There are no style points in soccer. Goals are the only currency that counts.
But if there was ever a team deserving of extra reward for its verve and fluidity, it is the current incarnation of Barcelona, a club steeped in technical tradition and now blessed with perhaps the best blend of talent it has ever had.
Barca's 6-2 thumping of hated rival Real Madrid on Saturday was the victory that effectively wrapped up the La Liga title. Yet the way the Catalan stars marched into the cauldron of the Santiago Bernabeu and dismantled their closest Spanish challenger was a world removed from the sort of tense performance that might be expected in such a pivotal game.
Pep Guardiola's troops recovered from going a goal behind to humiliate Real with a display of superiority that defied belief. Even if Chelsea can make home-field advantage count in the teams' UEFA Champions League semifinal second leg Wednesday, it is hard to make an argument against Barcelona being the best team in Europe.
Certainly, it is the most exciting. Lionel Messi, Samuel Eto'o and Thierry Henry are three of the most devastating attackers on the planet and it makes for compulsive viewing.
Whatever your allegiance, if you love soccer, you'll get in front of a television screen for whenever Barcelona plays. This is a team for the ages and rarely have the lines between the athletic and the artistic been so blurred.
In an era when money rules soccer and results are the only thing that counts – because it translates most directly into cold hard cash – the sport is lucky to have this fluent band of stars who prove that style and substance can go hand in hand.
Weekend First XI
1. Get him an Advil
Jose Mourinho is probably just a week away from celebrating the Serie A title, but the Inter Milan boss could have a troubled summer as he tries to keep hold of star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Despite putting together a brilliant campaign, Ibrahimovic is increasingly unsettled and wants to move on. He further alienated himself from the club's fans by sarcastically putting his fingers to his lips after scoring a goal against Lazio moments after he had been heckled for losing possession.
2. Get him a beer
Sir Alex Ferguson actually prefers red wine to beer, and he was left with plenty of reason to raise a glass after moving to within touching distance of a third straight English Premier League title on Saturday.
Ferguson's Manchester United beat Middlesbrough 2-0 and, barring a catastrophic meltdown, will clinch another trophy to go along with the Club World Cup and the Carling Cup titles. United's next target is the Champions League, with a semifinal second leg against Arsenal on Tuesday.
3. Get him some earplugs
Major League Soccer referee Jair Marrufo is guaranteed a heated reception the next time he turns up in Columbus. Marrufo has been suspended for two games for accepting a jersey from the Chicago Fire's Cuauhtemoc Blanco at the end of a game in which the official sent off the Crew's Gino Padula as Chicago rallied to draw 2-2.
4. Four corners
• Is this the most bizarre penalty shootout of all time?
• How much longer has Claudio Ranieri got at Juventus?
• Can Torino escape relegation and ensure the anniversary of a tragedy is not marked with failure?
5. Catch a flight to …
Glasgow. There is action aplenty around Europe this week as the season reaches its business end, but nowhere will there be more passion on display than at the Old Firm derby between Glasgow Rangers and Glasgow Celtic, which will almost certainly decide the Scottish Premier League title.
6. A round of applause for …
Landon Donovan. The Los Angeles Galaxy striker's penalty kick led his team to their long-awaited first win of the season Saturday, a 1-0 victory over the New York Red Bulls. The Galaxy are still terrible, but this result lifted L.A. off the bottom of the Western Conference.
7. Get them a Kleenex
Hoffenheim. The German Bundesliga's fairytale midseason leader continues to plummet and is now in eighth place in the table. Saturday's 4-0 thrashing by Wolfsburg takes Hoffenheim's drought to 12 league games without a win.
8. Get ready to say hello to …
Steve McClaren. Eighteen months after being sacked as England manager, McClaren is making a return to the big time. McClaren has led FC Twente into next season's Champions League after clinching a second-place finish in the Dutch league. Whether he gets another chance in England following his dismal failure with the national team remains to be seen.
9. Get ready to say goodbye to …
Ronaldinho. The Brazilian superstar is being strongly linked to a return to his homeland as his struggles at AC Milan continue. It would be a bitter shame to see such a sensational talent not playing in one of the world's highest-profile leagues.
10. Get excited about …
The relegation battles. The fight for survival is in full flow in England, Germany, Spain and Italy, with pride, a better future and millions of dollars on the line. In difficult economic times, staying in the top division has never been more important.
11. Why it's good to be a soccer player
Check out Kartika Luyet, girlfriend of Torino striker Nicola Ventola.
- Real Madrid