifteen.
In Europe, Barcelona had to beat Atleti and Real in the latter stages, pipping Atletico 4-3 in the semi-finals in 2021 whilst beating them in the 2022 final 1-0 whilst the inverse was true of beating Real Madrid in the 2021 final 1-0 and beating them in the following semi-final 4-3 on aggregate. The only regret for Jardim’s side, perhaps, was the Club World Cup final loss to Corinthians on penalties, something that wouldn’t be repeated in 2022 with a 3-1 win over Santos.