On a rain filled evening in Barcelona, the newly crowned champions welcomed Real Valladolid to the Camp Nou for round 36 of La Liga. The torrential downpour led to the local authorities advising people to only venture outside if it was necessary, and while not a full stadium, plenty of people found it a necessity to go and see Barça lift the league trophy and celebrate as a team at the end of the match.
FC Barcelona took to the Vicente Calderon field surrounded by the Atlético Madrid guard of honor, with friendly greetings and congratulations between the two sets of players. As the new champions of Spain, the blaugrana went into the game with nothing but pride forcing them to go for the victory, which they did in one of the most testing games of the season.
Although this season’s La Liga title seems like a small achievement to many football fans around the world, that is only due to the extremely high standards that Barça has set throughout the last five years, and the high expectations from their ruthless displays early in the season. However, the fact still remains that they have won this trophy because of an amazing showing in the domestic league, with the only slump happening later on in the season because of many unfortunate events at the club.
A league title is won by the best team, so imagine a team winning it with our point difference, and a possible 100 points collected, to equal last year’s Real Madrid record.
Last night FC Barcelona took on seventh-place Real Betis and defeated them with an impressive, though slightly shaky, 4-2 scoreline. Betis pressed and attacked well, exposing the continuing frailties of Barcelona’s defense, but ultimately the blaugrana attack, led by Andres Iniesta and substitute Lionel Messi, proved to be too much for them.
Tonight’s game against Levante UD can be labelled amongst the worst played by FC Barcelona during this season. It’s not because the team was bombarded with constant attacks by Levante, because they were not; Levante barely had a shot on target, and their time in the Barça half was minimal. It was a bad, or at best a mediocre game because the quality that usually defines our play was missing. The number of misplaced or inaccurate passes was higher than usual, and the starting frontline lacked any effectiveness.
However, the good news is that Bayern Munich wasted a plane ticket by sending a scout to observe the game. He returns to Munich bamboozled by what to report, since Barça gave up nothing of note other than that Abidal’s class is eternal, and that Fàbregas and Alexis play well when they are partners. More after the jump.
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.
On a celebratory night, many happy events scrambled to make the ultimate headline:
• Barça Keeps Cleansheet
• No Messi? No Problem!
• Cesc Fabregas Scores Hat trick
• Barça Thrashes Mallorca with 5 Golazos!!
• Tito Leads His Team at Home
• KING ERIC RETURNS!!
It was in the 55th minute that euphoria truly enveloped the Camp Nou, although all 5 goals had already been scored. It was in the 69th minute that the euphoria went from enthusiastic to explosive. King Eric was back on the pitch, one year after his liver transplant, and he looked like he hadn’t missed a game. More after the break.
Rayo Vallecano crashed into the Camp Nou, literally crashing a party that had been raging since the wizards of Catalonia performed a giant slaying act of David and Goliath proportions by slaying Goliath, albeit with four rocks. Two of them flung from Messi’s sling. The groundsman at the Camp Nou must have gotten a bit carried away at the party and forgot to turn off the water sprinklers, leaving the pitch a bit soggy and slippery too. Even the Iron Men of Madrid couldn’t find the right studs to cope with the pitch. For the first time since the Guinness Book of Records was conjured, the Camp Nou turf was not perfect. But no one really noticed. And no one really cared for that matter.
Culés have endured what is arguably their most horrible spell since FC Barcelona was infamously subjected to the indignity of performing a pasillo (guard of honour) for Real Madrid in the latter days of Rijkaard’s reign at the Camp Nou. Barcelona lost two matches to Real Madrid in the space of a week, and the League match saw the extended suspension of Victor Valdes for uttering a mouthful to the match referee after the game. The team also trails AC Milan by two goals in their Champions League fixture. With this in mind, the Barcelona’s technical bench picked a much weakened side for the match against Deportivo. It is thus a blessing that the match preceding the Champions League encounter with AC Milan was with the team at the bottom of the League table.
If Getafe had hoped to catch Barcelona napping in their early kick off fixture, then it seems they will have to hope for an even earlier kick off next time. Barcelona displayed their usual calm control and relentless pressing while Getafe lacked their usual feistiness as Barcelona continued their unstoppable charge towards the League title. Messi kept up his record-shattering exploits by registering a goal for the thirteenth consecutive league game with 6 different Barcelona players appearing on the scoring sheet. Alexis Sanchez overcame his indifferent form and confidence crisis to grab his first league goal of the season in what was a good day at the office for Barcelona.
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.
FC Barcelona showed no signs of relenting on its majestic charge towards the league title after suffering a hiccup against Real Sociedad last weekend. Lionel Messi added yet another collection to his tally of records after becoming the first player to score in 11 consecutive league games.
Barcelona’s squad was selected with one eye on the midweek fixture against Real Madrid. Jordi Alba and Andres Iniesta took a place on the bench and did not feature in the game. David Villa and Thiago Alcantara were handed rare starts with Villa playing the entire match.
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.
On September 10, 2011 FC Barcelona squandered a 2-0 lead at the Anoeta to draw 2-2 with Real Sociedad. Last night it went one further with Phillipe Montanier’s men claiming a 3-2 victory when truthfully that seemed impossible based on the opening 40 minutes of the game. But a football match lasts 90 minutes. It would be too easy to connect the first defeat of the season to a poor FC Barcelona display. Credit should mainly go to Real Sociedad, who came out in the second half and won this game by putting relentless pressure on Barça (before the red card even) and more than anything believing in themselves. But, this entire game changed at a particular turning point.
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.
Sunday’s game at Málaga was probably one of the most difficult for Barça in La Liga, considering Málaga’s good run of form and the fact that it was an away game. And it certainly lived up to expectations.
Barça started with the usual XI, with Mascherano in defense instead of Puyol, and Dani Alves back. Málaga showed up with a couple of changes, most notably Roque Santa Cruz in front, probably to challenge Barça’s centre backs, replacing Javier Saviola. Dangerous Joaquin and Isco kept their positions, and made it clear why they’re among the best forwards in Spain.
Yesterday, Barça played Córdoba in the second leg of the Round of 16 of the Copa del Rey. Despite resting players such as Iniesta, Xavi and Messi, Barça quickly found its place thanks to Thiago Alcántara and Cesc Fàbregas. Both midfielders had a fantastic game, especially Thiago, whose vision and precision helped the team to dominate Córdoba and give the opponent no chances. Thiago also offered a fantastic goal, the first one of the night.
The days leading up to the last game of the year for Barça were a roller coaster for both the club and its fans. After contract renewals were announced for three of the most important players in the squad, Puyol, Xavi and Messi, the team welcomed Eric Abidal back to training after a lengthy recovery period following his liver transplant. However, elation was short lived as the next day, all were shocked to learn of Tito Vilanova’s relapse. It was a hectic week for the blaugranes. Having the coach ill, undergoing surgery, it’s always a difficult matter, but Barça today showed ‘seny, pit i collons‘ (calm, strength, and bravery) to defeat Valladolid and strengthen its position at the top of the table.
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.
The encounter between Barça and Betis was singled out by culés as one of the most important in the la Liga season, since it has always been said that Liga titles are won on difficult fields such as this one. An away match, small ground, loud crowd. In fact, Pep Guardiola’s Barça had never won at Betis’s field. So everyone was expecting to see a hard fought game.
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.
Tito Vilanova pointed to the danger coming from the speed of Celta’s strikers during the pre-match press conference but he may not have adequately heeded his own advice when selecting Adriano, Mascherano, Busquets, and Alba to play in a defence that constantly fluctuated in the first half, often with only 2 defending. Xavi, Fàbregas, and Iniesta made up the midfield, so there was no traditional anchor, while Villa joined Pedro and Messi upfront. It never looked like Barcelona would struggle to score, but evidence early on also pointed to the improbability of a clean sheet.
In what was a really lively encounter, Barcelona finally shipped 5 goals and kept a clean sheet against Rayo Vallecano. The result brings Tito Vilanova’s run in the league to 8 wins and 1 draw in 9 games. This equals Van Gaal’s record in the 1997/1998 season, which up until now was considered Barcelona’s best ever start in La Liga.
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.
Honors were shared tonight at the Camp Nou with a 2-2 draw (as predicted by totalBarça’s writer Rakun in his preview) that maintains FC Barcelona’s 8 point advantage over Real Madrid. It’s reasonable to say this result was fair. In a game where tempers and malice were far below the games of 2010 and 2011, both sides played some excellent football, and both sides enjoyed spells of dominance during the 90 minutes. No surprise that Barça still dominated possession, but when Real found themselves in possession they used it responsibly. The reaction from each side of the media further echos a sentiment of fairness with the result. Nevertheless, Barça once again made life difficult for itself with defensive lapses and will have dreamed that Montoya’s majestic shot was just half an inch lower.
Tito Vilanova apparently was as concerned with the prospect of Alex Song at centerback as myself and did not select him in the starting 11. There was however still a surprise selection in Adriano. The FC Barcelona starting 11 was Valdés, Alves, Macherano, Adriano, Alba, Busquets, Xavi, Fàbregas, Iniesta, Messi, and Pedro. As the match kicked off it looked like a possible 3-4-3 with Adriano tasked to patrol the wings as extra support. However, very quickly my initial thinking was proven incorrect, as Adriano settled in along side Mascherano to play a standard centerback role. Interesting to say the least. I imagine the thought process focused a lot on his speed as a measure to stop the counter-attacking danger Madrid poses. As it turned out, I think Tito Vilanova learned the Brazilian is not destined for that role again.
The match at the Sánchez Pizjuan, even before the start, seemed to be one of the most complicated games for Barça. Memories of last season’s game are still fresh, where Barça did everything to win, but Sevilla stood tough, parked a very well positioned bus, and nothing went in.
This time, however, Sevilla looked a much more frightening side, due to their powerful counter-attack, which had already borne fruit a few weeks ago against Madrid. But once again this season, Barça succeeded against a disciplined side, a team that not only defended well but also exposed Barça’s failures in defense. This season, it seems nothing is stronger than Barça’s willingness to win.
After a more-dramatic-than-expected midweek Champions League match, FC Barcelona returned to the Spanish league in hopes of continuing its dominance. Granada CF had the challenge of trying to take down the undefeated Catalans in their home stadium. But sitting in the 18th position of the 20-team table didn’t bode well for the minnows.
Then again, Barcelona’s first half performance didn’t do it any favors either.
When FC Barcelona played Getafe CF for the first time last season, it was the game that marked the beginning of the end. Barcelona suffered various draws leading up to that late November match, but it hadn’t lost a game since April. That all changed when lackluster play lead to 1-0 defeat to the other Madrid-based club.
Well, everyone knows how last season ended. So, this year when the two clubs met again in the equivalent game, there was hope the outcome wouldn’t be the same.