Leo Messi, Ronald Koeman and the art of free kicks

Messi and Koeman are both free-kick legends / FCB
When it comes to set pieces, the Argentinian and the Dutchman are two of the finest aces the game has ever seen

Some wonderful players have worn the Barça colours over the years. But only a special few are revered as free-kick specialists. In the current team, there is no doubt who the star is in that particular department –Leo Messi is a veritable virtuoso who has scored an amazing 23 free-kicks for the team.  

He’s scored seven of those just this season. Three were against Sevilla (two in the European Super Cup and one in the league), and he got two against Espanyol (one in the cup and one in the league last weekend). His other two free-kicks this season were scored against the two Galician teams (Celta and Deportivo) in the league.

Sooner or later, the Argentinian looks set to match another historic free-kick specialist at Barça, the great Ronald Koeman. The Dutchman, who is now managing Southampton, scored 26 free-kicks in his time at FC Barcelona (23 directly and 3 indirectly).

The ability to score from free-kicks, whether it’s by blasting the ball from long distance, by curving it around the wall or by whatever other means, is a skill mastered only by a chosen few. And in this video pays tribute to two of the finest exponents of the art. Enjoy!

14 May a joyous date in FC Barcelona history

Barça players celebrate the 2004/05 La Liga title at Levante. / MIGUEL RUIZ - FCB
The Catalans have won the league title six times on 14 May and can do it a seventh time this Saturday in Granada

For most people, 14 May is nothing more than the end of the first fortnight of the fifth month of the year.

For FC Barcelona, however, the date is something of a talisman.

Curiously, in 2016, 14 May comes this Saturday, when Barça can win a title on that very date their seventh time in Club history.

All they need to continue the trend is a win at Granada.

It would be Barça’s 24th La Liga title overall.

Previous title clinchers on 14 May have come as far back as 1905, when Barça won the Campionat de Catalunya. The Catalans later went on to win the Copa dels Pirineus in 1911 and the Spanish Cup in 1922 — all three coming on, you guessed it, 14 May.

72 years later

It wasn’t until 1994 that Barça hoisted another piece of hardware on the date in question. A 5–2 blaugrana victory over Sevilla at Camp Nou allowed the Johan Cruyff-led team to leapfrog Deportivo in the league standings on the final day.

Then in 1997, Barça won the Club’s fourth Cup Winners’ Cup with Bobby Robson at the helm after a 1–0 win over Paris Saint-Germain in Rotterdam. Ronaldo was the lone goal scorer that day.

The last time Barça raised a title on 14 May came in 2005, when the team, led by Frank Rijkaard on the bench and by Ronaldinho on the field, clinched the La Liga championship in the third-to-last week of the season with a 1–1 draw at Levante. Samuel Eto’o scored that day for FCB.

Now, in 2016, the team is led by Luis Enrique Martínez and can once more win a title on 14 May. This time in Granada, and with the added incentive that Real Madrid are right on Barça’s heels.

Kick off at the Nuevo Los Cármenes Stadium is at 5.00pm CET.

Luis Suárez, in interview with ESPN: 'We're one step away from achieving our objective'

Luis Suárez is on the verge of winning both the Pichichi Trophy and the Golden Shoe. / MIGUEL RUIZ - FCB
The Uruguayan striker extols the team’s unity during the season’s most difficult moments

In an interview with the American sports network ESPN, FC Barcelona striker Luis Suárez said the Catalans were “one game from achieving the goal they always set at the beginning of the season.”

Suárez, of course, was referring to the La Liga title.

“We control our own destiny,” he said.

The Uruguayan made it clear that team unity is one of the big reasons Barça are right there heading into the final game of the season.

“Everything happened all at once,” Suárez said, in reference to a rough patch the team hit at one of the season’s most pivotal points. “We lost three league games in a row and were knocked out of the Champions League.”

“But,” he said, “we stayed together as a team and we never lost our confidence.”

The Champions League elimination was especially hard on the squad, he said. “It left a really bitter taste in our mouths. We deserved to go through,” he said.

[[CITA_1]]

For Suárez himself, this season is turning out to be nothing short of spectacular. The Uruguayan leads the Spanish First Division in scoring with 38 goals and leads the standings for the Golden Shoe. His 81 goals since joining Barça prior to the 2014/15 season are tied for most all-time among blaugrana players hailing from the South American nation.

Through it all, Suárez has remained humble.

“You score goals thanks to your teammates,” he said. “As of late, they’ve been looking for me more so I can score.”

He continued: “I never thought I’d be a big goal scorer at Barça and I’m having a lot of fun.”

For now, though, Suárez is focused on winning Saturday at Granada and then the Copa del Rey final versus Sevilla the week after.

“Sevilla are one of the toughest teams we could face. We’re really familiar with each other and they always make things tough for us,” Suárez said.

See the full interview on ESPN FC, here.

I never imagined I’d be a big goal scorer for Barça.

History on FC Barcelona's side

Dani Alves celebrates 2009/10 La Liga title at Camp Nou. / MIGUEL RUIZ - FCB
The Catalans have won the La Liga title every time it has been decided between themselves and Real Madrid on the final day of the season

There’s an old adage that says history tend to repeat itself.

For FC Barcelona, at least, that seems to be the case.

The Catalans head into the final match day of the 2015/16 season involved in a two-horse race with Real Madrid for the La Liga title. It had been a three-horse race for weeks, but when Atlético fell at Levante on Sunday they cleared the way for sporting’s chief rivalry to clash for one final time this season.

But this latest El Clásico will not be a head-to-head match between the eternal rivals. Instead, it will involve four teams in two stadiums separated by about 1,000km of forest, mountains, prairie and desert. On Saturday at 5.00pm CET, Barça play at Granada in the southeast of Spain and Madrid play at Deportivo La Coruña in the country’s northwest — and the results will set the final standings in stone.

Barça control their own destiny. A win in Andalusia — or any result equal to or better than that of Madrid — will seal the deal. Madrid, on the other hand, must win and hope Barça draw or lose. If Madrid draw and Barça lose, the title goes to the Catalans on a tiebreaker.

This will be the sixth time in history Barça and Madrid have been the only two standing heading into the season finale.

On the previous five occasions, Barça came out on top every time.

History, it seems, does tend to repeat itself.

Hopefully, it will repeat itself one more time this Saturday.

Barça players listen on the radio as they await the final result from Tenerife. /  FCB ARCHIVE

Memories of Tenerife

Arguably the two most memorable finales that ended with Barça beating out the Madrileños came in back-to-back seasons courtesy of Tenerife. Both times it was Real who held the league lead heading into the final match day, and both times they coughed up the hardware following defeats in the Canary Islands.

The first came in 1991/92, when Tenerife came back from two goals down for a 3–2 win over Madrid as Barça topped Athletic 2–0 to come out on top in the standings, 55 points to 54. The following season, 1992/93, Madrid fell in Tenerife, 2-0, while FCB beat Real Sociedad 1–0 to win La Liga, 58 points to 57.

Barça beat Valladolid with two goals from Messi, one from Pedro and and own-goal.  / MIGUEL RUIZ-FCB

Similar situation

But while Barça twice came from behind to win La Liga back in the early 1990s, at the end of the 2009/10 season it was FC Barcelona, led by then-coach Pep Guardiola, which held a one point advantage going into match day 38.

But the Catalans didn’t choke, routing Valladolid 4–0 to end the season with 99 points on 31 wins, six draws and a single defeat. Real Madrid, then led by Manuel Pellegrini, drew 1–1 with Málaga to end the season three points behind Barça.

The 1928/29 league season ended with a Barça team photo. /  FCB ARCHIVE

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

The other two times when Barça and Madrid battled for the league title in separate games on the final day of the season came in the early and mid 20th century.

In 1928/29, Real Madrid lost to Atlético 2–0 in their final game and Barça beat Real Unión 4–1. Although Barça were still one point behind, they had a game in hand. The Catalans won that game too, 2–0 over Arenas Getxo, giving them the title.

Over 30 years later in the 1959/60 season, Barça came out on top once again, winning 5–0 versus Zaragoza on the final day while Madrid fell 1–0 against Las Palmas. The eternal rivals ended the season with 46 points each with Barça taking the title based on the second tie-breaker — the ratio of goals scored to goals conceded.

The first tie breaker was head to head goal differential, but Barça and Madrid were even there as well.

A season of records at Camp Nou

Players celebrate another big win against Espanyol / VÍCTOR SALGADO - FCB
The home of FC Barcelona has seen 104 goals this campaign, the second best ever tally

FC Barcelona wrapped up their last game at the Camp Nou for the 2015/16 season on Sunday in perfect fashion, with a 5-0 win over local rivals RCD Espanyol.

The goal-fest means that Barça end their home campaign with their second best ever scoring tally. The 104 goals scored in 29 matches in all competitions is runner-up only to the 2011/12 campaign by Pep Guardiola’s side who managed 113.

There were 19 league games, five in the Champions League, four in the Copa del Rey and one in the Spanish Super Cup. Barca won 25 of the 29, drawing and losing just two.

These fine numbers contributed largely to the team’s impressive unbeaten streak of 39 games. The longest home winning run of the season was eleven games, which was achieved twice.

Big hitters

Some of the highlights of the season were the big wins racked up in front of the home supporters, which include the 7-0 victory over Valencia in the cup semi-final. There was also big scores against Roma (6-1), Villanovense (6-1), Athletic Club (6-0), Celta Vigo (6-1), Getafe (6-0) and Sporting Gijón (6-0).

Unsurprisingly, the lions’ share of the 81 home goals were scored by the front three:

Luis Suárez hit 35, followed by Messi with 25 and Neymar Jr with 21. Piqué scored five while Rakitic, Munir and Sandro chipped in with three each.