Barça’s 2011/2012 Season – Part 5

Part Five of Six:  In a multi-part saga, Barcelona Football Blog offers a retrospective blow-by-blow account of events around Barça’s First Football Team over the past season. Join us as we look back on the high and lows of the 11 months that were Pep’s last, as Manager.

At pitch level

Season Review: Part One
Season Review: Part Two
Season Review: Part Three
Season Review: Part Four


…continued from Part Four

March 2012

A full month of 8 matches – 6 La Liga and 2 Champions League. Away games would be governed by doctored pitches, and a monumental club scoring record would be broken. The team would receive some news which would make it hard for them to concentrate on their games – when a team-mate’s life was endangered.

1st March:  Players return from International duties. Abidal returns with a groin injury and Thiago with pain in his right tibia. Both are placed on the injury list.

3rd March:  Home vs. Sporting Gijón.  La Liga.
The team was without injured Abidal and Thiago, and Busquets and Messi were sitting out their suspensions after accumulating 5 Yellow cards apiece. Keita got a start – the first for him since the Rayo game on 29th Nov 2011. Pedro, Cesc and Cuenca comprised the front-line.

Sporting made it clear that they had come to park-the-bus, mixed in with some clever midfield man-marking. An early Pedro goal, after some brilliant work by Iniesta and Cesc, was ruled off-side, with Cesc appealing for a handball. Adriano made a great run from half-way but his shot skated across the goal-front, and no one had run with him to benefit from his cross. Keita had a shot blocked by a hand, but again no penalty. Alves made a weak attempt, before he was pushed off the ball in a following play, but the referee refused to call the penalty. Barça continued to play well, with great linking play. Finally, some lovely passing between Keita, Adriano and Iniesta resulted in a goal (41’) for the latter as he pushed it into an empty net. Cesc had a great chance just before the break, but the ball was cleared away.

The second half brought immediate controversy as the home defence was caught napping. A minute into it, Piqué was adjudged to be the last defender, and the ref had no hesitation in showing a red card. Barça would have to do with 10 men for the rest of the game. This gave Sporting some spark, and Clemente sent on their top scorer, Barral. With his second touch of the ball, Barral slipped a shot (48’) past Valdés to level the score.

The team got to work, and Alexis was sent on to shore up the attack. Iniesta and Xavi took control. A combination from the duo to Alexis saw a miss, and Tello also floated in a ball which was just high over the bar. A Keita movement also saw another Sporting handball go unpenalised. Cuenca had a shot saved, before Keita collected an Alexis assist to curl (79’) it into the net. Pep sent him to the corner to celebrate, while he gave instructions to Xavi, and Puyol was subbed on. Iniesta and Xavi combined in the 87th minute for the latter to chip (87’) over the GK.

Alexis earned The Wrath of Pep by overstretching himself while running for an overhead ball in the 90thminute and had to leave the pitch with another injury. Barça finished the match with 9 players on the pitch.

Game Facts:
~  In his after-match interview, Piqué accused the referee of deliberately orchestrating his removal, after words between the player and ref were exchanged at half-time.
~  With his goal, Xavi set a personal Liga record with 8 goals scored in the season.
~  Iniesta extended his unbeaten league run to 48 matches. Only Butragueño, with 50, was in front of the Illusionista.
~  Piqué was the first home player to be sent off Camp Nou since February 2010.
~  Mascherano recovered 12 balls to lead the re-possession numbers.
~  Xavi topped the major European leagues ranking for completing the most number of passes in the opposition half – 1,553 in total.  Messi was 2nd and Alves 4th.
~  Barça had the widest spread of goal-scorers in La Liga – 14 different players from the First Team, plus Tello.
~  The team had now scored 135 goals in all competitions in the season.
~  Barça’s midfield now recorded the best statistics under Guardiola with a total of 39 goals in the season:  Cesc (15), Xavi (12), Iniesta (5), Thiago (3), Keita (2) and B-team player Sergi Roberto (2).

Link to Match Highlights Video

4th March:  Alexis was confirmed out for between 10 and 15 days with a hamstring injury. Puyol was also injured in the last game against Sporting.

6th March:  Atletico Madrid’s stadium, Vicente Calderón, was confirmed as the venue for the final of the Copa del Rey. Athletic Bilbao and FC Barcelona would meet on May 25th at 10pm.

7th March:
  For his Red card against Sporting, Piqué received a one-match ban which would see him miss the match against Racing Santander.

7th March:
  Before the start of the Champions League match against Bayer Leverkusen, Xavi donated 100,000 Euros to the International Red Cross. Internet voting had Xavi elected as captain of’s 2011 Team of the Year.

7th March:  Home vs. Bayer Leverkusen.  Champions League.  7-1.

Bayer Leverkusen came to Camp Nou for the 2nd leg of the Champions League Last 16 match-up. Guardiola fielded a best top line-up, with Adriano on for the still-injured Abidal, and with Alexis, Puyol and Thiago also on the injury list.

Messi and Pedro had early chances off the same movement, with the latter making a mess of his shot in front of the goal. A Xavi direct free-kick just missed, before another one was sent into Piqué whose header didn’t get enough on it to send it into the net. The visitors hung on until the 25th minute which was when Messi scored the first with a trademark chip shot. Xavi had another shot go high, and then Iniesta sent the ball to Messi who dribbled his way across the Bayer defence before slotting the ball (42’) home for his second.

In the 18 minutes after half-time, Barça scored 4 more goals. An insightful overhead ball from Cesc to Messi finished with a chip-shot (48’) before Bayer had their first real chance, but the ball ran across the goal-face and out. A Pedro chip at half-way saw Tello charge up the left, finishing with a curling ball (54’) into the far net for his first CL goal on his CL debut. Pedro next combined with Messi for the #10 to gather the ball back off a GK spill and put in his 4th (57′) for the night. Alves assisted Tello for his 2nd of the night, with the #37 sending it (61’) under the GK Leno for the team’s 6th goal. Keita just missed with a header from a corner kick, before Messi claimed his record 5th (84’) to receive another standing ovation from the bench and fans. Tello was unlucky not to get his hat-trick when he drove the ball directly at Leno instead of shooting it wider.

Bayer managed a consolation with their only shot on goal all night, with a magnificent Bellarabi shot in the 90th minute which VV – and Pep – could only stand and admire. The game finished with the score at 7-1 and Barça was through to the quarter-final stage of Champions League.

Game Facts:
~  Messi’s 5 goal bag was another record for La Pulga. He became the first player to score 5 goals in a match in the history of Champions League. (This was very nearly equalled by Bayern Munich’s Mario Gomez in the same week, but he only managed 4 goals in the match against FC Basel.)
~  Cesc saw most of the ball with 117 successful passes out of 131.
~  Mascherano (16), Piqué (15) and Busquets (14) won back 45 of the 85 balls recovered during the game.
~  Messi scored from 5 of his 6 attempts.

Link to Match Highlights Video

9th March:
  Training for the next Liga game vs. Racing de Santander was missing Thiago, Alexis and Abidal. Piqué trained but would not be able to play as he sat out his Red card ban. Puyol also trained and would travel, but had still not received full medical clearance.

11th March:  Away vs. Racing de Santander.  La Liga.  0-2.

Racing was a team in strife, on its 3rd manager for the season and in relegation zone. At the New Sardinero and due to the injury list, Pep put out a 3-man backline of Alves, Mascherano and Puyol – the latter playing without medical clearance. A midfield of four – Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta and Cesc – supported Messi, Cuenca and Pedro.

There was really only one team playing, as Racing preferred to sit deep in defence and Barça was hardly troubled. Pedro came close with his curling shot just missing the far net, before a Messi free-kick was punched clear. An Iniesta floating shot just hit the bar, before a Cesc shot was also blocked. Xavi passed out to Cesc on the right who crossed in to find a sliding Messi who put it away (28’) for the first goal of the night. Another Pedro shot hit the side of the net, before he almost scored as a cross nearly became an own-goal.

After half-time, Cesc was denied once more, as was Cuenca. Cesc won a penalty which Messi was happy (56′) to convert. Cuenca had a shot rebound off the post in the 60th minute and a Messi shot was saved in the 64th. Racing was denied by an offside play. Pedro put another into the side of the net, and the GK Mario made a good save by smothering a Messi attack. A Pedro chip was saved by Mario, when he should have rounded the GK. Tello shot when he should have passed to Messi. A good victory, considering the injury list.

Game Facts:
~  Messi achieved his 150th La Liga victory in 202 games.
~  Messi scored his 50th goal and is only the second player to achieve this, behind Germany’s Gerd Müller.
~  Barça had 23 shots, 8 of which were on target.
~  With 17 each, Mascherano and Alves recovered the most balls.
~  The team has hit the woodwork 21 times in 26 La Liga games this season.

Link to Match Highlights Video

March 15th:
  Devastating news.  A statement was released to advise that Éric Abidal’s liver was failing, and that a transplant was required. The team and fans were rocked by the announcement but, through it all, Abi remained strong – comforting his team-mates and still maintaining his fitness by attending team trainings. Abidal was placed on the Injured List and played no further games over the remainder of the season.

March 16thThe draw for the Quarter-final Champions League round took place, and Barcelona’s opponent was AC Milan once again, after having played them in Group Play.

March 16th:
  Alexis and Thiago returned from injury.

March 17th Away vs. Sevilla.  La Liga.  0-2.
The 2nd away Liga game on the trot and the team was off to the Sánchez Pizjuán.

With Abidal firmly in their thoughts, the team gave a clinical first-half display. An early Adriano attempt was awkwardly deflected for Palop to clear. Pedro also missed a good chance. A free-kick from Xavi (17′) beat Palop and Barça was on the board. Minutes later, Iniesta shot just wide before Manu stung Valdés’ hands. Messi scored the second with a brilliant floating chip (24′) over Palop. Xavi received a knock to his ankle when attempting another goal.

Just after the half hour, a Piqué error nearly allowed Sevilla back into the match, but the ball somehow missed the goal. A Kanoute shot went wide, before Pedro had a turn, but the rebound from Palop as unable to be collected by Messi.  A brilliant save by Valdés stopped an own-goal by Adriano and Cesc missed another sitter just before the break.

After half-time, Sevilla piled on the pressure for 15 minutes and a penalty appeal was turned down. Barça finally got back into control and Iniesta went close in the 72nd minute. Manu nearly scored in the 83rd, but VV was up to the challenge. Alexis couldn’t control the ball to get it past Palop and a Messi free-kick went over the bar.

Game Facts:
~  The win was dedicated to Abidal.
~  Messi scored his 150th Liga goal, over-taking former RM player, Raúl, to become the youngest player in La Liga history to reach this total.
~  Xavi scored his 9th Liga goal to set a new personal record for goals in a season.
~  Piqué and Mascherano recovered most balls – 9 apiece.
~  Iniesta celebrated his 50th consecutive Liga match without defeat – 42 wins and 8 draws – to equal the record set by former RM player, Emilio Butragueño.

Link to Match Highlights Video

18th March: Málaga visited Real Madrid and, in injury-time at the end of the second half, Santi Cazorla scored from a free-kick to level the score at 1-1 and split the points. Madrid fell to 8 points ahead of Barça.

18th March:  David Villa received 1,000 paper origami cranes from the FCB Supporters Club in Japan, as a symbol of good luck for the injured player.

18th March:  Afellay rejoined his team-mates in training for the first time since he was injured at the end of September 2011. He still trained separately, but he was at least on the same training pitch.

19th March:  A recalculation by FC Barcelona’s Center of Documentation and Studies and La Vanguardia confirmed that César Rodríguez only scored 232 goals and not the 235 goals as originally attributed to him. This meant that Messi, on 231 goals, could equal or break the record in the next game against Granada at Camp Nou.

20th March:  Home vs. Granada.  La Liga.  5-3.
The rain fell and the wind howled for Granada’s visit to Camp Nou, and Pep fielded an unusual midfield trio of Thiago, Keita and Xavi.

Granada had the first shot which went wide, before the Blaugrana went ahead with a quick goal to Xavi (4’) from brilliant play by Cuenca and Messi. When Messi scored the next goal (16’), off a brilliant Cuenca cross, he equalised César’s tally of 232 goals. Alexis had a shot go over the bar in the 24th minute, and an appeal for a penalty turned down.

The 2 goals looked to seal the night, but once again the home team fell asleep after halftime and Granada scored 2 quick goals from a free-kick in the 54th and a penalty conceded by Alves in the 61st minute. Oh-oh. Thiago missed a sitter, and then VV tipped a Granada shot over the bar.

Thankfully, Messi wasn’t finished. His next goal (66’) gave him the outright record for most goals scored for Barça in its history – scored with a trademark Messi chip-shot. Tello then added the 4th (81’) from a rebounded Messi shot, before Messi completed his hat-trick with another golazo (85’) from a tight angle. Granada scored another penalty (88’) after Alves handled the ball, collected his second Yellow for the night and was Red-carded off the pitch. The whistle blew on a memorable night where 8 goals were scored, and Messi smashed yet another record.

Game Facts:
Messi broke César’s goalscoring record of 232 goals for Barça in a little over half the 13 years that César took to score them.
~  Messi had now scored 34 goals in La Liga, and 54 in all competitions.
~  Xavi took his record total to 14 goals.

Link to Match Highlight Video

20th March:
  Adriano suffered yet another injury during the Granada match and would be out of action for 10 days.

21st March:  Once again undone by a late free-kick, Real Madrid could only manage a draw with Villarreal, and the points difference between Los Merengues and Barça narrowed to 6.

22nd March:  Brazilian Keirrison was loaned back to Coritiba FC for 2 seasons – the club at which he started his professional career.

23rd March:
  The complaint against Piqué, brought against him for his after-match comments following the Granada game (and his red card), was dismissed.

24th March:  Away vs. Mallorca.  La Liga.  0-2.

Somewhere, over the sea….  Barça’s next match in Estadi Iberostar saw the uncut grass present the team with more problems than did the Mallorca players. No Alves (carded out), Abidal and Adriano saw a 3-man backline of Puyol, Mascherano and Piqué.

After a denied goal in the 12th minute and a Mallorca missed header down the other end, Messi opened the scoring from a freekick (25’) which Alexis may or may not have touched on the way through. Iniesta shot wide and Alexis had a deflected shot cruelly hit the bar.

In the second half, VV saved a Mallorca freekick after Thiago was sent off for receiving his 2nd yellow card for the night. Messi put one into the side of the net, and VV blocked another Mallorca attempt. The team still maintained possession, and finally Piqué had the opportunity to signal his beloved novia with their shared birthday sign in the 79th minute when he potted a Messi rebound off the post.

Game Facts:
~  The team had now scored 600 goals during Guardiola’s tenure – 150 of them in the current season.
~  Messi’s Liga total now stood at 35 goals – a new club record.
~  Messi’s 205th Liga game equaled Phillip Cocu’s record as the foreigner who has made most appearances for the club in La Liga.
~  Iniesta now held the outright La Liga record for most consecutive wins, overtaking former Madrid player, Emilio Butragueño.
~  Mascherano recovered most balls – 12.
~  The win was Barça’s 8th away win in a row.

Link to Match Highlights Video

26th March:
  Although not cleared to play, Afellay was included in the squad travelling to Italy to face AC Milan.

28th March:
  Thiago’s second Yellow card (received against Mallorca), was rescinded after an appeal to the RFEF Competition Committee. He would be available for selection in the next Liga game against Athletic Bilbao.

28th March:  Away vs. AC Milan.  Champions League.  0-0.

After playing in the same Group, Barça again drew AC Milan to face at the quarter-final stage, with the first game away at the Giuseppe Meazza Stadium in San Siro.

There were no volcanoes erupting, so the bus was replaced with a plane which meant that the team arrived fresh, and ready to rock-and-roll.

The pitch was so dry and crumbly that players were losing their footing and falling, with and without the ball. Some good penalty appeals were denied to Barça, and chances were saved with both goal-keepers working hard.

The game ended scoreless with the visitors retaining a lot of possession with nothing to show for it. Milan’s game plan had come to fruition and all the work was to come in the return leg.

Game Facts:
~  Puyol played his 549th game in the Barça colours and is second only to Xavi.
~  Barça’s last 0-0 draw in Champions League was on 4th November 2009 against Rubin Kazan.
~  The team had 18 shots on goal compared to Milan’s 6.
~  Messi had most shots with 6, followed by Xavi with 4.
~  Milan’s Ambrosini made the most passes for his club with 42. Only 2 Barça players made fewer passes – Puyol (36) and Mascherano (40).

Link to Match Highlights Video

29th March:
  The club filed an official complaint with UEFA over the condition of the Milan pitch. The complaint was dismissed after UEFA deemed the pitch to be “satisfactory”.

31st March:
  Adriano received his medical clearance and was available for the Bilbao match.

31st March:
  As the players came onto the pitch, a huge banner with a tribute to Messi (for his record goals) was unfurled at Camp Nou.

31st March:  Home vs. Athletic Bilbao.  La Liga.  2-0.

Both Bielsa and Guardiola fielded teams with their European championships in mind – Champions League for Barça and Europa League for Bilbao.

The home team started strongly, somewhat stunning Bilbao with its intensity, and Piqué put an early chance over the bar. Shortly after, Thiago’s offside goal was disallowed. Messi put a quick free-kick wide and Iniesta went over the top. It wasn’t until close to halftime that Iniesta (39’) found the net, when the ball was recovered and sent forward by Messi to the #8. Messi had another shot denied, as did Adriano.

After the break, Tello was unsuccessful with an attempt, before he was taken down in the box for a penalty kick which Messi (56’) converted. Iraizoz saved another dangerous Iniesta deflected shot by tipping it over the top. Messi missed another before Muniain came close as the ball beat Valdés but was just cleared by Piqué. Keita came close to adding to the score, but his ball hit the bar.

Game Facts:
~  The game was memorable for the crowd’s tribute to Abidal during the 22nd minute in which they stood, applauded and chanted the player’s name for a full 60 seconds.
~  Valdés equalled Carles Rexach’s record for playing 449 matches, and is 4th overall behind Migueli, Puyol and Xavi.
~  Iniesta played his 397th match.
~  Alves played his 300th game in La Liga.

Link to Match Highlights Video

All Month: Afellay and Fontàs with ACL injury, Villa with broken leg, Abidal with groin injury and then requiring a liver transplant.
Wrapped in Cotton Wool: Xavi rested whenever possible.
1st – 16th: Thiago with right tibia injury.
4th – 16th: Alexis with a hamstring injury.
4th – 11th:  Puyol with knee injury. (Played without medical clearance.)
20th – 31st:
Adriano with a hamstring injury.
14th – 19th: Xavi with an injured foot.
14th – 25th: Adriano with a hamstring injury.


Hlebril 2012

As he’s now gone, this will be the last season to truly take Hleb’s name in vain, so I’m using to also describe our “mensis horribilis”. There were a potential 3 Champions League matches to play, as well as a home Clásico, and a slim Liga hope with Madrid dropping points. Unfortunately, the pressure was too much for a tired Barça team running on empty. Guardiola then made a decision which no one wanted to accept.

The first 2 weeks went to plan.

3rd April:  Home vs. AC Milan.  Champions League.  3-1.
Milan arrived at Camp Nou and started the game as cautiously as they had played at the Giuseppe Meazza. Barça pressed from kick-off with Guardiola utilising a risky 3-man backline to provide extra reinforcement to the front. It soon paid off when Messi was brought down in the box and converted his first penalty (10’) for the match.

Milan didn’t lie down and a calculatingly effective goal from an Ibrahimovic assist to Nocerino (32’) saw the score level at 1-1. It lasted 8 minutes before Busquets had his shirt tugged at the other end of the pitch, and Messi slotted home his second penalty (40’) for the night.

A third goal was added by Iniesta (53’) and the deal was sealed. Thiago had a good chance go wide, just before Piqué called to be subbed off with an injury (70’). Guardiola chose to conservatively finish the game by playing it safe for the last 20 minutes, although Adriano came close to another goal but his shot went wide, and perhaps he would have been better to send it back in to Messi or Iniesta. In the dying minutes, VV saved a potential goal by blocking the ball for Adriano to clear.

The whistle blew and Barça was through to the CL semi-final stage.

Game Facts:
~  Barça had 21 shots on goal compared to 3 for AC Milan.
~  Nine La Masia graduates started the match. (Only Alves and Mascherano were not from La Masia.)
~  With the 2 goals in this match, Messi’s CL goal total of 14 was now a record for total goals scored in one CL season.
Messi’s total CL goal-count was now 51 – making him the 3rd highest scorer behind Raúl (71) and Van Nistelrooy (56).
~  It was Guardiola’s 50th CL game as manager: 31 wins, 14 draws, 5 losses.
Alves played his 200th official game for Barça, during which he has scored 15 goals.
~  Puyol played his 550th game for the team, over-taking Miguel’s total.
~  With 157 goals, the team is 1 goal short of a new goal record for a season under Guardiola. Messi is the leading scorer, averaging 1.18 goals per game.
19 players have scored over the season.
~  This would be the 5th consecutive Champions League Semi-Final stage for the team.

Link to Match Highlights Video

4th April:
Piqué sustained an injury on the bicep femoris of his left thigh and would be out for a few days.

4th April:
  Marc Muniesa’s contract was extended to June 2013, and he would be promoted to the First Team for the 2012/2013 season.

4th April:  After beating Benfica, Chelsea was confirmed as Barça’s opponent in the Champions League Semi-Finals.

7th April:  Away vs. Zaragoza.  La Liga.  1-4.
A visit to La Romareda was next for Barça, to take on Zaragoza in what is never a straightforward fixture. Pep started with Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets on the bench with Piqué still out injured. Once again, the visitors were presented with a sub-optimal and very dry pitch on which to play their game. It was also very windy.

The home team won an early penalty when Valdés fouled Lafita, but VV saved the shot. The score remained 0-0 until Aranda (29’) opened the scoring, and the away result jitters re-surfaced. Alexis and Cesc missed down the other end with some dismal finishing. After missing an earlier headed attempt, it was up to Puyol (35’) to score (with his foot!) and lead Barça back into the game. A break-away Alexis crossed a pass over to Messi who took it into the box, evaded 2 defenders and drove the ball (38’) into the upper left of the net with pinpoint precision. Just before half-time, Lafita had another grubber attempt which went directly to VV to scoop up.

After the break the game continued at a fast pace, and Zaragoza had the first attempt go just high over the bar just a couple of minutes after the re-start. Alexis was denied by Roberto when he should have passed to a wide open Cesc.

Brilliant evasion of the whole defensive line by Messi saw him sneak a ball through to Adriano, who crossed just too high for Cesc to get his head on the ball. Alexis crossed into Thiago who tried a fancy flick into the goal, but the shot was too weak. Messi uncharacteristically missed a trademark chip shot, but he was under immense pressure from 2 Zaragoza defenders.

Alexis was brought down in the penalty box and Messi converted the penalty (86’) to add a bit more cushioning to the score. Minutes later in injury time, great open play saw a charge for the goal with a Thiago-Pedro-Messi-Pedro combination for the Canarian to drive it (91′) straight into the net.

Game Facts:
~  With his 4th goal for the season, Puyol set the new club record for total goals scored in one season. The 3 other goals brought the new total to 161 in official matches, averaging 2.98 goals per match.
~  Messi had now scored 11 goals in the 12 matches that he had played against Zaragoza.
~  Pedro dedicated his goal to Abidal.
~  Puyol won back 13 balls in the match.
~  Thiago led the passing stats and only missed 8 of his 95 passes.
~  Cesc picked up his 5th Yellow card and would miss the Getafe game.

Link to Match Highlights Video

8th AprilAlves was confirmed injured with slight muscle strain which he picked up in the Zaragoza match.

8th April:  Valencia played Real Madrid at the Bernabéu and managed a 0-0 draw. The result meant that in the past couple of weeks, Madrid had dropped 6 points to remain 4 points ahead of FC Barcelona on the Liga Table, with 7 games remaining.

9th April:  In his press conference, Guardiola revealed that he had instructed his players to “smile a little less, and run a little more” in order to succeed in the pressure-filled weeks ahead of them.

10th April:  Home vs. Getafe.  La Liga.  4-0.
Getafe was next to visit Camp Nou, and the game was played with thoughts of Abidal very much in the minds of the players and fans, as he was in the operating room while the game was being played.

With Piqué and Alves still on the Injury List (and Cesc carded out of the game as well), Pep boldly started with a 3-man backline (Adriano, Mascherano and Puyol) against one of only 2 teams to have beaten Barça during the current La Liga season. The attack was a show of strength with Xavi, Iniesta, Cuenca, Pedro, Alexis and Messi taking the field, and with Busquets as the pivot and the front-man for the defensive line.

Barça dominated from the start in a powerful possessive performance. Some great play between Iniesta, Messi and Alexis saw the latter open the scoring (13’) with a great shot from just outside the box. Iniesta and Messi teamed again for a 1-2 in which Iniesta back-heeled the ball for Messi to rocket (43’) into the net just before half-time.

Heavy rain hindered the game after the re-start, and although Getafe attempted to maintain their defensive pressure, Alexis scored his second (72’) with a powerful header from a Cuenca cross which had the home crowd roaring its approval.

From a Messi free-kick into the box, Pedro produced a sublime header (74’) to put the game out of reach for Getafe at 4-0.

Game Facts:
~  The crowd honoured Abidal by applauding and chanting his name in the 22nd minute of both halves.
~  In his press conference, Guardiola dedicated the game to Abidal.
~  About the same time as Pep was wrapping up his press conference, Abidal was being wheeled out of the operating theatre.
~  With the win, Guardiola equalled Rijkaard’s record of 112 victories in La Liga. Out of 146 matches in charge, the team had won 112, drawn 24 and lost only 10.
~  Until this match, Getafe was 1 of 2 teams (the other being Espanyol) in the Guardiola era to never have conceded more than 2 goals per match at Camp Nou.
~  This was Barça’s 10th consecutive Liga win.
~  Alexis’ total of 13 goals was his highest total for a season.
~  When Muniesa replaced Mascherano in the 82nd minute, there were 10 home-grown players on the pitch.
~  Barça made 718 passes compared to Getafe’s 177.
~  Busquets was the key to the success of the 3-man defence, making 13 tackles which was more than any other Barça player.
~  Valdés had a very quiet night with no Getafe shots on target.

Link to Match Highlights Video

11th April:
  The club announced that the Pre-Season Tour for the First Team would be limited to 4 or 5 games in Europe. This was surprising news as, back in December, it had already been announced that the team was to travel to Indonesia.

11th April:  After nearly 7 months on the injury list, Afellay was given medical clearance to play again.

13th April:
Piqué and Alves were cleared to play, but Keita was placed under precautionary treatment for a thigh problem.

13th April: In his press conference, Guardiola mentioned that Abidal’s operation had gone to plan.

14th April:  Away vs. Levante.  La Liga.  1-2.

The team travelled to Valencia to face 5th placed Levante in their Estadio La Cruz.

Strong home defence saw chances for Messi, Thiago and Adriano go begging. Valdés made a meal out of a corner clearance and a harsh handball call against Busquets gave Levante a penalty (22’).  The misses kept coming with Cesc duffing a header, as well as Lopez going wide for Levante.

The second half started with a great chance for Levante, after messy play from Thiago and Mascherano, which Puyol cleared out of danger. Adriano had a good shot blocked, but Barça was finding it difficult to control the flow of the game.

The equaliser came from great play between Cuenca and Messi, with a quick 1-2 between Alexis and Messi, for Leo to plant it (64’) into the net with a lovely curling shot. Cuenca was brought down in the box and the referee awarded a penalty which Messi drilled into the net (70’) to win the game, but not before Valdés was forced to make a difficult save to block a Levante shot.

Game Facts:
~  Barça was still only 4 points behind leaders Real Madrid.
~  Messi had now scored 201 goals in 210 games under Guardiola with an average of 0.96 per game.
~  Iniesta played his 400th official match for the club.
~  It was Guardiola’s 50th away win as Manager.
~  Barça had 16 shots on goal compared to 5 for Levante.
~  Messi took 6 shots and Thiago took 4.
~  Mascherano won back most balls – 15.

Link to Match Highlights Video

16th April:  Keita returned to training after a few days of treatment.

18th April:  Time Magazine named Messi as one of the world’s Top 100 influential people.

The Week in Which the Wheels Fell Off

The team was faced with a week of 3 incredibly difficult and taxing games. Sandwiched between the 2 Champions League Semi-Final was the Liga Home Clásico. It would prove to be a mountain too high, and the team succumbed to the pressure under which it was placed.

18th April:  Away vs. Chelsea.  Champions League.  1-0.

Champions League Quarter Finals time, and Barça went to London.

The home-side played ultra-defensively, and the Blaugrana could not find a way through. Alexis was denied by the woodwork and this set the tone for the match. Barça failed to convert opportunities into goals as a combination of woodwork and a hard-working Petr ?ech stopped the ball from entering the goal.

In a cruel twist, Chelsea’s only shot at goal in the entire game resulted in a Drogba goal just before halftime, and Barça failed to break Chelsea’s heavy defensive wall to go down 0-1.

The hard work was to come in the home leg if the team was to progress to the final.

Game Facts:
~  Barça had 74% possession of the ball and shot 24 times, 5 times on target. Chelsea’s 26% of the possession saw 4 goal attempts, and the only one that was on target was Drogba’s goal.
~  Barça made 803 passes compared to Chelsea’s 250.
~  This was Barça’s first loss in CL since February 16th, 2011 against Arsenal (2-1).
~  The defeat meant that Guardiola’s side failed to equal the club record of 17 games without defeat achieved in the late fifties (1957-60).
~  Messi has played Chelsea 7 times and has not scored against them.

Link to Match Highlights Video

21st April:  Home vs. Real Madrid.  La Liga.  1-2

What could be the worst game to play in between 2 CL legs? Did I hear someone mention El Clásico?

Real Madrid came to Camp Nou with fire in their bellies. They met a home team that was a mere shadow of what it had been in the weeks before. It wasn’t that Barça was bad, it was that they weren’t good…if that makes sense. (Of course it does!) Madrid opened the scoring early with a goal to Khedira (16’) and it stayed that way until Alexis was subbed on for a tired Xavi and almost immediately scored (69’) the equaliser. This looked to revitalise the team but the wind was whipped out of their sails by Cristiano (72’) only minutes later.

Any hopes of winning La Liga were lost that night, but some consolation could be taken in that a pasillo was avoided.

Game Facts:
~  Xavi had now appeared in the most Clásico matches for a Barça player  – 32 in total.
~  This was the first time that Barça had been defeated by Madrid at Camp Nou during Guardiola’s tenure. Madrid had still not managed to beat Barça in the Bernabéu during this time.

Link to Match Highlights Video


24th April:  Home vs. Chelsea.  Champions League.  2-2.
3 days later, and Chelsea arrived at Camp Nou.

Once again, The Blues parked a thick defensive line which Barça skirted around, attempting to find a way through. The 3-man Barça defence at the other end was working well until a mix-up between VV and Piqué resulted in the latter being knocked out; soon to be replaced by Alves.

The breakthrough came from a Cuenca cross which found Busquets, who actually managed to shoot the ball into the net (34’), instead of sending it into space as he had done at Stamford Bridge. Shortly after, John Terry was sent off for kneeing Alexis in the back. Things were looking up, and became even brighter when Iniesta popped up to slot in another (43’) and level the scores on aggregate.

Once again, as has been Barça’s fate for seemingly the entire season, another goal close to halftime for Chelsea put Barça back to Square 1 – with 2 goals to score after the halftime break if they were to advance.

Of course, that didn’t happen. Soon after the second half commenced, Drogba brought down Cesc in the box and the referee pointed to the spot. Messi stepped up to take it and tried to send the ball high into the net over ?ech. Instead, it rebounded off the crossbar. No goal. To show support, the entire Barça crowd chanted Messi’s name in an attempt to revive his spirits and tell him that it was ok – kind of.

Chelsea then parked every double decker bus that they could find in front of the goal and, in the dying minutes when all was lost anyway, Fernando Torres netted to level the score at 2-2.

Barça was out of the Champions League. Messi left the pitch in tears. The Camp Nou crowd had not left – they stayed, cheered and chanted the team until the last man left the pitch.

It was a unifying moment in a time of sadness. Som i Serem.

Link to Match Highlights Video


It was a difficult week for everyone, and more was to come.

24th April: Piqué spent the night in hospital under observation for concussion and was discharged the following day.

25th April:  The loss to Chelsea was somewhat eased with Real Madrid losing to FC Bayern München on penalties. At least they were restricted to only one trophy for the season and wouldn’t get the opportunity to play in the Club World Cup. Some small sense of comfort was found in this.

Focus quickly shifted to address whether Pep Guardiola would now renew his contract.  As the hours went by, the news grew more pessimistic.

26th April:  Statistics released by the club showed that 20 different players had scored for Barça during the season. Apart from Valdés and Pinto, the only players who had not scored were Mascherano, Afellay (injured) and Fontàs (injured).

26th April:  Tests on Xavi revealed that his left calf muscle was torn and he would be out of action for the next 15 days.

27th April: 1:30pm local time.
Pep, Rosell and Zubizarreta entered the press room at Camp Nou.

After greeting the attendees, Rosell wasted no time in uttering the dreaded words that Pep would not be continuing after the end of this season.

In the Press Room sat the 4 Barça captains (Puyol, Xavi, Valdés and Iniesta), as well as some of the other players such as Piqué and Pedro. The team had only been told of Guardiola’s intent a few hours before, so the shock and sadness was still very evident on their faces. Messi was too upset to attend the conference, knowing that the press would be examining the players’ expressions to see how they were feeling.

As the conference grew older, Pep’s face became visibly younger and lighter – it was if an enormous weight had been lifted from him and he could see a better future for himself. His decision was tempered by Zubi’s announcement that the replacement coach would be Tito Vilanova. It was a relief to know that there was to be a continuity in the team’s development, and there wouldn’t be a need for everyone to have to deal with a new coaching staff. Everything would remain the same – it would just be Pep who would not be there.

27th April:
  Guardiola would leave the club knowing that he is the most successful manager in the history of FC Barcelona.

13 titles:
– 2 x Champions League
– 3 x La Liga
– 2 x Club World Cup
– 2 x European Super Cup
– 1 x Copa del Rey
– 3 x Spanish Supacopa

If the team wins on May 25th, this would be 14 titles with 1 more Copa del Rey to add to the list.

29th April:  Away vs. Rayo Vallecano.  La Liga.  0-7.
With barely enough time to digest the news of Pep’s departure, the team gathered their wits and headed to Madrid to square off against Rayo Vallecano.

As was expected at the small club, the pitch was less than desirable. With the league now out of reach, the situation was more relaxed but the team was motivated to play. The fans experienced an energetic performance, full of vim and vigour, from the players who were pretty much left to their own devices as Pep and Tito stuck to the bench – visibly annoyed by the over-attentive press in attendance, and by the cold rain. Wusses.

Pinto got the job between the sticks as it had been confirmed that Valdés had won his 5th Zamora Trophy (record 4th in a row). It was an opportunity for Pinto to get some much-needed playing time if he was to be the keeper for the Copa del Rey final. The Power Plait made some wonderful diving saves and certainly kept Rayo out of the game, while his team mates did the rest up front.

Messi opened the scoring (15’) and then set up an assist for Alexis whose shot (26’) was helped into the goal by a Rayo player. Keita (38’) was the next to benefit from a Messi assist and half-time came with Barça in control at 0-3.

Soon after the second half started, a quick play saw Alexis pass to Messi who ran onto the shot for goal, only to have it bounce off the crossbar into Pedro’s path. Pedro slotted in (48’) for his first of the night. Play settled down for a while, and in the 73rd minute Busquets left the pitch to make way for Afellay who ran on for the first time since his September 2011 ACL injury.

Thiago finally scored with a bouncing header (79’) from an Alves cross, and the pair raised the ire of the crowd by performing a little dance on the pitch. Puyol quickly ran over to put an end to it. Ten minutes later, Messi assisted Pedro with his second goal (89’) of the night, while Messi scored (91’) the last goal for the team to finish with a very nice 0-7 score line.

Did you see what you’ll be missing, Pep?

Game Facts:
~  Pedro marked his 100th game for the club with 2 goals.
~  Alves and Thiago later apologised to the Rayo fans for their celebratory dance.
~  The win was the 7th consecutive away win for the team.

Link to Match Highlights Video

30th April:  Alexis pulled a hamstring during the Rayo game, and was now doubtful for the Málaga game. Valdés also missed training due to a fever.

All Month: Fontàs with ACL injury, Villa with broken leg, Abidal requiring a liver transplant.
Wrapped in Cotton Wool: Xavi rested whenever possible.
1st – 11th:  Afellay with ACL injury.

4th – 13th: Piqué with a hamstring injury.
8th – 13th: Alves with thigh muscle strain.
13th – 16th:
Keita with a thigh injury.
24th – 30th:
Piqué with concussion.
26th – 30th:
Xavi with a calf muscle tear.
30th: Alexis with a hamstring injury.
30th: Valdés with a fever.


In the final instalment: La Liga wraps up; Messi brings lumps to the throats of even the most die-hard culés; Pep is farewelled at Camp Nou and there’s a Copa del Rey trophy to play for. Oh yes – and more injuries.


The Home Bench