Part Six Finale: 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.
The last matches with Pep in charge, and the team was determined to put on a good show – especially for the home games. The Copa del Rey would be played 2 weeks after the end of the Liga season, so the team had the luxury of being able to get some time off between the training sessions.
1st May: Home vs. Málaga. La Liga. 4-1.
By now Pellegrini’s Málaga team was gelling nicely, and they had moved into 4th place on the Liga table and into Champions League territory.
Messi had also moved to within 2 goals of equaling German player Gerhard “Gerd” Müller’s long-standing record of 67 goals in one season, set over the 1972/73 period. There was a high expectation that Messi would at least draw level with Müller’s score, in this game.
The crowd was decked out with banners and messages of support for both Pep and Tito, and each time that Guardiola came off the bench, he was greeted with applause and his name being chanted by the 68,000 fans in attendance.
De Michelis nearly opened the scoring in the wrong way by almost creating an own goal for Málaga. After a Santi Cazorla free-kick attempt had missed by way of hitting the far upright, Puyol scored (13’) down the other end of the pitch from a nice set play which involved Messi and Iniesta. The latter crossed in for Puyol to flick the ball into the net – the season’s second goal for Puyol from his feet! Puyol immediately set the feline among the cooing avians by giving the universal “we’re expecting a baby” sign, only to later explain that it was for one of his friends and not for himself.
Adriano tried a long shot which was on target, but easily parried away by Kameni. Six minutes later, some poor Barça defending around the Málaga attack allowed Gamez to volley into the box, and a mix-up between Mascherano and Puyol, as to which side they should be on, saw Rondón (25’) put in a header which Pinto had little hope of saving. Grrr…not again.
At least there was time to recover and regroup, and this came courtesy of Iniesta. While trying to run into the box, the midfielder was brought down by a Málaga player. The defender indicated that he has brought down Iniesta outside the box, but the referee immediately awarded a penalty to Barça. Messi put it (34’) in past ex-Espanyol keeper, Kameni. Málaga had another chance before half-time, but some great defensive work by Pinto and Cesc stopped them from scoring a second goal.
The second half began cautiously, as if Barça had finally learned that to lose focus at this time usually meant goals for the opposition. Another set piece from Barça was rewarded with yet another penalty after Messi was judged to have been brought down in the box while going for goal. He stepped up to the spot and slotted the ball into the net (57’) to equalise Gerd Müller’s record. The Camp Nou crowd went crazy.
Málaga’s Van Nistelrooy was subbed on for Rondón and almost had an immediate effect as he nearly scored a goal with only Pinto to beat. Luckily, his shot went up over the goal.
Then came the moment that we were all waiting for. In the 63rd minute, Iniesta threaded a magnificent ball to Messi who then escaped from 2 Málaga defenders; chipped the ball over an advancing Kameni; looked over his shoulder to see if he was clear; then calmly followed the ball and kicked it into the net with his favoured left foot. He had the record for most number of goals scored in one season! While lesser players would run to the sideline for a private celebration, Messi’s natural reaction was to immediately turn around to point at Iniesta, to acknowledge his wonderful assist. Team hugs all around, and huge cheering and chanting from the Camp Nou crowd, and another Messi hat-trick to add further embellishment to his record-breaking evening.
Not long after this, and with the game sewn up, Puyol went off to be replaced by Bartra, and Iniesta left the pitch to make way for Afellay. At game’s end, Messi left the pitch with another match ball and another record.
How much do I love Manuel Pellegrini? His after-match interview was pure class as he genuinely praised both Guardiola and Messi for all that they have achieved.
~ This was Guardiola’s 150th Liga game as Manager.
~ With 4 games still to play, Messi was now the record-holder for the most goals scored in a single season in Europe.
3rd May: The club issued a statement that all executive decisions for the next season would be deferred until after the Copa del Rey match on 25th May.
3rd May: Preparations started for what would be Pep’s last home game, and what a game it would be – the Catalan Derby against Espanyol.
4th May: Cuenca suffered a bruised right ankle and was doubtful for the upcoming Espanyol match.
5th May: Home vs. Espanyol. La Liga. 4-0.
Camp Nou was 10,000 short of a full house for Pep’s last home game. A huge banner to Pep was unfurled as he made his way to the bench, and the crowd were provided with flags which bore the message, “Gràcies, Pep.”
Espanyol started with a disciplined display which restricted the home side into playing cautiously. Thiago attempted a weak header which was easily saved. A free-kick was awarded to Barça in the 11th minute, and Messi stepped up to curve the ball into the net (with a deflection off the wall) in one more of the beautiful free-kick goals that he has scored.
The Pericos continued to defend rather than attack, so Barça kept creating the opportunities. Espanyol did have a free-kick attempt in the 15th minute which missed going in. On the half hour, GK Álvarez made a wonderful save to stop a Keita attack and then another to stop an Iniesta free-kick. Messi went just wide with another free-kick attempt just before half-time.
In the second half, and sensing no attacking threat which Espanyol had shown in their home game against Barça, Guardiola switched to a 3-man back-line and moved Adriano up to the left wing to create width, and to mirror what Pedro was doing on the right. Espanyol had an appeal for a bring-down in their box against Montoya, but it was rightly denied. Shortly after, a hand-ball was called against Espanyol at the other end of the pitch – although it was an extremely soft call, with little intent behind the hand contact with the ball. Messi put the penalty away (62’).
Espanyol now had no choice but to press forward and they began to threaten. One attack had Pinto beaten and well out of his box as he advanced on Weiss, but the chipped ball over him was saved as Mascherano made a desperate and brilliant header to deny a Perico goal.
From the next play, Adriano on the right, sent a long lob up the pitch and over to Messi on the left. Messi collected the ball, sprinted forward and divinely scored (72’) a rasping shot which passed across a hapless Álvarez for Messi’s 3rd of the night.
In the 77th minute, Barça played a corner and Busquets was brought down in the box for another penalty. Messi slotted his 4th for the night and, with the other players following him, he trotted over to the bench for a big group hug with Pep. Lovely, tear-inducing stuff.
Messi almost got a 5th in the 88th minute, but his chip shot went just wide. A huge pity. Weiss had a free-kick attempt which was safely collected by Pinto and the game finished.
Strangely, Espanyol’s Manager Pochettino was not around to shake hands with Pep after the match.
~ With the evening’s 4 goals bringing his season’s tally to 50 La Liga goals, Messi broke Georgescu’s record for most goals scored in a European League in one season.
~ Messi increased his total tally to 72 goals for the season with 2 games to play.
After the match, it was time for Pep’s farewell. Videos were shown, speeches were made, songs were sung, and Pep was thrown in the air 4 times – one for each year that he was Manager. He walked off through a pasillo consisting of the players and coaching staff, after telling the crowd, “See you soon!”
7th May: Statistics released by the club showed that the last time the team had a game possession rate of less that 50% was on 7th May 2008 – exactly 4 years ago.
7th May: Stats revealed that Messi had scored more goals this season than 13 of the Liga teams had managed. Only 6 teams had scored more goals than the Barça #10.
7th May: Keita would be out for 2 days with a soleus muscle problem in his left leg.
7th May: The IFFHS named Barça “The World’s Club of the 1st Decade” in a gala event which took place at the W Hotel in Barcelona. The club won a total of 7 awards that night.
8th May: With 17 wins, one draw and one defeat, Barça had the best home record in the Liga for the season. What a shame about the away results…
8th May: It was announced that, on May 12th, Carles Puyol would undergo arthroscopic surgery to his right knee which would sideline him for approximately 6 weeks. The captain would miss the Copa del Rey Final, as well as the Euro 2012 competition.
8th May: Piqué and Cuenca received the all-clear to play again.
11th May: Pinto sprained his right ankle and would not take part in the last Liga game against Betis.
12th May: On the day of the last Liga match for the season, Carles Puyol underwent a successful arthroscopic operation to tidy up the joint tissue on his right knee.
12th May: Away vs. Real Betis. La Liga. 2-2.
With nothing riding on the match result, Barça travelled to Seville to play Real Betis in their Benito Villamarín stadium. Betis was playing for pride and the chance to beat Barça after coming close at Camp Nou earlier in the season.
The Betis fans were in fine vocal form, and their singing raised the hairs on the back of the neck of anyone within earshot. Afellay got his first start of the season which was an indicator that he was now full recovered, and Valdés was back in goal covering for the injured Pinto. The game started lively enough, with the early first goal coming from a Busquets’ header (8’) off Xavi’s corner kick. After this, the visitors appeared to go to sleep with Messi and Pedro going missing – the former just raising enough energy for a couple of desultory efforts. Most of the attack came from Xavi, Busquets, Adriano and Keita. Two Xavi freekicks just missed their target, and Betis GK Casto kept out some decent Keita and Adriano attempts.
The second half was more to-and-fro movement, until Alves (who had not been playing his best game) received his second Yellow card (52’) for the night and left the pitch. (Alves had also been carded out of the last game of the previous season.) Guardiola took off Afellay and replaced him with Montoya, but Afellay’s absence exposed gaps in the midfield which was to produce dire consequences.
With the visitors reduced to 10 men, Betis renewed their attack and, after several near misses, were rewarded with 2 quick goals to Castro (70’ and 73’) which sent the home crowd crazy. Suddenly, Valdés’ Zamora Trophy looked to be in jeopardy.
Heading into injury time, some semblance of dignity was restored when Montoya sent in an accurate cross which a rising Keita headed (92’) into the net for the game to finish in a draw.
La Liga was over for the season.
13th May: The team travelled home to prepare for the Copa del Rey Final against Athletic Bilbao, to be played in Madrid on 25th May.
13th May: Statistics on the team and individual player performances started to stream out of the club’s media division:
~ Over the past 4 seasons, Guardiola’s side had lost just 11 of their 152 Liga matches.
~ The La Liga tally was: 116 wins, 47 draws and 11 losses.
~ 373 points were collected over the 4 seasons for an average of 93.25 per season.
~ 412 goals were scored (an average of 2.71 per game) and only 109 (0.71 per game) were conceded.
~ The most common scoreline was a 2-0 win (17 times) to Barça.
~ The biggest wins were 0-8 away to Almeria and 8-0 home against Osasuna.
~ The 0-2 defeat to Hercules at Camp Nou was the only time that Barça had lost a game by 2 goals or more.
13th May: It was confirmed that Valdés had won his 4th consecutive Zamora Trophy, conceding 28 goals in 35 matches to give him an average coefficient of 0.8 goals per match. He had 17 clean sheets and a club record of 896 minutes (between 21st September and 6th November 2011) without conceding a goal in competitive games.
It was also Valdés’ 5th Zamora Trophy which equalled the record haul set by Ramallets (also a Barça keeper) back in the 1950s. It took 52 years for another keeper to equal that record.
The club now had 19 Zamoras to Real Madrid’s 16.
13th May: With 50 Liga goals in 37 matches, Messi won his second Pichichi Award, finishing 4 goals ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo, and creating a new total goal record.
Averaging 1.35 goals per match, Messi won the 11th Pichichi Trophy for the club.
14th May: To go with his Pichichi Award, Messi also won Europe’s Golden Shoe Award with a top score of 50 league goals in the season.
Along the way, he smashed a few records:
~ Set a new scoring record for the Golden Shoe Award.
~ Beat Cristiano’s previous La Liga record of 41 goals. (Which Cristiano had also exceeded this season with a haul of 46.)
~ Broken Hungarian Dudu Georgescu’s 35 year-old record of 47 goals for Dynamo Bucharest which was set in the 1966/67 season.
14th May: The team scored 114 official goals during the season – the highest total of Guardiola’s 4 years in charge, and a new club record.
In total, over Guardiola’s tenure, 412 goals were scored, if which Messi scored 33.5% over the 4 seasons, and averaged 43% of all goals during the 2011/12 season.
14th May: It was announced that this was the second season in which Barça had achieved the Pichichi/Zamora double in La Liga with Messi and Valdés. The same players had also achieved the double in the 2009/10 season.
It was the 4th time, in the history of the awards, that a team had won the double without winning the Liga title, and joined Athletic Bilbao (1946/47), Valencia (1957/58) and Deportivo (1992/93) on the list.
15th May: 11 Barça players were short-listed among 60 candidates for the “Onze d’Or” (Golden Eleven) by French Magazine “Onze Mondial” (World Eleven.): Valdés, Alves, Puyol, Piqué, Abidal, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Cesc, Alexis and Messi.
15th May: In the last 4 Liga matches, against Rayo, Málaga, Espanyol and Betis, Guardiola had utilised 21 different players in the build-up preparations for the Copa del Rey Final. The only players to start every game were Messi and Mascherano.
16th May: During training, Alves broke his right clavicle and underwent surgery in the afternoon. He would be out for 6-8 weeks – missing the Copa del Rey Final and matches for Brazil in the off-season.
18th May: Thiago missed a training because of illness.
19th May: After the Champions League Final, Messi was confirmed as the highest scorer in Champions League with 14 goals in 11 matches. He broke several other Champions League records to go with the highest-ever tally record.
21st May: 6 weeks after his liver transplant operation, Abidal was released to continue his recovery at home.
22nd May: David Villa announced that he would be taking no part in the Euro 2012 Championship as he continued to work on his recovery to be in top form for the next season.
23rd May: Together with Málaga, Barça received the Fair Play Award from the Spanish Football Federation for their exemplary conduct during the Liga season. It was the 2nd time in a row for the club to win it, and the 4th time overall since the award was instituted in 1998. Barça has won the award more times than any other La Liga club.
24th May: Alexis and Pinto received medical clearance and would be available for selection to play in the Copa del Rey Final.
25th May: The team flew to Madrid landing at 12:25pm and transferred to their hotel. With the exceptions of Alves and Abidal, the whole squad had travelled to the Spanish capital.
25th May: Away vs. Athletic Bilbao. Copa del Rey Final. 0-3.
The Vicente Calderón stadium atmosphere was electrified, and the Barça and Bilbao fans were united in showing their contempt for the Spanish royalty and Spain’s National Anthem (La Marcha Real – The Royal March) by whistling and booing through the whole procedure. As the match would progress, children’s songs about elephants would be sung, mocking King Juan-Carlos who had been injured during an elephant hunt in Botswana. (Since then, Juan-Carlos has been rightfully stripped of his honorary role as Patron of Spain’s World Wildlife Fund.)
Missing Alves, Puyol, Abidal and Fontàs from the back-line, Guardiola played Mascherano and Piqué as CBs with Adriano and Montoya on the sides. The mid-field was the strongest Iniesta, Xavi and Busquets line-up, with Pedro, Messi and Alexis out front.
The game started at a tremendous pace, and Bilbao’s usually excellent tactics of man-marking were quickly exposed by a fast playing Barça side, who exploited the gaps and left the Bilbao players chasing shadows.
In the first minute, a Messi shot went just wide of the post. Messi then drove the ball forward, passed to Xavi, onto Alexis who passed to Adriano. Adriano’s cross was collected by Pedro who shot, only for it to deflect off a Bilbao defender and out of play.
Not long after, Xavi sent in a corner which Piqué headed on and Javi Martinez failed to clear it properly. Pedro pounced – sending a straight drive (2’) into the net past an unbalanced Iraizoz.
The play went the Blaugrana’s way, and it wasn’t long before Messi attempted another shot, only for Iraizoz to make a brilliant save to deny the goal. Xavi was next to have a shot with his chip going too high. Barça kept pressing, and some Iniesta brilliance had a ball through to Messi who made no mistake about burying it into the net (19’) with his right foot.
Bielsa squatted, toad-like, on the edge of his box. He appeared to not have an answer to what was happening on the pitch.
Barça continued to apply pressure and peppered the Bilbao goal. Xavi laid off the ball to Pedro who latched onto it. His shot screamed in below a diving Irazoz to put the Blaugrana score at 3 goals in under 25 minutes. Pedro flashed a 2-2 sign which we assume was to Abidal, but maybe he was signalling Shakira in the stands.
The team relaxed and although the possession was retained, the intensity was lowered a little. Athletic had a good shot denied by Pinto, and Llorente had a good penalty opportunity denied when he milked a clash with Piqué. Pinto saved another Muniain cross and Mascherano tried a long-range shot from half-way. One day, Masch, one day, the ball will go in.
Iniesta was controlling the midfield and the team was on fire. It was amazing how much some rest could do for a team which had run out of gas before the end of the season.
The second half started and it was evident that Barça was not going to press as hard as they had done during the first half. After the match, a few Barça players admitted that fatigue had crept back in. Bilbao upped the intensity and had chances, (as Barça switched to a 3-man backline), but they just couldn’t capitalise on them.
Messi made another slalom run to the goal, but was denied at the last moment. The fouls started to come, and Iniesta and Xavi copped most of the bruising. The Blaugrana team was content to retain the ball and keep circulating it around the midfield.
The full-time whistle blew on a game that was a highlight of the season, and showed the world what the Barça style was all about. The team had given Pep his 14th trophy out of the 19 for which they had competed over 4 years. It was somewhat fitting that the first and last trophies of the haul had been won in the same competition (Copa del Rey) and against the same opposition (Athletic Bilbao).
The team was ecstatic and celebrated in the middle of the pitch. Puyol and Fontàs had each other’s shirts on, and there were huge hugs all around – especially with Pep. The team was also mindful of the heart-broken Bilbao players who had just crashed out of their second trophy competition in as many weeks, and with the same score-line.
Up they went to receive the trophy from Crown Prince Felipe of the Asturias. Puyol and Xavi had a little argument as to who was to lift the trophy with Puyol winning that battle. Xavi raised the silverware above his head and the team responded in kind.
To their credit, the stunned and crying Bilbao fans remained in the stadium and applauded the Barça team on their victory. Puyol responded by grabbing a Basque flag (Ikurriña) and parading it around the ground, tied to a Senyera (Catalunyan flag).
The Barça and Bilbao fans must be the best in the world.
~ This was the 26th Copa del Rey Trophy for the club, out of the 36 Finals in which they had played.
~ The team dedicated the win to Pep Guardiola.
~ Abidal was not forgotten as his shirt was draped over the trophy during the on-pitch celebrations.
~ As is his customary celebration, Piqué attacked one of the goal nets with his scissors, but he was only allowed to take a small square and not the whole net as he has done on previous occasions.
~ Once more, the RFEF showed their impartiality, and Barça only received tickets for less than 20,000 of the 55,000 available seats.
~ At the end of his press conference after the match, Guardiola received a standing ovation from the members of the press.
26th May: The 26th Copa del Rey title made FC Barcelona the team with the most cup titles in Europe, ahead of Benfica and Bilbao with 23, Ajax and Real Madrid with 18 and Bayern Munich with 15.
26th May: Overall, FC Barcelona had the most Spanish titles of any of the other clubs – 62 in total.
26th May: A 5 minute highlight video on Pep’s Managership was put up on the club’s website.
26th May: 3 players finished the Copa del Rey match with injuries. Cesc pulled the femoral bicep in his right leg and will be out for 7-10 days. Thiago had an edema in his right leg and would be in recovery for some time. Cuenca received a knock on the articular surface of his right knee and tests confirmed that he had an external meniscal cyst which would require surgery to remedy.
26th May: The team presented the Copa del Rey trophy to the fans at Camp Nou in a fun-filled night which culminated in a fireworks display. The Spanish Supacopa, European Supercup and Club World Cup were also on show.
27th May: With his Copa del Rey goals, Pedro equalled Messi’s record of scoring in all finals in which he has played – Champions League, Spanish and European Super Cups, Club World Cup and the Copa del Rey.
27th May: Do you like piña coladas? The new strip for next season was revealed. Photoshop gradients rule the world.
27th May: 7 Blaugrana players were named in the Spanish squad for the Euro 2012: Valdés, Piqué, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro and Cesc.
27th May: The team (well, those who were allowed to play, and those who were left uninjured), played a charity indoor football match for an “Against Poverty Telethon”. Pep’s team lined up against Tito’s team, and it ended in an amicable 8-8 score. It was also a chance for the team to reveal the new season’s Technicolor kit.
29th May: Two friendlies were announced to kick off the Pre-season Tour. On 24th July, the team will play SV Hamburg in Germany, and on 28th July, they will play
an invitational Morocco XI Raja Club Athletic in Tangiers.
29th May: It was announced that Cuenca would undergo arthroscopy to repair the external meniscus of his right knee. He would be out of action for 3-4 months.
29th May: During his 4 year tenure, Guardiola debuted 22 La Masia graduates in the First Team.
29th May: The 4 top scorers under Pep Guardiola were Messi (211), Pedro (58) and Xavi and Eto’o (36). Villa (32) was 5th, followed by Henry (30), Bojan (29), Iniesta (23), Keita (22) and Ibrahimovich (22).
30th May: La Mola mountain behind Barcelona is used by the club for hill work and recuperation for the team’s injured players. It’s a bitch of an ascent. Villa, Pedro, Cesc and Fontàs ran up it, together with Pepe Costa, Francesc Cos and Emili Ricart from the technical staff.
31st May: This season, the team set a new club record of 32 matches where they did not concede a goal.
31st May: The medical staff would work with Thiago through the entire off-season to treat the edema on his right tibia.
MAY INJURY REPORT
All Month: Fontàs with ACL injury, Villa with broken leg, Abidal with a liver transplant.
1st – 4th: Xavi with a calf muscle tear.
1st – 8th: Piqué with concussion.
1st – 24th: Alexis with a hamstring injury.
4th – 8th: Cuenca with a bruised ankle.
7th – 10th: Keita with soleus muscle problem in left leg.
8th – After end of season: Puyol with knee injury.
11th – 24th: Pinto with sprained ankle.
16th – After end of season: Alves with broken clavicle.
18th: Thiago missed training due to illness.
26th – After end of season: Cesc with right femoral bicep injury.
26th – After end of season: Thiago with edema in his right leg.
26th – After end of season: Cuenca with external meniscal cyst.
Time to wrap up the season with the release of a forgotten player; some more statistics, and thank goodness for the Euro 1012 and Olympics which would help dilute the insanity that is…the silly season.
1st June: The club reached an agreement with Brazilian Henrique Adriano to terminate his contact.
1st June: 79% of Barça’s official season goals were scored by La Masia graduates. That’s 150 out of the 190.
1st June: The season was officially over as players scattered across the globe to join their respective national teams.
4th June: Puyol and Xavi were nominated (with 8 other players) for the Golden Foot Award which recognises players over the age of 29 years old.
5th June: Guardiola’s team had played in 247 of the 254 possible matches that were available to them within the 4 year period.
8th June: The team set many records this season, as this list will testify.
8th June: The start of the Euro 2012 competition rescued us from the drudgery of replays and silly season transfer rumours.
Finishing the season, injured:
~ Puyol after knee surgery.
~ Cuenca after knee surgery.
~ Cesc with right femoral bicep injury.
~ Thiago with edema to right tibia.
~ Fontàs with ACL injury.
~ Alves with broken clavicle.
~ Villa with broken tibia.
~ Abidal after liver transplant.
Onwards and Upwards – Visca Barça i Visca Catalunya.
Here comes the pre-season!