Welcome to the Best Team Ever bracket series, where the greatest of all time have their most dominant seasons stacked up against each other until we ultimately crown a champion in each sport. The tournament will be decided by fan vote, so be sure to submit yours below! Check out the first round of voting here and the second round of voting here. Final Four polls will close at noon ET on Saturday.
It speaks to the height that Spain’s famous soccer duopoly pushed the sport to over the course of a decade that three of the best four seasons of the modern era – defined roughly as the advent of the Champions League to the present – were, according to our voters, posted by FC Barcelona and Real Madrid.
And the contrast in our first matchup is interesting because it draws a sharp comparison between a team of ideologues and a side of pragmatists – a tempting metaphor for the Catalonia-Capital Spanish proxy war it represents.
The second semifinal pits two treble winners against one another. And even if United was much less dominant than Barca in their respective seasons, they are both studies in how controversy is forgotten by the passage of time.
2008-09 FC Barcelona vs. 2016-17 Real Madrid
No. 1: 2008-09 FC Barcelona
This Barca team didn’t just win the treble, it set the platonic ideal of a modern soccer team. Ever since, you hear coaches far and wide declare that they “want to play like Barcelona.” And that started with this team and its mesmeric passing sequences.
No. 4: 2016-17 Real Madrid
Yet the Real side that won four European titles in five years and three in a row – becoming the first modern team to do so – was sort of the antithesis of that. Its tactics changed all the time. It had no core values other than to do whatever was necessary to win through the sparks of a genius that was much more individual than collective.
1998-99 Manchester United vs. 2014-15 FC Barcelona
No. 2: 1998-99 Manchester United
In the end, all anyone remembers are the trophies you won, or didn’t; the treble you bagged. Few recall now that United only claimed the Premier League by a point, in spite of winning a mere 22 games out of 38 for a fairly low 79 point-haul. Or that it won several squeakers on its way to the FA Cup. Or that it needed two injury-time goals to lift the Champions League trophy. United may well be the weakest of all the treble winners. But time tends to sand down the flaws.
No. 6: 2014-15 FC Barcelona
At the start of the season, there were real doubts about Luis Enrique’s appointment as manager. He’d hardly set the world alight in his last two jobs, and he wasn’t a native son. While he’d represented the Barca first team for eight seasons, he’d come over after five unforgivable seasons at blood rivals Real Madrid. Besides, he looked like he might play a more direct, un-Barca like style, making a final departure from tiki-taka. He did. But he also won the treble. And, well, that’s what stuck in people’s memories.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
More voting on Yahoo Sports:
More from Yahoo Sports: