Cesc – one year back at home

Cesc / PHOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ - FCB
This Wednesday marks a year since Cesc Fabregas returned to the Camp Nou and it’s been an explosive start to his first team career with some memorable goals

On August 15th 2011, Cesc Fàbregas’ dream of a return to the Camp Nou came true. His desire to sign for Barça had been no secret over the previous summers, but last year the then Arsenal captain, the London club and the Club where he’d learnt his trade as a youngster finally reached a deal to bring him home. Cesc was the Club’s second signing of the summer – after Alexis – and more than 30,000 turned out for his official presentation. Minutes before that presentation, Cesc had described his move as “the biggest challenge of my life”.

Three titles to start with

Handed the number 4 shirt, Cesc made a spectacular start to the season, winning the Spanish and European Super Cups and the Club World Cup in his first four months, scoring his first goal against Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup, then chalking up another in the European Super Cup win over Porto in Monaco. He settled into the team almost immediately and he was the second highest scorer in the first part of the season with key goals such as against Madrid at the Bernabeu (1-3) or against Santos in the final of the Club World Cup (4-0).

Cup and Euro success

Although his goal scoring feats slowed down in the second half of the season, he confirmed his position sitting just behind the front men, or a s a false number nine, able to create chances for the rest of the team., Cesc finished the season with 15 goals in 48 games (scoring in 5 of the 6 competitions he played in) and a Spanish Cup winners medal.

The Spanish Cup wasn’t the last thing that Cesc won though, as he played a key part in Spain’s Euro 2012 victory. Like the rest of the European champions, Cesc joined up with the rest of the squad late, but Tito Vilanova knows what Cesc is capable of from his time working with him in the academy and will be counting on him as he begins his second year back home at Can Barça.

A decade on from Víctor Valdés’ debut

Víctor Valdés, el 2002. FOTO: ARXIU FCB.
The keeper made his debut on August 14th 2002 in a Champions League qualifier

Ten years later, Valdes is the unquestioned number 1 in the team and has a cabinet full of trophies and winners medals

On August 14th 2002, the Camp Nou got its first glimpse of Victor Valdes. The 20-year –old was one of the new faces in Van Gaal’s team to play Legia Warsaw in a Champions League qualifier they ended up winning 3-0.

Valdés was the team’s number one keeper for the 2002/03 season, though he shared the spot with Roberto Bonano and didn’t consolidate his position until the following campaign under Frank Rijkaard.

He won his first La Liga title in 2005 and also took the first of his record five Zamora Trophies as the competition’s best keeper( a record he shares with Antoni Ramallets) and he then played a key part in the following season’s Champions League winning season which culminated in the win over Arsenal in Paris.

Record holder

Víctor Valdés is an imposing keeper, agile with great reflexes, consistent and with a strong personality. Under Guardiola he develepod his passing and became the source of many of the team’s moves.

Recently he became the keeper with most appearances for the Club (457) and the all-time fourth in the Club’s history behind Xavi, Puyol and Migueli. He has won, amongst other trophies, 3 Champions League, 5 Spanish League, 2 Club World Cups and 2 Spanish Cups.

Valdés was also a member of Spain’s 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 winning squads and is a regular in Vicente del Bosque’s squads.

Messi and Iniesta, finalists for the 2011/12 UEFA Best Player in Europe Award

Messi and Iniesta, finalistes
The two Barça players, together with Cristiano Ronaldo are in contention to receive the UEFA Best Player in Europe Award to be announced on 30 August

A shortlist of 32 players – which included 4 Barça players, Messi, Iniesta, Cesc and Xavi, has been whittled down to just three after the votes of 53 sports journalists were counted

Messi and Iniesta are in the final three for the UEFA Best Player in Europe Award for 2011/12. The Argentinean won the first edition of the award, given to the best player, regardless of nationality, playing in any of the European Federation’s member leagues.

Messi ,winner of the Golden Boot and the leading scorer in the Champions League for the last four seasons, put in yet another extraordinary season, whilst Iniesta was part of Spain’s Euro 2012 winning team and voted Player of the Tournament. The two will be joined in the last three by Cristiano Ronaldo with the winner to be announced during the Champions League draw on August 30th in Monaco. The voting will be held live and via an electronic voting system.

Xavi fifth

Xavi Hernández came fifth in the voting, which involved 53 sports writers from each federation, who submitted a top five, after coming third last year behind Andrea Pirlo (Juventus) and ahead of players such as Iker Casillas (Real Madrid), Didier Drogba (currently at Shanghai Shenhua), Petr Cech (Chelsea) and Falcão (Atletico Madrid).

Four Barça players amongst 32 nominated

The full list of 32 players nominated was published by UEFA on July 16th and include d four Barça players – Messi, Iniesta and Xavi, as well as Cesc Fàbregas.

 

First session without internationals

Puyol, en l'entrenament. FOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ-FCB.
The remnants of the first team squad had their first training session of the week this morning without 11 players away on international duty

Carles Puyol, who missed the game in Bucharest, trained with the rest of the squad.

Thiago trained apart from the rest on specific recovery work

With the mini-tour over and after a two day rest, the squad were back in training this morning at the Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper, but without the 11 players who are away on international duty.

Tito Vilanova had just 10 squad members available – Xavi, Villa, Pinto, Jordi Alba, Adriano, Dos Santos, Montoya, Fontàs, Bartra and Puyol, who was back in training after missing Saturday’s game in Bucharest with a muscle strain. B team players Tello, Sergi Roberto and Bañuz also joined in.

Thiago working on recovery

Thiago Alcántara was also on the training pitch, but he worked separately from the rest of the group. Thiago suffered swelling on his right calf after a knock at the end of last season after he received a kick.

The session centered on preparing Sunday’s La Liga opener against Real Sociedad with the players due back on Wednesday morning for their next training – once again without their international colleagues.

Summer ins and outs in La Liga (Part 1)

Mascherano and Koné (Levante). PHOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ-FCB.
With the Spanish League season set to kick off this weekend, we look at how Barça’s rivals have been working in this summer’s transfer market and their prospects for the new campaign.

Real Madrid:

Last year’s title winners are bound to be challenging again, though Jose Mourinho has, at the time of writing, not been at all active in the summer transfer window, releasing Gago – to Valencia, Pedro León – to Getafe and Alintop– to Galatasaray, whilst poised to make a move for a big-name player before the transfer window closes. Other players may also be on their way out of the Bernabéu, but expect pretty much the same core group that was so successful last season.

Valencia:

Ex- Barça player Mauricio Pellegrino was appointed Valencia manager at the end of last season, taking over from Unai Emery. The loss of Jordi Alba will be a big blow to the team, but they have confirmed the signing of Canales and Gago from Madrid and the exciting Portuguese international full back Joao Pereira from Sporting, as well as the Mexican midfielder Andrés Guardado from Deportivo and the Spanish Under 21 player J. Viera from Las Palmas. It’s a tough start for Valencia with visits to both Barça and Madrid in their first three games, but expect them to again be amongst the front runners.

 Málaga:

After the euphoria of last May’s qualification for the qualifying rounds of the Champions League for the first time in the Club’s history, the hangover kicked in over the summer, with enormous debts meaning the team’s biggest star – Santi Cazorla  – had to be sold to Arsenal. With Ruud van Nistelrooy retiring and the complicated financial situation the club find themselves in could mean that other big names may have to be sold off, with no cash looking likely for new signings, this could be a torrid season for Pellegrini’s side, who need to beat Panathanaikos in the qualifying round to ensure the Champions League windfall the club needs.

Atlético Madrid:

The Europa League winners, who’ll face Chelsea at the end of the month in the European Super Cup, have let go eight players – including Fran Merida to Hercules – whilst signing the experienced ex-Galatasaray, Inter Milan and Newcastle playmaker Emre from Fenerbahce and Argentinean defender Cata Diaz from Getafe. Perhaps most interestingly , the Uruguayan winger “Cebolla” Rodriguez  has been signed from Porto, where he enjoyed a great understanding with Falcao. Simeone showed what he was capable of with this team in the second half of last season and this year they will be expecting to kick on and pose a challenge to the big two.

Levante:

Last year’s historic sixth place and the team’s debut in Europe this season were built on experience and clever, if very cheap, signings and with Del Horno, Farinos and Xavi Venta amongst the eight players who’ve left in the summer manager Juan Ignacio has picked up David Navarro and Michel from Valencia, as well as last season’s loan striker Kone from Sevilla and six other close season signings for what could be a campaign that stretches his limited resources.