The Catalans faced a mammoth task to overturn the four nil deficit against FC Bayern Munich at the Camp Nou. Comebacks against AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain were somehow possible this season. But without Messi this task proved to be too much and a seven nil drubbing from the Germans over the two legs left FC Barcelona licking their wounds and scratching their heads.
Barcelona humiliated by Bayern
Luck finally ran out tonight for a certain Tito Vilanova, whose refusal to address defensive frailties in either of the last two transfer windows has led to a humiliating end to Barcelona’s golden era. Youngster Marc Bartra was forced to shore up a lack-lustre defense in a desperate attempt to fill the giant boots of Javier Mascherano and Carles Puyol. To cast a fresh-faced 22-year-old to the lion’s den of the Allianz Arena in Munich against one of the most potent attacks in recent memory smacked of desperation. From the first whistle it looked as if it wasn’t going to be the Catalan’s night.
FC Barcelona must have believed they had done enough to take the tie when Xavi buried a penalty in the final minutes in Paris last week. However a nasty deflected goal in the dying seconds ensured that this quarter-final was far from over. Injuries to both Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano left attack and defence with giant holes to fill and the odds began to stack up against Barça reaching their sixth consecutive semi-final. Barcelona were back to their best at the weekend drilling five goals past a hapless Mallorca, however Carlo Ancelloti’s troops promised not to be such a pushover.
Visitors FC Barcelona were buoyed by the return of their head coach Tito Vilanova last night and took to the Parc des Princes with a renewed confidence after their stunning comeback against AC Milan three weeks ago. Barça were made acutely aware in the opening minutes of the quality of the home team however, and just about survived an opening twenty minutes of sustained pressure from Paris Saint-Germain.
Barcelona smashes Milan
Apologies, apologies and a thousand more apologies. In the conclusion of the last match report after the fiasco in Milan, I lamented the end of Barcelona’s football empire. I have never been so thrilled to be wrong.
There were more than ninety eight thousand pairs of fingers crossed in the Camp Nou tonight as Barça took to the field. Turning around a two nil deficit had never been done in the history of the Champions League knock out stages and Jordi Roura was praying his troops would break tradition. Instead they smashed it.
For Tuesday’s second leg Copa del Rey match against Real Madrid, interim manager Jordi Roura made the decision to ignore recent form and keep David Villa on the bench in favour of Cesc Fabregas, leaving the home side toothless in attack once more. Barcelona has been failing to turn possession into goals in recent games but once again it was decided to field a team very short of attacking options.
Trailing fifteen league points behind their arch rivals Barcelona in the league Real Madrid had a lot to prove tonight in the Copa Del Rey semi final. Their team was ravaged by injury and suspension and they took to the Bernabau with a steely resolve to avoid further embarrassment. Jose Mourinho must have been fearing for his job and reputation he hoped that his second string would answer his prayers.
After a relatively poor week for FC Barcelona, which saw the Catalan team throw away leads in consecutive games, the players were eager to prove tonight that their recent form has been but a blip. Malaga was to be a formidable opposition however, and the first leg advantage favoured the home side tonight after a 2-2 draw in the Camp Nou last week.
FC Barcelona made some changes to the side that produced a masterclass at the weekend. Tonight the opponent was the same, the silverware different. This was to be the only home tie for the champions in a trilogy of games against Málaga in just over a week. The Catalans put three past Pelegrini’s side on Sunday night and rarely lost the ball. No mean feat against one of La Liga’s best sides and Champions League group toppers.
Vilanova wasn’t taking this game lightly and fielded a strong side, instead of resting key players for the critical league clash against Atletico Madrid at the weekend. Dani Alves returned to the starting line up and accompanied Pique, Mascherano and Alba in defense, which seems to be becoming the current favoured back line. Alex Song filled Busquets’ rather large shoes and Thiago and Xavi kept him company in midfield. The forward line returned to the MVP formation of Messi, Villa, and Pedro.
Tito’s luck ran out tonight as things did not go as planned at the Camp Nou. Vilanova had the luxury of guaranteed top spot in the group and tinkered with the lineup, eager to blood youngsters he felt deserved a shot at the big time. Messi started on the bench even though he was only a single goal adrift of Gerd Müller’s record of 85 goals in a calendar year.
On Tuesday in Moscow, FC Barcelona was hoping to put the embarrassment in Glasgow behind them and take a positive step along the road to Wembley. Vilanova fielded a strong first eleven, taking no chances against Unai Emery’s side. The conditions were freezing and the grass artificial but after Celtic’s heroics two weeks ago – the chance of an upset was real.
Celtic arrived at the Camp Nou two weeks ago with little more than a prayer, but it was the home side that were on their knees thanking the heavens after a miraculous winner in the dying seconds of injury time. Buoyed by their team’s recent performance, the Celtic fans lifted the roof of Celtic Park tonight and the Barcelona players seemed genuinely unnerved by the intensity of the atmosphere.
Tito Vilanova left very little to chance in this Copa Del Rey fixture, fielding an almost full strength side content on finishing the tie in the first leg. Pinto manned the posts as per usual. The back line consisted of Dani Alves, back after a spell on the side lines, Bartra and Mascherano as well as rising star Montoya, who rarely sees the bench these days. The rest of the starting eleven featured Busquets, Sergi Roberto, Fabregas, David Villa, Alexis Sanchez and Iniesta. The most notable absentee was one Lionel Messi, suggesting that perhaps Vilanova is content to rest the Golden Boot winner from time to time this season.
Celtic FC arrived at the Camp Nou probably more in hope than expectation. Returning from a four year absence from the Champions League, Neil Lennon’s side could hardly have been granted a more daunting task. That said, there hasn’t been a better time in quite a while to come to the Catalan Capital as Barcelona’s back line, ravaged by injury in recent weeks, has developed a nasty habit of leaking soft goals.
Barcelona Survive Russian Cold Front
Barcelona were determined to put last season’s Champions League semi final exit behind them and embark on another long and winding road to London in order to get their hands on club football’s most coveted prize. They took to the Camp Nou tonight with their tails up after a blistering start to La Liga which has left Madrid a staggering eight points behind. Their bitter rivals clawed their way to a frantic victory last night against Man City – but surely Barcelona would have no such trouble dispensing with Spartak Moscow at home?
Pep Bows Out in Style
Some of the most loyal and fanatical fans in Spain crammed into the Vicente Calderon tonight to witness a repeat of the 2009 Copa del Rey final, a game which started Guardiola’s epic, historic and unrivaled trophy haul. The Basques and Catalans weren’t overly keen on hearing the Spanish national anthem and made their feelings felt. Bilbao had spent the last two weeks being trained and drilled within an inch of their lives by Bielsa to avoid another loss in an important final following humiliation at the hands of Atletico Madrid in the UEFA cup final a few weeks ago. Pep was eager for his own charges to receive rest and recuperation after a long, arduous, and ultimately disappointing season.
One of the biggest rivalries in European football in the past decade has been between FC Barcelona and Chelsea FC. The Champions returned to Stamford Bridge this Wednesday eager to reach their third final in four years. This has been the eleventh time the two clubs have met in twelve years and there has been little love lost between the two sides. The Catalans returned to the scene of the crime this evening with Iniesta’s injury time winner still a sore point around London. Since that dramatic strike in 2009, both sides have enjoyed contrasting fortunes with the Londoners paling in comparison.
A few short weeks ago Real Madrid were busy dusting a section of their trophy cabinet for their first La Liga trophy since 2008. At 10 points, the gap between Los Blancos and the Champions seemed insurmountable and even Guardiola conceded the title was out of reach. But a bad spell at the Capital has seen that lead reduced to a mere four points with seven games left to play.
Barcelona Charge Into Semis
Last week’s stalemate in Milan whetted the appetite for tonight’s mouth watering clash in the Catalan capital. The home side’s failure to secure a precious away goal at the San Siro gifted the Italian Champions a place in the semi finals if they could manage a draw, which promised a nerve racking 90 minutes for the fans packed inside the Camp Nou.
Stalemate in Milan
Milan is the fashion capital of the world and it tends to produce pretty stylish football too. Sacchi’s Milan of the nineties captured the imagination of millions and their adoration transcended traditional loyalties and borders leaving a trail of destruction and titles in their wake. Teams like that don’t come along very often. Barcelona seems to have inherited this role in recent seasons and the team travelled to the San Siro tonight eager to further their quest to be the first club ever to defend a Champions League title.
Guardiola raised an eyebrow or two by opting for his most tenacious and physical first eleven. Abidal’s pending operation meant a shuffle at the back and Alves, Mascherano, Pique and Puyol shored up the back line. There was a surprise in midfield as Keita started in the place of Fabregas with Busquets and Xavi for company and Alexis, Messi, and Iniesta formed the attacking trio. Milan was also forced to improvise with the absence of the talismanic Thiago Silva, as well as Abate and Van Bommel.
The Camp Nou collectively rejoiced in welcoming their favourite son back to action tonight as Lionel Messi took to the field after a brief break. The Catalans held a comfortable two goal lead from the first leg in Germany, however, after Arsenal’s near miraculous turnaround last night no one in the stadium was taking anything for granted.
After a cracking first leg at the Mestalla last week, FC Barcelona entertained Valencia at the Camp Nou tonight with both sides confident of meeting Bilbao in the Copa del Rey final. Valencia’s chances were dealt a cruel blow however, with the eleventh hour absence of their talismanic striker Roberto Soldado, who bowed out with flu like symptoms just before kick off. On a cold night in Catalonia, Dani Alves was frozen out of a backline that was comprised of Puyol, Mascherano, Pique, and Abidal. An injury to Busquets left the midfield shy of a holding player as Xavi, Fabregas, and Thiago held the fort, and the attacking trio consisted of Alexis, Messi, and new kid on the block, Isaac Cuenca.
There is no time for resting on laurels or licking wounds this month as Barcelona were on the road for yet another enduring challenge, this time at the Mestalla. After the ecstasy of last week’s clasico and the agony of two more points dropped on the road at Villarreal, Valencia promised to be another daunting task. Guardiola’s side have been immortalized by the achievements of seasons past however, they have appeared a bit more human of late and Valencia would have been excused for fancying their chances of sneaking a result.
A tentative Real Madrid arrived at the Catalan capital tonight with last year’s Copa del Rey title but a distant memory. It remained to be seen if rumours of turbulence and divide in the Real dressing room would hinder or galvanize their resolve. Mourinho made three changes to the side that suffered defeat at the hands of their eternal rivals last week. Controversially, however, he chose to keep faith in Pepe, casting him into the lion’s den in front of ninety thousand fans baying for his blood with his stamp on Leo Messi fresh in their memory.
In the opening seconds Piqué misjudged a Dani Alves back pass leaving Higuain through for a gift of a chance but he somehow fluffed his gilt edged opportunity. In the second minute a Piqué handball was punished with a free kick. Alonso’s in swinging free kick was completely misjudged by the Barca defence and Higuain was denied by Pinto from five yards. With two minutes on the clock the visitors should really have overturned the home side’s slender advantage. Pinto had to be alert to a Ronaldo shot from the left of the box soon afterwards and it was beginning to seem as if Real Madrid champions were not content to keep to the script.
Copa champions Madrid welcomed Barcelona to the Bernabeu tonight for the first leg of an exciting Copa del Rey tie. The home side were eager to shrug off three seasons of playing second fiddle to their Catalan rivals, and cling on to the only piece of silverware they have been able to prize from Guardiola’s gluttonous grasp.
Thriller in the Mist
Barcelona travelled to Osasuna tonight eager to shake off the disappointment after the weekend’s draw at Espanyol. They donned last season’s mint green kit, and the jerseys weren’t the only new additions on the night however, as Pep decided to test out a few new faces. Pinto manned the net as usual, while Montoya, Fontàs, Piqué, and Adriano shored up the defense. Mascherano, Thiago, and the young Sergi Roberto were assigned the midfield area, while Cuenca, Sanchez, and Pedro made up the attacking trident.
Barcelona 4-0 Osasuna: Happy Nou Year!
Barcelona set out tonight to recapture the one piece of silverware that eluded them last season – the Copa del Rey. Again Guardiola baffled the experts by lining out with a back three of Mascherano, Pique, and Puyol. The midfield consisted of Busquets, Fabregas, Xavi, and Thiago while Pedro, Cuenca, and Alves seemed to construct the attacking trident in the absence of the flu ridden Messi and the injured David Villa. The last time these two teams met at the Camp Nou, Osasuna found themselves at the receiving end of an eight goal thrashing and after a long Winter break, the Camp Nou faithful were hoping for a repeat performance.
Nights like tonight are why the world loves the Champions League. Barcelona and AC Milan, two giants of the modern game slugging it out under the Italian night sky with as many stars on the pitch as above it. There was also bitterness, rivalry and six foot four scores to settle in the shape of Zlatan Ibrahimovich, coming face to face with his old boss Guardiola for the first time since slamming him in his recent autobiography. The game promised many more pivotal battles including the hotly anticipated duel between one Lionel Messi and Thiago Silva. Just what would happen when an unstoppable force came in contact with an immoveable object?