Viva Barcelona!

Is there any stopping FC Barcelona?

The Blaugrana are back on top thanks to Pep Guardiola

Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola has worked wonders in the Catalan capital this season. ((Getty Images))

Is there any stopping FC Barcelona?

It doesn't appear so.

Winners of the Champions League and Spanish league titles in 2006, Barca is poised to do the "double" for a third time in its illustrious history this season (they also turned the trick in 1992), adding even more silverware to their already crowded trophy cabinet.

After losing 1-0 to newly promoted Numancia and being held to a goal-less draw by Racing Santander in the first two weeks of the season, Barca quickly rebounded by going undefeated in its next 16 games (14 wins and two draws).

That incredible unbeaten stretch included a four-week period when the Catalan club successfully ran the gauntlet and defeated title pretenders Sevilla, Valencia, Real Madrid and Villarreal in succession by a combined score of 11-1. 

The la liga season hasn't even reached the midway point of its schedule, but the competition has all but waived the white flag. Barca sits on what appears to be an impregnable 11-point lead over second-place Valencia headed into this weekend's slate of games.

It's an incredible turnaround by a team that finished a disappointing fourth last season and a whopping 18 points off the pace of arch-nemesis Real Madrid, which won its second consecutive Spanish league crown.

Guardiola leads Barcelona renaissance

So, what has been the difference?

Pep Guardiola.

The former Barcelona captain has worked wonders at the Camp Nou since taking over the managerial reigns from Frank Rijkaard in June, instilling a renewed sense of discipline that the club was sorely lacking.

Barcelona had grown soft under Rijkaard ever since the 2006 season, the obvious nonchalance demonstrated in games and in training sessions by Ronaldinho and Deco, the twin pillars of the double-winning side, merely symptomatic of the team's lack of fighting spirit and ambition.

A star for the Barcelona side that was dubbed the "Dream Team" and won four Spanish championships and the European Cup in the early 1990s, Guardiola was a midfield workhorse who earned plaudits from teammates and opponents alike for his tireless work ethic and leadership skills.

He expected nothing less as a coach and demanded of his players the same level of commitment that was his trademark during his playing career. Malingering and simply going through the motions would not be tolerated, so Guardiola's first order of business was to get rid of Ronaldinho and Deco.    Forwards Samuel Eto'o and Eidur Gudjohnsen, who also lost their competitive edge under Rijkaard, were challenged to step up by Guardiola, who gave all of his players more personal attention in training sessions compared to his Dutch predecessor.

Key addtions to roster

Shrewd moves in the transfer market were also made to bolster what was still, at its core, a talented roster.

The club signed Brazilian defender Dani Alves and Malian midfielder Seydou Keita from Sevilla, and Uruguay defender Martin Caceres from Villarreal. Former Barcelona youth-team member Gerard Pique returned from Manchester United, and defensive midfielder Sergi Busquets, who played in Spain's third division under Guardiola, were also brought in.

The results have been remarkable. Under Guardiola, the Catalan club is a powerhouse again, winning games with equal parts sweat and style.

Led by the dangerous trio of Eto'o (15 goals), Lionel Messi (10) and Thierry Henry (9), the Blaugrana sport the best offensive attack in the Spanish division with 51 goals, and with more than half a season to go, Barca is on track to break the season record of 107 goals set by Real Madrid in 1989-90.

Eto'o and Henry were thought to be past their primes after suffering disappointing (by their high standards) campaigns last season, but the fact that they've both rediscovered their respective scoring touches and are flourishing again serves as a resounding testament to Guardiola's managerial skills.

The defence is also holding its own. Alves and captain Carlos Puyol, who after a few dodgy years is enjoying his best season in years under Guardiola, anchor a stout and miserly back line that has conceded a league-low 11 goals.

Barca is on another level

Barcelona is simply on another level from the rest of the soccer world. There isn't another team on the planet right now that even comes close to matching the entertainment value provided by Guardiola's men every time they take to the field.

Barca doesn't humiliate the opposition as much as it sidesteps it all together. 

The team's 4-0 destruction of Valencia at home last month was a stunning exhibition of artistic skill that bordered on the sublime. Barca mopped up the floor with Valencia, totally dominating the boys from the birthplace of paella with a clinical display of expert passing, exquisite ball control and "Total Football."

It's a bit premature to dub this team the second coming of the "Dream Team," but the pieces are place for this Barcelona club to dominate the world like the side that did in the early 1990s.

From club captain to club saviour, Pep Guardiola still leads FC Barcelona by example.