Luis Enrique’s coaching spell at FC Barcelona kicked off with a narrow win over Recreativo de Huelva thanks to a goal from Joan Román. Enrique introduced all 23 players that were called up for the club’s first friendly game as the players start their journey towards regaining full match fitness. The game was far from entertaining, but the time will come when fans expect beautiful football and it is not now. The squad was mainly made up of Barça B players who will aim to impress Enrique for a shot at joining the first team.
It was a depressing afternoon for Culés as the team’s La Liga hopes came to an end after a poor draw against Getafe CF. The Camp Nou mourned the death of Tito Vilanova with the players wearing a tribute jersey for their former coach. Lionel Messi and Alexis Sánchez scored for Barça, but Angel Lafita was able to equalize twice for Getafe. A rare trophy-less season seemed inevitable ever since the defeat against Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey final, but some fans still hoped for more.
A lot of desire, a healthy slice of luck and perhaps a dash of the mythical. In the match following the painful passing of Tito Vilanova, the clock read 55 minutes and Barça were two goals down, seemingly on the road to further suffering. There was never a lack of effort and drive tonight, but Villarreal not only matched FC Barcelona’s intensity, they surpassed it. But fortunes change so quickly in football.
Barça B extended their unbeaten run to eight matches with a hard-fought victory against Girona at the Miniestadi. Eusebio’s team had to come back from behind, after conceding a first-half penalty, but the task proved easy for the leaders of the Juvenil A, Adama and Munir, who came on as substitutes in the second half, changing the shape of the game completely. The win puts Barça B on 54 points, which places them right in the upper echelons of the league standards, in 3rd place, just six points behind leaders Deportivo, who have a game in hand.
The Copa del Rey final kicked off as a potential saving grace to a disappointing FC Barcelona week, and what might prove to be a disappointing season, at La Mestalla in Valencia, and ended with a painful loss.
With this defeat, the chances of winning any title has dwindled down to La Liga, where the team trails in 3rd behind their Champions League vanquishers, Atlético Madrid, and tonight’s winners, Real Madrid. It has been a heartbreaking week indeed, yet tonight’s game was even more so because there were moments when a fan couldn’t be faulted in believing that it could have turned out better.
Yesterday, Granada CF beat FC Barcelona for the first time since 1972, dealing a massive blow to Barça’s hopes of winning La Liga. As it stands, the blaugrana sit in third place, and with the toughest schedule of the top three in the last five games of the season, they are odds-on to stay there. If Barça were to finish bronze, it would be the first time since the 2007-08 season, well known as Frank Rijkaard’s last year and the year before Pep Guardiola came in and cleaned house. The Barça players have not given up yet, and the fans certainly shouldn’t – but maybe, just maybe, Gerardo Martino has.
And finally there is a victor. Individually, collectively, FC Barcelona were utterly dire, completely dreadful and wholly undeserving of progressing. Readers here know I always credit the opposition in defeat; usually it is what is merited as defeats typically take two to tango. I applauded Ajax, I applauded Real Sociedad, and of course tonight I applaud Atlético Madrid.
However, tonight Barça’s ineptitude played a significant role. Atleti weren’t that special tonight. Yes, they ran tirelessly, were dogged and aggressive. Their shape was solid and their positions disciplined, as they always are. But Barça were awful: No precision, no movement, no sharpness, minimal spirit, no focus, no control. Frankly they looked flustered, dazed and rather confused. Atlético’s goals and chances came from the most basic of ploys. When Sergio Busquets (90% completion) and Andrés Iniesta (84% completion) are misplacing five yard passes, when barely anybody could get past a man, when Lionel Messi only attempts three take-ons and less than 40 passes, something is very wrong. When that is supplemented with poor defending, what chance was there? Defeat is one thing; this was another. I barely flinched during the Bayern massacre because I knew it was entirely unavoidable. But tonight Barça were not outclassed, they were outfought. Tonight Atlético only had to do basic things right, because their opponents did nothing right at all.
And once again there is no victor. Two moments of magic were all that separated two gargantuan performances that will be praised in completely contrasting ways. FC Barcelona gave it absolutely all they had; yet in another very new-age Barça-Atletí flavored meeting the final score read 1-1. Of the encounters this season, tonight Atlético most embodied the ghost of Diego Simeone the footballer: Fouling consistently and physically. German referee Felix Brych was delighted to produce the first yellow, but when a second was more than warranted, the man in the middle cowered. Leo Messi had a quiet night thanks to his man-marking shadows, but the remainder of the side performed admirably and despite a godly Andrés Iniesta and terrific showings from Sergio Busquets, Neymar and Alexis Sánchez, the win was out of grasp.
It was an ugly match, with moments of brilliance few and far in between. Espanyol hosted FC Barcelona at Estadi Cornella-El Prat in a highly physical and tense encounter, which stayed unsettled till the last 15 minutes, although there weren’t many signs before that of the fixture ever ending well.
When Barça were able to reach the opposition’s goal, their attempts were wasted, otherwise, they were just bullied and beaten off the ball in plain sight of the officials. The match was a counter-tactic to the one employed by Celta Vigo, whom were rightly hailed as an example of attacking play and sportsmanship.
Yesterday FC Barcelona defeated Celta Vigo 3-0, moving up to second place as Real Madrid lost later on in the evening at Sevilla. It should have been a cause for celebration, but the victory was deeply bittersweet, tainted by the image of Víctor Valdés crying as he was stretchered off the field with a torn ACL, presumably never to don the blaugrana kit again. The heroic keeper has done wonders to get Barcelona this far in the title race, but now the Catalans will have to make it to the finish line without him. With eight games left in the season, Barça are one point out of first place. Win out and they take the title: It’s a daunting task, but against Celta Vigo on Wednesday, Barcelona took one step closer to their objective.
FC Barcelona went to the Santiago Bernabéu with the hope of closing the gap with a highflying Real Madrid, and take their last chance at possibly winning the league, as Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino said in his prematch press conference. They managed to accomplish that in an exciting 7-goal game, that ended with the visitors claiming all three points in a spectacular and nerve-wrecking contest.
Iniesta and Messi were the absolute stars of the show, with the former pulling off some of his best illusionist moves, leaving behind some of the greatest players like a child leaves rag dolls behind. With this win, Barça managed to end Real Madrid’s 31-game unbeaten run that extended back to the last Clásico, when the blaugrana defeated their rivals 2-1 at the Camp Nou. Also, with this win, FC Barcelona reaffirmed that they are not done with the league yet, and sent out a clear message to the strongest teams in Spain and in Europe that they can still dispatch any pretender team around.
There comes a time when tactical analysis needs to be given a rest, where fans need to backseat drive a little less and just enjoy the ride. Today was one of those days. Forget the upcoming Clásico, forget the quibbles about line-ups, forget the records broken, forget score lines at all as goal after goal begins to blur together. This match doesn’t need description – every cule has seen this match a dozen times. What matters is how we enjoy it.
Vincent Kompany said pre-match there is “nothing better than chasing a lost cause”, well then he must have thoroughly enjoyed his evening at Camp Nou, because from minute one to ninety, that’s all it ever was. FC Barcelona bossed Manchester City most of the evening, and if not for a couple of scandalous decisions early on, the game would have been over with barely 20 minutes played. But despite the best efforts of referee Stephane Lannoy and his crew, Barça are once again through to the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals.
Barcelona lost 1-0 to relegation-threatened Real Valladolid today, seriously damaging their title hopes in La Liga. Away matches have been a serious challenge for the Catalans in the second half of this season, and Valladolid proved no exception. Away from Camp Nou, Barça’s run of form is shocking: They have won just one of five games in 2014, kept one clean sheet in the last eight matches, and have not scored the first goal of a match since November 2013. Though one can remember that the players are human and have had a difficult week between the international travel, Carles Puyol’s announcement, and a personal tragedy to Andrés Iniesta, nonetheless there is something inexplicable about the downward spiral occurring to Tata Martino’s men. Make the jump as we try to dissect this puzzling match.
The pre-match word was reaction. While the final score suggests mission accomplished, it wasn’t the swashbuckling and electrifying performance that many expected and craved. Nevertheless, all things considered, the 4-1 victory over Almería was three pretty easy points. Sports teams never play to their potential all the time. Cite the money footballers make and whatever else, but as players and managers constantly claim, it isn’t always possible to turn it on. Push come to shove, this is still their job, and let’s not pretend everyone is always at 100%. If not for poor finishing, the first half should have ended 4-1 or 5-1. That didn’t happen, but Almería were still as threatening as a gazelle to a lion, and Barça treated them as such.
This Saturday night saw FC Barcelona host a smooth-playing Rayo Vallecano at the Camp Nou and serve them an early appetizer, a four-part main course, and a super sweet dessert at the end. With his two goals, Messi managed to match the record of legendary striker Telmo Zarra’s of 335 goals for the same Spanish club, and also be 24 goals short of breaking the all time La Liga goal scoring record.
This 6-0 drubbing was a pleasant return to effectiveness after some lackluster displays in front of goal, and serves as a good lead to Tuesday’s Champions League game against Manchester City, away at Manchester’s Etihad Stadium.
FC Barcelona headed to Sevilla with the ambition of reclaiming the top spot after Atlético Madrid fell to Almería on Saturday. With that in mind, no flooded pitch or tenacious opposition was going to stop them from redeeming themselves from the underwhelming performances that they had displayed in the latest La Liga games.
What started as an apprehensive display, with many dangerous chances by Sevilla, and wayward passing by the Catalans, transformed into a dominant display by the visitors from the latter part of the first half onwards. Los Rojiblancos remained a constant threat, but Barça managed to rally together and emerge victorious with a 1-4 drubbing of the home side.
There was a bit of luck involved and it wasn’t pretty, but Barcelona obtained a very good result in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals against Real Sociedad. La Real came out to play for a draw, setting up in a very conservative 5-3-2 formation that essentially put eight men in defense, clogging the midfield and forcing Barcelona out wide. The tactic proved effective at first, but Barcelona persevered and were able to grind out the win.
Last weekend was undoubtedly quite bad for any barcelonismo given the first team’s unexpected loss at Camp Nou against Valencia CF. Yet FC Barcelona B managed to fly the Blaugrana flag high, beating a rampant Real Zaragoza 2-0 away and delivering a footballing exhibition in their first ever visit to La Romareda. It is no coincidence that a certain Spanish website called the Barça reserves “the best team that has played at the Romareda this season“. Barça B had everything: possession, speed, high pressing, energy and incisiveness. In fact, were it not for home keeper Leo Franco, the match would have ended as a rout for the next potential Barça stars.
Perhaps there’s something to the February curse after all: On the first day of the month, FC Barcelona lost their first home game of the season, to a Valencia squad that was completely revamped over the last days of the transfer window. It was also the first time that Barcelona have conceded more than two goals this season, as well as one of the worst all-round performances of the season. In some ways, the incredibly poor nature of the match is reassuring: It is clearly an outlier to what has been an otherwise excellent season for Gerardo Martino, just one of those bad games that every team has. While hardly pleasant for players and cules alike, the blaugrana should be able to bounce back without difficulty.
Sitting for the first time in the FC Barcelona presidential seat, Josep Maria Bartomeu was surely delighted with perhaps Barça’s best performance of 2013/14 alongside the 0-0 versus Atlético and the first halves at home against AC Milan and Real Madrid. If asked to use one word to summarize last night, it would be sharp. Even though the “performance” itself was in essence only 60 minutes long, that hour was an energetic, decisive, dynamic and focused rendition. One does have to acknowledge Málaga are no longer a scalp worth boasting of, yet nevertheless the Andalusian side was beat up all night and barely troubled a backline that again inspired hope. Gerardo Martino has spoken from the very beginning that the objective was to reach peak fitness and performance by February. That may have been the first glimpse that the plan is working.
After an awful first half, FC Barcelona managed to come back from a goal down against Levante UD to win the quarterfinal’s first leg with four goals to one. Full credit goes to the new, devastating Messi-Tello partnership, who single handedly managed to exploit Levante’s high defensive line. Cristian Tello scored three of the four goals, all assisted by Lionel Messi, while the fourth goal came from a Juanfran own goal.
Barça’s starting XI consisted of Pinto, Alves, Puyol, Bartra, Adriano, Song, Xavi, Sergi Roberto, Pedro, Tello, and Messi, while Levante’s starting XI was made up of Javi Jimenez, Vyntra, Barral, El Zhar, Juanfran, Nikos, El Adoua, Xumetra, Sergio, Nagore, and Camarasa.
It was a game that turned out to be as unpredictable, as it was frustrating. FC Barcelona managed to draw 1-1 against Levante at Estadio Ciudad de Valencia, after having beaten them 7-0 at the Camp Nou in the first game of the season. They went into the match knowing that Real Madrid had tied up with them in points after beating Real Betis the day before, and that Atlético take on Sevilla at home later on. Luckily, the Andalusians managed to draw in Madrid, and so the blaugrana managed to hold onto the top of La Liga.
Piqué became the hero of the night after he managed to level the scoreline after going behind to a Vyntra header. However, the comeback could not be completed with many players not performing at their usual standard, and some questionable tactical moves.
FC Barcelona progressed to the Copa del Rey’s quarterfinals after a 2-0 away win (6-0 on aggregate) against Getafe CF. Both of Barça’s goals came from Lionel Messi in his first start since recovering from injury. However, the game was interrupted midway through the first half after Neymar Jr. suffered what seemed like a sprained ankle but more tests to come. The team will face Levante UD in the next round.
The game was always going to be tight, but a 0-0 finish does not typically go with Atlético Madrid versus FC Barcelona. Perhaps it’s something to get used to because one of the most impressive managers in world football, Diego Simeone, has created one of the best drilled, physically fit and tactically disciplined teams around. Three encounters this season, 1-1 the combined score-line. Each team won a half, it ended scoreless and there is still nothing to separate first from second in Spain.
At long last, the King returned. In 29 minutes, he scored two goals and almost a third with a free kick, nearly had two fantastic assists for Tello and Pedro, and completed 19/20 passes and four dribbles. After a two-month layoff, Messi was supposed to ease slowly into the match, perhaps jog around a little bit and try to remember how to play football. Instead, La Pulga hit the ground running, actually playing better than he has since March of last year. After nine months of battling injuries and constant minutes, including a ridiculous series of friendlies this summer and a strenuous preseason in Asia, it appears that Leo finally got the rest he desperately needed. Europe, look out.
After the 6-1 thrashing of Celtic, FC Barcelona defeated 5th placed Villarreal 2-1 in a highly possessive game at home. Neymar continued to rise to the occasion, and scored both goals, the second of which was worthy of the blaugrana reputation. Although the majority of play was in the Catalan’s favor, that was not enough to mask the most dominant feature of the game: the misplaced passing. The ball was lost around 21 times in the first half alone, marking an existing trend of overlooking the basics of the Barcelona philosophy, which is precise and accurate passing.
Back from the international break that had unleashed yet another curse by injuring Victor Valdes, FC Barcelona hosted Granada at the Camp Nou for the 14th round in La Liga. The watching football fans were treated to Lionel Messi presenting his Golden Boot award prior to the start of the match, and then a team photo around it. Other than that, the Argentinian player settled into the stands to watch his team drub Granada 4-0 in an entertaining encounter that featured Iniesta magic, Bartra dependability, and the promising debut of Adama Traoré.
That was easily one of the most entertaining games of the season. While the final 4-1 score-line suggests the match was comfortable, viewers knows that to be untrue. Real Betis were brilliant during the first 35 minutes, completely prohibiting FC Barcelona from playing their game. However Betis’ gung-ho mentality, which I respect deeply, was unsustainable and as both mind and legs tired, the home side succumbed to defeat. For Barça, it’s a great way to go into the two-week international break still undefeated.