Part Two 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.
Into the swing for La Liga, and the results of the away games started the alarm bells softly ringing. The first 9 days were occupied with National Team duties while Pep also attended the managers’ forum in France and received a medal from the Catalunyan Parliament. The FIFA virus reared its ugly head and Guardiola only had 3 training sessions with a full squad before the first game. Champions League commenced with Group Play: Barça was grouped with AC Milan, Bate Borisov and Viktoria Plzeň.
1st September: With the International Break in place, Pep Guardiola attended the 13th UEFA Managers’ Forum in Nyon, France.
7th & 8th September: Team members started returning from the International Break.
9th September: Pep Guardiola received the Gold Medal from the Parliament of Catalunya.
10th September: Away vs. Real Sociedad. La Liga. 2-2.
With 14 players back from FIFA International duties, the team travelled to Anoeta Stadium in the gorgeous city of San Sebastián. Pep elected to sit Messi, in an attempt to rest him after the international break, and started with Pedro, Thiago and Alexis up the front. A traditional 4-man backline was utilised, but the surprise was that Busquets and Fontàs would play the CB positions between Alves and Adriano. Xavi, Keita and Cesc would take the midfield.
All went well with quick goals to Xavi (9’) and Cesc (11’), but even though Barça maintained the majority of possession, no more goals were added. In the 30th minute, Alexis Sanchez went down with his second injury for the season and was replaced by Villa. The 2nd half started with Barça pressing hard, but early opportunities went begging. The game went pear-shaped when poor Barça defence allowed Sociedad to score two goals in as many minutes (59’ and 60’). Messi came on for Thiago; Barça upped the intensity and changed to a 3-man backline, however no shots could be netted. To add to the team’s woes, Messi went down after being fouled in the box at 90’+3, and, instead of receiving the penalty, he was booked for diving. Barça dropped 2 points in only the second game of the season.
11th September: Alexis was ruled out with a hamstring injury for the next 8 weeks.
13th September: Home vs. AC Milan. Champions League. 2-2.
It was time for the Champions League Group Stage with the first game played at home against AC Milan. Ibrahimovic was ruled out injured for Milan, and the sound of clucking chickens was heard throughout Barcelona.
A disastrous start to the game saw Pato score (25″) the fastest goal in CL history. Barça held their nerve, kept peppering the Milan goal and were rewarded with a goal to Pedro (35’) from a hard-fought Messi cross. However, the first half finished badly when Iniesta left the field with a hamstring injury.
Soon after the break, Villa scored (51’) from a wonderful free-kick, and the team hung on with most of the possession. Puyol and Afellay were subbed on for their first games after pre-season injuries had kept them from playing. The game looked to have gone Barça’s way when they conceded a late corner to Milan in virtually the last minute of play. Puyol was booked for dissent. The ball was sent into the box and Thiago Silva climbed above the defenders to score the equaliser from a strong header. A drawn result and 1 point each.
14th September: Iniesta was confirmed out for at least 4 weeks with a hamstring injury.
17th September: Home vs. Osasuna. La Liga. 8-0.
The Basque visitors bore the brunt of the Milan aftermath when they visited Camp Nou for Round 4 of La Liga. After picking up an injury in the pre-season tour, Maxwell got his first playing time of the season when he was subbed on in the 54th minute.
Fielding a 3-4-3 with Puyol back as a starter, the team ran rampant over a helpless Los Rijillos side, scoring a manita by half-time. Messi scored an early first (4’), followed by Cesc (13’) and Villa (33’). An Osasuna own-goal by Roversio (39’) made it 4-0, with Messi scoring the last (41’) for the first half.
In the second half, Xavi (56’) and Villa (75’) kept the score ticking over, while Messi completed his first hat-trick for the season with the final goal (79’) for the match to end 8-0.
~ Abidal made his 100th Liga appearance achieved over 4 seasons.
~ Alves also made his 100th Liga appearance for Barça over 3 seasons.
~ Xavi scored his 40th Liga goal.
~ Cesc led the passing statistics, completing 101 of 112 attempts.
21st September: Away vs. Valencia. La Liga. 2-2.
Playing the Mestalla is never easy and the game started poorly when a Mathieu cross was deflected into the goal by Abidal (11’); putting Barça on the back foot, playing a 3 man backline. A quick retaliatory goal by Pedro (13’) made it even again and, not long afterwards, Messi was denied a penalty after a rough Rami challenge; the defender already on a Yellow card. Valencia had the better of the first half with Mathieu causing a lot of problems down the left flank. The second goal for the home-side came again from a Mathieu cross which was collected by an unmarked Pablo who had no problems in scoring (22’) the second for Los Che.
Although switching to a 4-man backline for the 2nd half, Barça still looked uncomfortable under the energetic Valencia attack. A long-range blast from Mascherano unluckily hit the crossbar. Back to a 3-man backline at the 60th minute, Barça laid siege on the Valencia goal as the home-team chose to defend their lead. Mascherano nearly scored his first with a long range drive which bounced off the cross-bar. A great pass from Messi to Cesc saw him slot the ball (76’) past Guaita to level the score. The Blaugrana continued to push forward and nearly scored again in the 89th minute, but a triple opportunity from Villa, Adriano and Messi couldn’t find the back of the net. Another 2 points dropped.
~ Puyol played his 350th Liga game for the club.
22nd September: 9 days after returning from a pre-season tour injury and playing minutes in the Milan and Osasuna matches, Afellay tore his Anterior Cruciate Ligament during a team practice. He required surgery and was placed on the longterm injury list.
24th September: Home vs. Atlético Madrid. La Liga. 5-0.
Los Colchoneros came to visit and to proudly exhibit their newly acquired star, Colombian Rademel Falcao. However, he could only stand and watch as Barça controlled the match. After an early ATM miss, Villa opened the scoring (8’), followed 6 minutes later by an Atlético own-goal resulting from some wizardly play between Xavi and Messi which saw the ball rebound off Miranda (14’) into the net. The 3rd goal was a Messi masterpiece as he threaded the entire Atlético defence to chut-da-bol (25’) inside the near post.
The second half saw the Blaugrana switch from a 3-man to a 4-man defence when Piqué came on to play his first match since the second Supacopa match on 17th August. Messi produced another dazzling run to score (76’) his second, and completed his second hat-trick for the season (89’) to close out the match with another home manita.
~ Victor Valdés played his 300th Liga game – made more significant by the fact that his debut game, on 1st September 2002, had also been against Atlético Madrid.
28th September: Away vs. BATE Borisov. Champions League. 0-5.
September finished with a visit to Hlebelarus to play the Minsk side in the second game of the Champions League Group round. It was a wet and cold Wednesday night, because Stoke has dibs on wet and cold Tuesdays.
The game was played in the Dynamo Minsk Stadium as BATE’s Horodskiy Stadium does not conform to UEFA minimum requirements for Champions League arenas.
BATE started with a deep defence (what’s new?), but Barça quickly assumed control, and pressure from Messi saw the first Blaugrana goal scored as a BATE own-goal (18’) by Aleksandr, followed quickly by a lovely Pedro header (21’) after he beat the keeper to the ball. The 3rd was equally embarrassing for the keeper after he dropped the ball from a Pedro cross, and Messi was there to head it (37’) into the net.
The second half continued in the same vein, with Messi scoring his second (54’). The visitors eased off the pace after this and were content to play out the game in unpleasant conditions. Villa scored a late strike (89′) to seal an emphatic win. Hot showers all around.
~ Messi’s second goal of the night placed him equal with Kubala (194 goals) as the second top scorer in Barça history. He was now chasing César’s all-time record of 252.
~ The team equalled their biggest CL away win score of 5.
29th September: Alexis traveled to Chile to continue his recovery. He was accompanied by one of the team’s physiotherapists.
SEPTEMBER INJURY REPORT
1st – 6th: Adriano with hamstring injury.
1st – 9th: Puyol, Maxwell and Afellay.
1st – 23rd: Piqué with left calf muscle injury.
11th – 30th: Alexis with hamstring injury.
14th – 30th: Iniesta with hamstring injury.
22nd – 30th: Afellay with ACL injury.
A rough month filled with more twanging hamstrings, an International break and lots of Liga, as well as a Champions League match and the grand opening of the new Masia Formation Centre Oriol Tort.
1st October: Cesc pulled a hamstring during training and was out for at least 3 weeks.
2nd October: Away vs. Sporting de Gijón. La Liga. 0-1.
Playing at El Molinón is as unpredictable as a roulette game, but the team managed to record its first away Liga win for the season.
The goal came early from a rare Adriano shot (11’), and the team hung on for the next nervous 79+ minutes. Abidal was forced to come off with an injury. A narrow win, but we’ll take it. Barça tops the Liga Table for the first time this season.
~ VV equalled Zubizarreta’s record of 301 Liga games for Barça.
3rd October: Afellay underwent his knee operation to repair his ACL. Abidal was reported to be out for 10 days with a hamstring strain suffered in the Gijón game, although this was later reduced and he was able to join the French team for international games.
4th October: The third International break for the season. 14 players left for their national teams of Spain, Argentina and France, to return on 13th October. Would the FIFA virus plague the team in the next game?
15th October: Home vs. Racing de Santander. La Liga. 3-0.
Racing came to town, and Piqué pulled his hamstring in only the 8th minute of the game and was replaced by Abidal. Iniesta was back for his first game after being injured for 4 weeks.
Barça quickly took control of the match and Racing keeper Toño was kept busy. Messi scored his first (12’) through some lovely link-up play with Iniesta. The 2nd goal (28’) was courtesy of a great header after an accurate Pedro cross found Xavi rising to meet the ball in the box.
After the break, the chances kept coming with Villa, Messi and Pedro missing good opportunities. Abidal even attempted a Ronaldinho bicycle shot (from a corner kick) which just missed going in. A penalty call for a definite foul on Messi was turned down, to the disbelief of the whole team and the fans. The match was sealed when Messi passed to Iniesta who shot for goal, only to have the ball bounce off the far post back out to Messi who made sure (69’) that it went in. The game finished with no appearance by the FIFA virus.
~ Even though he lasted only 8 minutes, Piqué celebrated his 150th game for the Blaugrana.
16th October: Piqué ruled out for 15 days for a slight hamstring strain.
17th October: CB Andreu Fontàs extended his contract until 2015.
19th October: Home vs. Viktoria Plzeň. Champions League. 2-0.
The last game in the first legs of Barça’s Champions League Group was against the Czech side at Camp Nou. It was pretty much a one-sided affair with Barça attacking and Plzeň defending deep, particularly through the middle of the pitch.
Iniesta scored the first (10’) after some amazing linking with Messi. The shots kept coming well into the second half, with a few misses from Villa and Pedro, and more Messi misses than he’s had hot dinners. Nothing that he could do would make the ball go into the net, including a free kick which hit the bar, and a denied penalty appeal.
Finally, in the 82nd minute Villa regained possession and went forward. He offloaded to Messi who couldn’t control the ball in the box and went down. The chasing Villa made sure that the ball went into the net. 2-0 in a game which should have been about 10-0 if all the sitters had found their mark, and an unhappy, frustrated Messi skulked off the pitch.
~ Cuenca played for 6 minutes in his first team debut, making him the 18th La Masia graduate to play with the first team since Pep became the Mister.
20th October: In a grand ceremony attended by many players past and present, the new Masia Formation Centre Oriol Tort was opened, exactly 32 years after the original La Masia was commissioned.
22nd October: Home vs. Sevilla. La Liga. 0-0.
A dynamic Sevilla came to visit, and once more Pep fielded a 3-4-3 formation. The match became a goalkeeper duel, with VV and Varas in hot demand, as shots on goal were traded and saved.
In the 30th minute, the Blaugrana changed to a 4-man defence when it became apparent that Sevilla was looking for the quick counter and was not decreasing the intensity of their pressure. With Barça now playing wider, the attack intensified, but Sevilla keeper Varas played an outstanding match and continued to save shot after shot.
In injury time, a penalty was awarded to Barça after Iniesta was fouled. In the resulting kerfuffle, Kanouté was red-carded for tussling with Cesc. Messi stepped up to take the penalty which would win the game. Varas read it well and saved the shot. The game finished scoreless with the Barça team receiving a thunderous ovation from the Camp Nou crowd. 2 more points dropped.
~ Valdés broke his own clean sheet record of 577 minutes without conceding a goal.
25th October: Away vs. Granada. La Liga. 0-1.
Off to Los Cármenes Stadium to play a team which had been promoted to La Liga after winning the play-offs at the end of last season.
Cuenca made his Liga debut on the left wing, and Cesc started after being out with injury for 4 weeks. The Granada defence held off the Barça attack as shot after shot was blocked or missed the target. Xavi was fouled on the edge of the box and scored a magnificent goal (33’) from the resulting free-kick.
Not long after the second half began, Granada’s Jaime was sent off after his second yellow which he received from a dangerous play on Maxwell. Pedro also left the field after twisting his ankle. Barça still could not find its way past a 10 man Granada and the misses continued – the most amazing save came when Messi chipped the ball over the keeper only for it to be cleared off the line by Granada’s Mainz. Towards the end of the game, Granada’s Dani Benítez, who had been needling Alves all match, was also red carded after 2 yellows. The game finished with another narrow away win for the Blaugrana.
~ Xavi played his 392nd Liga game and he now holds the record for most Liga games played by a Barça player after equalling Migueli’s record in the last game against Sevilla.
26th October: Pedro injured tendons in his ankle during the Granada game and would be out for 2-3 weeks.
28th October: Piqué and Puyol get medical clearance to play again.
29th October: Home vs. Mallorca. La Liga. 5-0.
The team from the Balearics came to town and was battered by one of the fastest hat-tricks that they have most likely seen. Xavi watched from the stands and Piqué, Puyol and Iniesta sat on the bench.
Messi was flanked by Cuenca and Villa with Thiago, Busquets and Keita in midfield. A conventional 4-man line (Alves, Mascherano, Abidal and Adriano) stood before VV, although this morphed into a 3-man defence as Alves went forward.
The first goal (13’) came via a penalty after an Adriano cross hit the hand of a Mallorca player. Messi made no mistake with this one, (after his miss one week earlier against Sevilla), and planted it in the top right of the goal. The second goal (21’) once again involved Adriano as his mis-hit strike turned into a cross which found Messi, who stroked into the net. 8 minutes later, a perfectly weighted and flighted cross, from Alves, found its way to Messi’s left foot (29’) and was also put away. Messi’s 9th hat-trick in La Liga was scored in 15 minutes.
Soon after the half-time break, Cuenca latched onto a ball which he danced around the keeper to score his first La Liga goal (49’), and his maiden goal for the first team. With the game done and dusted, it was time to introduce B-teamer Gerard Deulofeu who came onto the pitch in the 63rd minute. More was to come, however, when Alves out-did his cross to Messi by scoring an absolute golazo (91’) to complete the manita win.
~ Gerard Deulofeu was the 19th La Masia graduate to play under Pep Guardiola.
~ It was the 14th 5-0 win for the team with Guardiola as Manager.
31st October: The team flew to Prague for the next Champions League match. Alexis was included in the team, even though he had not received medical clearance to play.
OCTOBER INJURY REPORT
All Month: Afellay with ACL injury and Alexis with hamstring injury.
Until 28th: Puyol is rested for a few games as a precaution.
1st – 13th: Iniesta with hamstring injury.
1st – 22nd: Cesc with hamstring injury.
16th – 28th: Piqué with hamstring injury.
26th – 31st: Pedro with twisted ankle.
In the next instalment: An action-packed end to the year with 3 trophies played for, international travel for Champions League and the Club World Cup, a visit to Madrid and a season-ending injury for another player.