Barça’s 2011/2012 Season – Part 3

Part Three 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.

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The view from the Press Booth

Season Review: Part One
Season Review: Part Two

continued from Part Two

November 2011

An action-packed month where games were played for each of the 3 trophy competitions: Champions League, La Liga and Copa del Rey. Extra Liga games were played in November to clear the calendar for Barça’s travel to Japan for the Club World Cup in December. International travel was required on 2 occasions, and a major health setback was revealed for a key member of the Barça coaching staff. November also brings the first La Liga loss. Little did we know then but, at around this time, Pep had notified the FCB Board of Directors of his intention to step down at the end of the season.

1st November: 8 Barça players were included in the 23 names on the shortlist for the FIFA Ballon D’Or: Abidal, Alves, Cesc, Iniesta, Messi, Piqué, Villa and Xavi. Pep Guardiola was nominated for Manager of the Year.

1st November: Alexis was cleared to play after nearly 6 weeks out with injury.

1st November: Away vs. Viktoria Plzeň. Champions League. 0-4.
Hang on a minute, who are all these strange players in the Blaugrana strip? Oh, that’s the home team! Dressed in basic black, Barça fielded Cuenca and Adriano to provide width on the wings with Messi in the center. A midfield of Cesc, Busquets and Thiago and a conventional 4 of Alves, Puyol, Piqué and Abidal defended before VV.

The game started out with the team slipping around on the pitch surface and a little unsettled. Plzeň almost got away to a perfect start when a fast counter-attack put Petrzela streaking towards the goal with only Valdés to beat. VV held his ground, spread himself wide and managed to save the shot to his low left side. Down the other end of the pitch, Cesc had a valid penalty appeal turned down, before a Thiago stolen ball passed to Messi had the Czech defence scrambling. With only the keeper to beat, Messi was taken down in the box by Cisovsky. Communication between the sideline judge and the referee saw a red card awarded to Cisovsky, for his last-man foul tackle. Messi converted the penalty (22’) and Barça was back in control. The second goal before half-time was another Messi shot (45’+1) when he combined brilliantly with Adriano before slipping it under the diving keeper into the net.

After the break, more Barça scoring opportunities were saved including a Messi free-kick, before the 10-man Plzeň team had another chance when a cross from the left found an unmarked player on the far post. However, the shot was just wide and hit the side netting. Barça immediately retaliated with Messi sending in a lovely ball to a running Thiago whose header hit the underside of the bar and rebounded back into the field of play to be cleared out by the defence. Pep replaced Busquets, Alves and Abidal with Keita, Maxwell and Alexis back from his long injury absence. The next goal came after a Cuenca cross saw Cesc run in to collect and head it (73’) into the net. In the final moments of the game, some lovely team work ended with a Messi – Alexis – Piqué backheel – Messi play for Leo to collect his hat-trick (93’) and end the match at 0-4.

The result ensured that Barça would advance into the next round of Champions League – the final 16. Alves’ Yellow card ensured that he was suspended for the next CL game.

Game Facts:
~ This was Pep’s 200th match in charge.
~ Messi’s first goal (penalty) was the 200th goal for him in the first team.
~ Messi’s third goal was the 500th goal for the team under Pep.
~ Valdés broke Miguel Reina’s record for minutes played without conceding a goal.
~ Piqué, Cesc and Messi – the 1987 generation – finally played 90’ together on the pitch for the first team.
~ Alexis returned from injury to play in his first-ever Champions League match.

Link to Match Highlights Video

2nd November: The team flew home to prepare for their next tough Liga match in Bilbao.

6th November: Away vs. Athletic Club Bilbao. La Liga.
San Mamés is always a difficult stadium. To prove this, Messi had never scored there, but then neither had he ever lost. Heavy rain was expected for the game, and the weather gods got it right.

It was a deluge for the entire match which made play very difficult and dangerous for the players. Near misses were recorded by both teams, before a slip on the wet turf by Mascherano allowed a concerted Bilbao attack, from which Ander scored (19’) with a brilliant chip into the far top corner of the net. It didn’t take long for the equaliser when Abidal, working hard to circle around the defence on the left, looked up to spot Cesc and crossed in a beautiful ball which Cesc headed (23’) into the net. The chances kept coming, but Barça couldn’t put any of them away.

In the second half, the overworked pitch drainage couldn’t cope, and puddles of ball-stopping water started to form. Iniesta had the chance of his life when a Javi Martinez back-pass to the Bilbao keeper stopped dead, but instead of taking the ball closer and then taking a shot, Iniesta chose to try to lob Iraizoz which didn’t work. Late into the game while trying to avoid a throw-in, Mascherano instead conceded a corner. In the resulting chaos in the box, Abidal tried to clear the ball which rebounded off a Bilbao player to Piqué’s feet. The #3 failed to clear, and knocked the ball in the net (78’) for a Barça own-goal. Disaster.

Barça became a little disorganised and panicky at the thought of the season’s first loss. Attacks on the Bilbao goal continued, but to no avail. The game ticked into injury time as another attack was mounted. Messi passed into the box to Iniesta whose inexplicable back-heel sent the ball towards Iraizoz to gather. However, a mix-up between the goalkeeper and a Bilbao defender saw the ball spill back out. Another defender tried to clear it away, but it only went as far as Messi, who took a huge swipe at the ball (90’+1) and sent it into the net to prevent a loss.

A very difficult match in the conditions, and a lot of wasted chances (15 shots on goal compared to Bilbao’s 5), saw the game finish 2-2, and the general consensus that both teams each deserved the point.

Game Facts:
~ Ander’s goal, in the 19th minute, ended Víctor Valdés’ unbeaten streak, and set the new club record at 896 minutes without conceding a goal.
~ Messi scored his first goal at San Mamés.
~ Iniesta played his 250th Liga game.

Link to Match Highlights Video

9th November:
Víctor Valdés picked up an elbow injury during practice and would not be on the bench for the L’Hospitalet game.

9th November:  Away vs. L’Hospitalet. Copa del Rey. 0-1.
Brought forward from December because of Barça’s Club World Cup commitments, the team played the first Copa del Rey match with Barcelona neighbours, l’Hospitalet. Barça was without Alves, Adriano, Mascherano, Messi, Alexis, Thiago and Cuenca – all of whom had already left for international duty.

The much lower-ranked l’Hospi team was very excited at the opportunity but its home game, on a hard artificial pitch, lacked the goals which would have made it more entertaining. Barça took 23 shots on goal, compared to Hospitalet’s 5. Both keepers, (Pinto and Moragon), made very good saves, with l’Hospi’s keeper making his save of the match against a Keita bullet in the 19th minute, and Pinto with a massive save in the 81st minute. Moragon also made another great save against Villa in the 88th minute.

Iniesta scored the only goal (43’) with a sensational strike from just outside the box, which brought comparisons to his Stamford Bridge winner from the 08/09 season.

Game Facts:
~ Iniesta’s goal was his first CdR goal with Guardiola as manager.
~ B-Team players, Tello and Rafinha, made their First Team debuts, bringing the total to 21 La Masia graduates to play under Pep.

Link to Match Highlights Video

10th November:
Another International break, and the Ciutat Esportiva was deserted. Only Pinto, Maxwell, Fontàs and the injured Pedro remained to take part in a light training session in the gym.

10th November: UEFA honoured Xavi and Andoni Zubizarreta, along with Iker Casillas and Raúl González, and presented their caps for playing 100+ games for Spain.

12th November: In a report, that was to perhaps jinx the club in the coming weeks, it was announced that Barça and Benfica were the only 2 clubs in Europe to remain unbeaten in their leagues and in Champions League for the season. Barça had not lost a match since last season’s defeat by Real Sociedad on 30th April 2011. They had played 25 cup games since then.

13th November: Time Magazine named Messi as one of the 32 candidates for this year’s “Person of the Year Award”.

15th November: Afellay returned to the Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper for the first time since his ACL operation on 3rd October.

10th November: Adriano returned from International duty with a hamstring injury and was sidelined for 7-10 days. He was injured during training with Brazil.

16th November: Today marked 8 years since Messi’s inaugural game with the first team.

16th November: The International players returned with the exception of Messi, Mascherano and Alexis.

18th November: The full squad returned for training only one day before the next match, and Pedro was judged fit to return to training after a month off with an ankle injury.

19th November: Home vs. Zaragoza. La Liga. 4-0.
It’s rained more times this season for games at the Camp Nou than I can remember from other seasons, and it was another rainy night for the Zaragoza visit. Los Blanquillos is one of the unpredictable teams in La Liga.

The home team pressured early, but some good chances were not converted until a Xavi free kick found a stooping Piqué in the box, who headed it in (17’) for his first goal for the season. Barça continued to press, and GK Roberto and his defenders made a wonderful triple save against a Messi/Cesc/Alexis salvo which did everything but get into the net. It wasn’t until just before half-time that the next goal came when Cesc fed the ball to Messi who scored (42’) with his right foot from just outside the right post.

Zaragoza had their best chance after the break when lovely play into their box was just cleared out by Puyol before a goal could be scored. Not long after this, Puyol was up the other end of the pitch, on the ground, and helping the ball into the net for a goal (53’) of his own. With the match decided, Alexis, (in his first Liga game since Sept 10th) Xavi and Cesc were replaced by Iniesta, Thiago and Villa. Chances kept coming and finally the team was rewarded with a last goal as a diving Villa headed in (74’) from a wonderful Cuenca cross.

Link to Match Highlights Video

20th November: Iniesta received a knock in the Zaragoza game and would be out of the away game to AC Milan.

22nd November: An FCB press release announced that Assistant Coach, Tito Vilanova, had been successfully operated on for a tumour on his parotid gland. Vilanova would miss the next 3-4 weeks as he recovered.

22nd November: Barça travelled to Milan to prepare for the San Siro return match against AC Milan. They were without Iniesta, Adriano, Afellay and Alves who was suspended for this match, as well as Vilanova.

23rd November: Away vs. AC Milan. Champions League. 2-3.
The return matches of the Champions League pool play required a visit to San Siro for a close encounter of the Ibra kind.

Pep boldly started with a 3-4-3 which included Busquets coming back to help with defence, while Piqué sat on the bench. Possession yo-yoed as both teams worked into the game. Great work from Thiago recovered the ball which he then passed to Messi who spotted Keita out on the left wing. Seydou crossed quickly into the box, where a lurking Xavi unsettled Van Bommel enough for the latter to push the ball (13’) into the goal.

Minutes later, a Milan cross had Robinho directly in front of goal with only VV to beat, but his shot candled straight over the top of the goal. A long ball from Aquilani found Seedorf on the corner of the box and sleepy defence from Barça allows Clarence to feed the ball to Ibrahimovic, who slotted the ball (19’) past VV. Sloppy play, and Barça lost the advantage.

Not long after Milan’s goal, Xavi cleverly played the ball to Cesc who crossed into Messi standing in front of an open net, but Leo chipped into the crossbar and the ball flew out of play. Barça kept pressing and the next chance saw Xavi brought down in the box by Aquilani who was already on a Yellow card. The referee awarded the penalty, but unfathomably avoided booking Aquilani who should have been sent off. Instead, the Yellow was given to Nesta for complaining to the in-goal referee. Messi stepped up to take the kick, and his first effort was nullified as he was judged to have stopped in his run. A Yellow to Messi and another shot (30’) which was inch perfect into the corner to avoid Abbiati’s desperate dive.

Two more good goal opportunities from Villa and Messi were saved by Abbiati, and Mascherano made a perfect tackle on Robinho to dispossess him of the ball in the Milan box. The half finished not long after a Milan freekick was clumsily cleared away.

The second half started with more misses from Messi and Villa, before some errant Barça defence, coupled with amazing individual skills from Boateng, saw him curve around the defence to slot the ball (55’) between VV and the near post. Not VV’s best work, and the score was level once more.

The team picked themselves up, and a wonderful Messi threaded ball found Xavi on the edge of the box to coolly slot the ball (64’) past Abbiati. The Blaugrana had another goal opportunity from a Thiago free-kick, however Alexis and Puyol failed to score due to Abbiati’s stalwart defence.

Game Facts:
~ Xavi was involved in all 3 goals.
~ The win was dedicated to Tito Vilanova.
~ Barça secured the top spot in the Champions League Group H.
~ Messi’s goal made him the leading South American goal scorer in European competitions, surpassing Peruvian Claudio Pizarro. It was also Messi’s first goal against an Italian team.
~ Guardiola’s Barça had now scored 102 goals in Champions League – the 100th being Van Bommel’s own goal.
~ Guardiola overtook Van Gaal as the Barça manager with the most CL wins – 27 out of 45 games played.

Link to Match Highlights Video

25th November
: Adriano was declared fit, but Iniesta was still injured and would not be available for the Getafe match.

25th November: At his press conference, Pep Guardiola stated, “We have a fascinating build-up to Christmas, and it all starts against Getafe.”

26th November: Cesc joined Iniesta on the injury list for the Getafe game, due to some minor injury niggles.

26th November: Away vs. Getafe. La Liga. 1-0.

Off to Madrid to play at the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez, and the UEFA virus struck. It wasn’t due to lack of goal opportunities – it was the failure to convert them into goals which let the team down.

The first half was punctuated with alternating missed goals by Villa, Alexis and Messi, as all the effort came to nothing. Getafe’s Goalkeeper, Moyà, put in an outstanding performance.

The second half started in much the same way, until Valdés stupidly allowed the ball to run out for a Getafe corner. From the corner kick, Valera climbed high, and unmarked, to get his head onto the ball (66’) and coax it past a flat-footed VV who didn’t move at all as the ball came his way. A goal very much against the run of play.

Barça piled on the pressure with Piqué moving forward as the target man. Keita was judged offside (even though the ball came off a Getafe defender) as he crossed into the box, and the resulting Messi goal was denied. Another Messi shot, well into injury time, ricocheted off the far post, and Moyà brilliantly saved the Alexis rebound shot. Blaugrana heads hung low at their first defeat of the season, and the alarm bells started to clang more stringently.

Game Facts:
~ The defeat put an end to the team’s winning streak of 27 games in competitive matches.
~ Barça now trailed La Liga leaders, Real Madrid, by 6 points.

Link to Match Highlights Video

28th November: Tito Vilanova was discharged from hospital, following the successful operation to remove a tumour from one of his parotid glands.

28th November: Iniesta was cleared to play again after injuring his left foot in the game against Zaragoza earlier in the month. Cesc was also cleared to play after minor injuries made him sit out the Getafe game.

29th November: Home vs. Rayo Vallecano. La Liga. 4-0.
Another game was moved forward because of Barça’s Club World Cup commitments. It was imperative that the team put the loss to Getafe behind them as they headed into a critical stage in their season. Rayo had been promoted from Liga Adelante and they were looking to prove themselves.

Iniesta almost opened the scoring at 2’ when he spied the Rayo keeper out of position, but Cobeño just managed to save the ball from going into the net. Rayo had the better chances after that, with one attempt flying over the top of the goal, and another shot by Lass going wide. A high ball from a free-kick was misjudged by Valdés and he just managed to tip it over, the ball hitting the crossbar on the way out. Barça started to gain control, and Alexis scored (28’) a beautiful individual effort with a curling shot into the top far corner. Messi missed a chance in the 32nd minute with a shot that went into the side of the net, and then Lass had another opportunity from some good play off a free-kick.

Barça scored again when Messi threaded a pass to Xavi, the ball flicking off his foot into the path of Alexis who buried (40’) the ball into the goal. Just before half-time, Piqué ran forward with the ball which he passed to Alves who crossed into the middle for Villa to slot (42’) home.

Not long after the second half had commenced, Alves and Messi made a break down the right side, culminating in a Messi goal (49’) in which he skirted around most of the Rayo defence to score from an oblique angle across the goal face. The game lost some intensity after this, and Alexis, Xavi and Iniesta were replaced by Cesc, Thiago and Adriano. Villa had a great chance for a 2nd when he was one-on-one with the keeper, but his chip was too high. Messi also shot wide. Rayo nearly got a goal as Valdés spilled the ball, but Tamuldo wasn’t quick enough.

Game Facts:
~ Alexis scored his 2nd and 3rd goals for the club after missing 10 weeks due to injury.
~ Villa also scored his 3rd goal for the season.
~ Piqué picked up a Yellow (for time-wasting) which suspended him for the next game vs. Levante when he deliberately drew his 5th card so that he was clear for the upcoming clásico.
~ Valdés became the club’s first goalkeeper to keep clean sheets in 200 matches.
~ The team equalled the club record for remaining unbeaten, with 0 goals against them, at Camp Nou: 8 games which was set in the 1986/87 season.

Link to Match Highlights Video

30th November:
Adriano, only back for a week since his last injury, was confirmed injured during the Rayo game with another hamstring injury, and was out for the next 5-7 days.

30th November:
The LFP Futbol Professional Awards were presented, with Barça winning almost every available trophy.
~ Best goalkeeper: Valdés
~ Best defender: Abidal
~ Best mid-fielder: Xavi
~ Best attacking mid-fielder: Iniesta
~ Best striker: Messi
~ Best manager: Guardiola
~ Best player in La Liga: Messi

The only trophy not awarded to the club was to Iker Muniain (Bilbao) for “Revelation of the Season”

All Month: Afellay with ACL injury.
1st – 18th: Pedro with twisted ankle.
8th – 15th: Valdés with elbow injury.
10th – 25th: Adriano with hamstring injury.
20th – 28th: Iniesta with leg injury.
21st – 30th: Tito Vilanova with a parotid gland tumour.
25th – 28th: Cesc with injury niggles.
30th: Adriano with a hamstring injury.


December 2011

Another busy and varied month with games for 3 trophies – one of those cups is very special. Time for the away El Clásico, a few home games, a trip to Japan and a serious injury to a key team player.

1st December:
11 Barça players were selected as candidates for the best team of the year in the FIFA FIFPro World XI 2011: Valdés, Abidal, Alves, Piqué, Puyol, Busquets, Cesc, Iniesta, Xavi, Messi, and Villa. GK Valdés received his first nomination.

3rd December: Home vs. Levante. La Liga. 5-0.
Sitting in 4th position on the La Liga Table and only 2 points behind Barça, Levante was not to be taken lightly – especially after winning at home against Real Madrid, and having topped the table (in Weeks 9 & 10) for the first time in their club history. Piqué was suspended, so Pep set a 3-4-3 formation, resting regular starter Alves and flanking Messi with Alexis and Cuenca.

Barça started at pace and didn’t stop, giving one of their strongest performances of the season. The fans were still settling into their seats when Messi fired a pass into Iniesta, who back-heeled to Cesc, who turned and scored (3’) in one fluid movement. A rebound of a Messi free-kick was almost collected by Puyol but he was unable to control the ball.

Another free-kick by Xavi flew over the cross-bar, before his next one found a rising Cesc in the box who headed it into the goal (33’) for his second in 30 minutes. Messi, on one of his trademark runs, drew 5 defenders before sliding a pass to Xavi who passed it onto a free Cuenca. The youngster wasted little time with a curling grubber shot (36’) finding the mark.

Levante had their best chances just before and just after half-time but Valdés kept them out with some superb saves. A subbed-on Alves recovered a ball to send forward to Messi who shot from his favoured right side of goal for his 27th Liga goal (53’) for the season. In the 59th minute, Alexis worked hard in deep defence to recover the ball for Barça. He then sprinted down the left side of the pitch as the ball was passed forward to Messi-Xavi-Messi and then back to Alexis who stopped the ball and scored with the ball deflecting off a defender’s back and over the goalkeeper.

The team wasn’t finished as subbed-in Pedro was sent on his way, only to be denied by some good goal-keeping by Munúa in the 85th minute. A few minutes later, an Iniesta goal was incorrectly ruled off-side, but the game was wrapped up and the crowd went home happy.

Game Facts:
~ The 5-0 win gave this Barça team the record for the number of consecutive games won at home where 0 had been scored against them – 9 games in total. The team had scored 39 goals and conceded none.
~ This was the 15th 5-0 win for the team under Pep Guardiola.
~ Messi matched his personal best of 16 league goals at home in one season before this season’s halfway mark.
~ Messi also made his 292nd appearance for the club, equalling Philip Cocu as the foreigner who has played most times for Barça.
~ It was Guardiola’s 100th match at Camp Nou as manager: 82 wins, 296 goals scored and 59 goals conceded.

Link to Match Highlights Video

4th December:
As Barça had already progressed through to the Champions League, and mindful of the Clásico match to come, as well as the travel and play for the Club World Cup, Pep elected to rest 13 first team players for the final Group game against BATE Borisov. Watching in the stands would be: Valdés, Alves, Puyol, Abidal, Mascherano, Keita, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Cesc, Messi, Alexis and Villa. First Team players Pinto, Piqué, Fontàs, Maxwell, Thiago and Pedro would play the match with the rest of the players coming from the Barça B team.

5th December: Pep Guardiola was shortlisted for the award of FIFA Best Manager of 2011.

5th December: Messi’s goal against Arsenal during the 2011 Champions League game at Camp Nou was nominated for the FIFA Puskás Award for best goal of the season:

Link to Messi Goal Video

5th December:
Leo Messi and Xavi Hernández were confirmed as 2 of 3 finalists for the FIFA Ballon d’Or. This was the 5th nomination for Messi and the 3rd for Xavi.

6th December: Guardiola named the team to play BATE Borisov. Six First Team players – Pinto, Piqué, Fontàs, Maxwell, Thiago and Pedro – were joined by Cuenca, Rafinha, dos Santos, Sergi Roberto, Bartra, Montoya, Muniesa, Deulofeu, Riverola, Sergi Gómez, Oier and Kiko Femenia from the Barça B Team.

6th December: Home vs. BATE Borisov. Champions League. 4-0.
An inconsequential game for the Blaugrana as they had already advanced to the next round of Champions League, but it was a chance for a lot of the Barça B players to show their worth to the world.

The starting team was: Pinto, Montoya, Bartra, Fontàs, Maxwell, Thiago, dos Santos, Sergi Roberto, Pedro, Rafinha, Cuenca. On the bench sat: Piqué, Muniesa, Deulofeu, Riverola, Sergi Gómez, Oier and Kiko.

From the kick-off, the Blaugrana contained BATE well inside their own half, and Rafinha came close to scoring with practically the first movement of the game. Sergi Roberto narrowly missed with his shot skimming just outside the left post. Nice play from Thiago-Pedro-Roberto gave Sergi the opening goal (34’) and his first goal in Champions League. Barça went into the break up by one which didn’t really reflect the team’s domination.

The second half brought more of the same action with a little more success. Pedro narrowly missed a straight drive for goal with the ball just shaving the outside of the left post. Sergi had another shot that missed, and Fontàs followed with a goal which was disallowed. The 2nd came when Cuenca slid a brilliant assist into a sprinting Montoya who joined (58’) Sergi Roberto to score on CL debut.

The crowd was being thoroughly entertained, and #3 came from a wonderful Montoya-Cuenca-Pedro combination which the Canarian back-heeled (61′) into the net. Guardiola subbed out dos Santos, Rafinha and Roberto and sent on Muniesa, Deulofeu and Riverola.

Cuenca was taken off his feet in the box, and Pedro slotted (86’) the penalty home. The team walked off to a standing ovation from the low-attendance 38,000 crowd. Job well done.

Game Facts:
~ This was the 150th win under Guardiola. (98 Liga, 28 CL, 16 CdR, 4 Supacopa, 2 Europe Cups and 2 Club World Cups. With a 72.1% win rate.)
~ Riverola was the 22nd La Masia graduate to play in the first team under Pep. He has played for every FCB team since he started with the FCB Escola. His maiden First Team game was a Champions League match!
~ The average age of the Barça players on the pitch was 22.7 years.
~ The Alcántara brothers are the 23rd set of brothers to play for the club, and played together for the first time in the First Team.
~ The team received a standing ovation from the non-playing first team members upon arriving back in the dressing room.
~ The team achieved 16 points in the Champions League Group round which is the most points in CL Pool play, with Guardiola in charge.
~ 16 different players had now scored for the team over the season.
~ Pedro’s 2 goals took his tally to 50 for the club.

Link to Match Highlights Video

7th December: Tito Vilanova returned to work, 15 days after his operation. His full-time return wouldn’t come until much later, as he was unable to travel for away matches for some time.

7th December: Adriano was cleared to play again.

7th December: With the team due to leave for Madrid and Japan, it was decided that Afellay would return to the Netherlands, to continue with his recovery and to enjoy his time off over the Christmas break.

9th December: Thiago gained 2nd place in the Golden Boy Award 2011, run by Italian daily “Tuttosport”. Dortmund’s Mario Goetze won and Lille’s Eden Hazard was 3rd. Messi won the award in 2005 and Cesc (while at Arsenal) won in 2006. The trophy, dubbed as the “Junior Ballon D’Or”, is decided by the votes of 30 Europe-wide reporters.

9th December: Apart from Afellay, all other squad players were fit and at Pep’s disposal – a rare event for the season.

10th December: The team departed for Madrid and Japan. Because he was unable to fly after his surgery, Tito Vilanova and his wife caught the train to join the team in Madrid. He would not be going to Japan.

10th December: To ensure that the Bernabéu pitch was wet enough for Barça’s liking, Pep ordered it to rain. So it did – rather heavily. It was also cold which kind of cancelled out the rain advantage, because Barcelonans don’t like the cold.

10th December: Away vs. Real Madrid. La Liga. 1-3.
By this time, the worrying away form had started to rock the fans’ confidence, (and no doubt had some effect on the team!), and the lead-up to the match was an anxious affair, debated at length by armchair football coaches on forums and websites.

Fears were not alleviated when a Valdés blunder in the first 30 seconds saw Benzema on the scoreboard for Madrid. Thankfully, with Puyol revving up the players, Barça quickly recovered and, under Pep’s direction, changed tactical formation to gear up the attack. In the 6th minute, Messi drove for the box after Ramos slipped in defence. His shot was just cleared away by Iker’s fingertips, but the Barça threat was back. A Di Maria cross (10’) found the head of Benzema, but Valdés easily collected the ball. Ronaldo attempted a shot (18’) from outside the box which was slapped away by Valdés, and cleared out by Busquets and Cesc. Cristiano had another attempt (24’), but it went very wide and should have been played out to Di Maria, who was standing clear and unmarked on the right. Lass Diarra was the next to have a biff (29’), but it went Alves-style-high over the goal.

Messi then collected the ball on the halfway line, wound though a few Madrid defenders and threaded a pass to Alexis who took a few more steps and unleashed a shot (29’) which crossed in front of a diving Casillas to find the back of the net. Barça was back in the game, and Alexis continued to harass and worry the Madrid team for the rest of his time on the pitch.

Into the second half, and a Cristiano free-kick (49’) was gathered safely by Valdés. It was not Cristiano’s night. A cleared ball by Madrid only went as far as Xavi who struck it strongly (52’) towards goal. Casillas was there to save it but, inexplicably, Marcelo contorted his body into a move that would have made John Travolta proud, and the ball ricocheted off his foot and headed for the far post. A desperately diving Casillas could not get to it in time. The Blaugrana took the lead.

10 minutes later, Messi and Alexis combined again, but the shot was kick-saved by Casillas. A Messi free-kick (63’) just missed and shaved a layer of paint off the post.

Down the other end of the pitch, Kaka sent a kick (64’) into the gathered Madrid players and Cristiano’s header went wide. From the next play, Cesc recovered the ball from deep in the Barça half. The ball was played through Messi and out to Alves. Cesc sprinted the length of the pitch with Coentrão beside him. Alves whipped in the perfect cross to find Cesc who dipped forward and headed the ball (65’) past a hapless Casillas.

The crowd fell silent, except for the couple of thousand Barça fans way up in the stands. Alves sent in another cross for a Xavi header (74’) which went wide. Benzema managed to slip Puyol and fired towards the goal. His shot missed, and a lurking Higuain was judged offside. A Kaka strike was miraculously saved by Valdés and spilled out of play. Iniesta and Messi combined for an assault in the box (85’), but the ball was finally gathered by Casillas.

3 minutes of injury time, and then it was finally over – amazingly with 22 players still on the pitch, although the card-count had started to climb for Madrid once Barça had scored the 3rd. Another nail-biting, end-to-end Clásico, Pep remained unbeaten at the Bernabéu, and the points gap between Madrid and Barcelona narrowed to 3.

Game Facts:
~ In his 13th Clásico, Xavi played his 600th game in his 14th season for the club.
~ The season’s new arrivals, Cesc and Alexis, both scored.
~ Under Pep, Barcelona had scored 16 goals against Madrid, and conceded 6.
~ Alves and Messi are the only 2 Barça players to start every Clásico in the Guardiola era.
~ 9 of the Barça players had come through the club’s youth ranks compared to 1 for Madrid.
~ So far, Guardiola had not put out the same starting-lineup in the 26 official games that the club had played during the season.
~ Barça had 67.5% ball possession during the match.
~ Puyol won 14 balls and lost 0. He committed a single foul and was only fouled once.
~ In the 55 league games in which Piqué and Puyol have played together, the team has won 46, drawn 9 and lost 0.

Link to Match Highlights Video

11th December:
At 1:30am, immediately after the Clásico and unable to speak to the press because of time constraints (except for Guardiola’s press conference), Barça was at the airport to take an 11-hour flight to Japan to play in the Club World Cup.

Club World Cup, Yokohama, Japan

Qualifying by virtue of their Wembley Champions League victory, Barça’s ranking meant that they would join the competition at the semi-final stage.

Club World Cup Facts:
~ This was the 3rd Club World Cup competition for Valdés, Puyol, Iniesta and Xavi who had also played for Barça in the 2006 and 2009 events.
~ It was the 2nd Club World Cup for Alves, Piqué, Abidal, Busquets, Keita, Messi and Pedro. Pinto, Maxwell and Jonathan Dos Santos were in the squad in 2009, but were not selected to play.
~ It was Pep Guardiola’s 3rd time at the competition, having played in 1992 and won as the Barça coach in 2009.
~ Messi would need to score a goal if he was to keep alive his quest to equal Pedro’s achievement as the only Barça player to score in 6 official competitions in the same season. (He also needed to score in a Copa del Rey match, having already scored in the Europa Super Cup, the Spanish Supacopa, La Liga and Champions League.)

15th December: Away vs. Al Sadd. Club World Cup. 0-4.

The first game was against Qataris, Al Sadd, who had won their first match against African side Espérance. Al Sadd was the home team for this game, and both sides started cautiously, with Barça in possession and Al Sadd defending. Pep played Adriano at Right Back, and it paid off for the team.

Villa had a shot saved by GK Saqr, before Pedro, playing at Left Wing, crossed into the box. The ball looked to have been secured by Belhadj, who stopped the ball and pushed it over to Saqr standing close by him, however a mix-up led to a still advancing Adriano kneeing the ball into the goal (24’) for Barça’s first of the game, and for the tournament.

Minutes later, Abidal found Villa in the box who, although surrounded by 4 defenders, laid the ball off to Iniesta, but his shot was saved and rebounded for Villa to bury into the net. Sadly, it didn’t count as Villa was off-side.

In almost the next movement and while running into the box flanked by a couple of defenders, Villa went down and immediately raised his hand for assistance. His season had come to an end with a broken leg, and he was stretchered from the field. Alexis took his place. Just before half-time, Adriano and Thiago combined for the older Brazilian to blast a shot into goal (42’) for his second.

After half-time, Barça continued to retain possession, and the next chance came when Messi threaded an assist to Keita who, with the outside of his left foot, shot the ball (63’) across the goal-face for goal #3 – a goal which he dedicated to Villa. The 4th came in the 81st minute, when a Maxwell-Thiago combination saw Maxwell in for a narrow-angle shot which bounced under Saqr’s leg and went in.

Thiago had a great game controlling the midfield and was instrumental in much of the attacking play. Barça was through to the final of the Club World Cup, for the second time in 3 years, where they would play Brazil’s Santos.

Game Facts:
~ The four goals came from unusual sources as far as the team was concerned – 2 Brazilian backs and a Malian midfielder.
~ Keita and Maxwell scored their first goals for the season.
~ After being stabilized in hospital, Villa was flown back to Barcelona for an operation and to begin his recuperation. In later reports, it was revealed that Villa had been carrying an injury to his left tibia since the CL Final at Wembley in May.

Link to Match Highlights Video

18th December: Away vs. Santos. Club World Cup. 0-4.

Leading up to the competition, there had been never-ending media reports generated around the potential squaring-off between Lionel Messi and hyped-up Santos youngster, Neymar. Pundits claimed that the latter would steal Messi’s crown as the greatest player. Messi soon put their hopes to the sword.

Barça quickly settled into dominance with attempted shots from Messi and Iniesta, before a Santos free-kick gave them the opportunity to open the scoring, however the Neymar-Ganso attempt flew wide.

Soon after, Xavi and Messi combined to give Leo a wonderful chipped goal (17’) to maintain his attempt to score and assist in all 6 trophy competitions. Alves assisted Xavi with the next goal (24’) which the #6 drove straight into the net.

Shots were traded until, just before half-time, an Alves ball found Messi in the box. After being tackled, Messi recovered his feet to play the ball back to Alves, who just managed to keep the ball in play and sent it back into the middle of the box, where the Santos keeper deflected the ball. Thiago dived in for a header which was saved before Cesc cleaned up with a cross-shot into the net. 0-3 into the break and Barça was well in control.

The second half started with almost the 4th of the night when Messi and Cesc combined, but Cesc’s shot went just wide. Neymar had his best chance of the night when a Borges cross came his way, but his header was too uncontrolled and flew high over the goal.

More shots were traded with both sides having good scoring opportunities. Valdés showed great one-on-one skills to deny Santos. Alves changed his position and went to play center-left, where he combined with Messi for the final goal. Messi cut the ball around the GK to slot home (82’) for his 2nd for the night, and for the tournament.

Puyol lifted the team’s 3rd trophy of the season and their second Club World Cup title in 3 years.

Game Facts:
~ The team enjoyed 72% possession during the game, and completed 881 passes to Santos’ 256.
~ The team set a new record for the highest winning margin of 4 goals in a Club World Cup Final.
~ Xavi made the most passes, completing 151 of 160.
~ Busquets recovered the most balls – 15.
~ With his 2 goals for the tournament, Messi won the Golden Ball trophy.
~ Messi also won his 2nd Man of the Match performance in a Club World Cup final – the only player to have achieved 2 wins since the award began in 1980.
~ Along with Denilson, Messi is the all-time leading goal scorer in the Club World Cup Competition with 4 goals.

Link to Match Highlights Video

19th December: The team returned victorious to Barcelona, but downcast at the loss of Villa as they headed into the business end of the season.

19th December: Guardiola gave Messi, Alves, Keita, Alexis, Mascherano, Adriano and Maxwell an early start to their holidays. Most would return on 29th December with Messi to return on January 2nd. Abidal was also excused from training and would return on 29th December.

20th December: Contract renewal negotiations opened between the club, and 2nd Goal-keeper and team motivator, Pinto.

20th December: Valdés won Best Athlete of the Year at the Festa de l’Esport Català gala (Catalan Sporting Awards). The First Team also won Best Male Team of the Year.

21st December: Villa was not forgotten as several team-mates visited him in Hospital after their return from Japan.

21st December: In his press conference, when asked about his renewal, Guardiola replied, “People need to be calm, I know what I’m doing.”

22nd December: Rosell said, “All I want for Christmas is Guardiola’s contract renewal to be signed.”

22nd December: Home vs L’Hospitalet. Copa del Rey. 9-0.

The last game for 2012 was the return Copa del Rey match vs. l’Hospitalet to be played at Camp Nou. There is a very sweet video which shows the l’Hospi team travelling from their stadium to Camp Nou, and capturing their evident excitement at the opportunity to play on a world-class pitch. The Camp Nou visitors’ dressing room (with spa pool) was undoubtedly much better than their own dressing room at their La Feixa Llarga Stadium!

Although he was missing all his South American players, plus Keita and Abidal, Pep started a no-nonsense First Team line-up which gave Fontàs a rare outing in a 3-man backline. Cuenca was the only B-team starter, as he was not yet officially signed to the first team.

By the 22nd minute, Barça was in control 3-0 with a penalty to Pedro (11’) and goals to Iniesta (18’) and Thiago (22’). Sergi Roberto came on for Iniesta who had gone down with a hamstring injury. After Xavi’s 35’ goal, he was subbed off for Cristian Tello. After 3 more goals at 42’ (Tello), 47’ (Cuenca) and a 52’ penalty (Thiago), Jonathan dos Santos came on to replace Busquets. The team scored 2 more goals (Tello 62’ and Cuenca 79’) to finish the match 9-0.

Game Facts:
~ Of the 14 players to take to the pitch, Pinto was the only player who was not “home-grown”, as the remaining 10 starters and 3 subs all came through La Masia.
~ Tello became the 18th player to score for Barça during the season.

Link to Match Highlights Video

23rd December:
Iniesta was confirmed out for 15 days with a hamstring injury to his left thigh. He would miss the Catalunya Team Match against Tunisia, the Copa del Rey match against Valencia and, possibly, the away match to Espanyol.

23rd December: The team now headed somewhat happily to the Christmas break.

23rd December: The First Team set a new Primera Division record of 170 goals scored within a calendar year. The 9 goal haul against L’Hospitalet helped them to overtake Real Madrid who had scored 167. The year finished with no goals being scored against Barça at home in La Liga or Copa del Rey matches.

24th December: Villa was released from hospital to spend Christmas at home.

26th December: French publication L’Équipe, named Messi “2011 Champion of Champions”, beating Tennis #1 Novak Djokovic and Formula 1 champion Sebastian Vettel. Leo became only the 5th football player to win the award, and the first to win it out of a World Cup Year. Alves, Piqué, Messi, Busquets, Iniesta and Xavi were also named in L’Équipe’s All-Stars football team.

29th December:
The team returned to training with the exception of Messi (returning Jan 2nd) and Alves (Dec 31st). Maxwell, whose house had been burgled during his absence, was also excused to sort out the mess. Injured Iniesta trained alone.

29th December: Barça’s memorable moments of 2011 were compiled into a short video.

30th December:
10 Barça players took part in a Catalunya vs. Tunisia match in the Montjuic Olimpic Stadium. Johan Cruyff coached Catalunya. It was a lack-lustre affair which ended 0-0, and was costly for Barça when Puyol pulled out before the start of the match with a strained adductor muscle.

30th December: Puyol was confirmed side-lined with a groin injury. Keita picked up a knee injury during practice, and Abidal caught the flu.

30th December:
The International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS), named Messi as “World Top Goal Scorer of 2011” with 19 goals, ahead of Falcao (17) and Kuwait’s Hasan Mahmoud (16). With 12 goals, Villa finished equal 10th with Cristiano.

All Month: Afellay with ACL injury.
Returning 7th and part-time: Tito Vilanova with parotid tumour.
1st – 7th: Adriano with hamstring injury.
15th – 31st:
Villa with fractured tibia injury.
23rd – 31st: Iniesta with a hamstring injury.
30th – 31st: Puyol with a groin injury, Keita with a knee injury, Abidal with flu.


In the next instalment: Two action-packed months – full of games for all 3 trophies. The January transfer window would see movement away from the club, and a player would be missing for a critical 6 weeks while playing for his national team. Hlebruary was upon us – would the jinx continue to plague Barça?


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  1. samarth-culé
    July 14, 2012

    An avid reader for the past year or so but commenting for the first time…

    First of all, Great work by all of you at BFB!

    and a nice series of articles about the past season, brilliantly put together and to-the-point!

    • nzm
      July 15, 2012

      Welcome samarth-culé – always great to see new contributors in the comments, coming out of the World Wide Woodwork Web!

      On behalf of BFB – thanks for the praise, and I hope to see you commenting more!

    • July 16, 2012

      Mwhahahah Fresh Meat!

      Kidding. Glad you’re finally commenting, the more voices the better.

  2. providence
    July 14, 2012

    “Pep remained unbeaten
    at the Bernabéu, and the points gap between Madrid and
    Barcelona narrowed to 3.”

    who else? NZM…u make last season just yesterday…well done ….Man.

  3. providence
    July 14, 2012

    In his press conference, when asked about his
    renewal, Guardiola replied, “People need to be calm, I know
    what I’m doing.”

    I jux realised one thing, anytime Pep takes a big decision the whole Catalan n Barcelona cries or is worried one way or the other but in the end it turn out to be Good or Best decision for us

    1.Realeasing, Ronaldinho, Deco, etc..( I was worried)
    2. Selling Eto’o ( I was worried but then came Leo)
    3. Selling yaya toure( worried but then came Busquets)
    4.Playing 3-4-3 @ benabeu ( worried but Hitler n EE loses 1 – 3)
    5. I’m leaving, I’m tired.
    I cried but the precedent says it all so lets hope for the best from Tito…. “u r in safe hands” Pep..

        • July 15, 2012

          I’m avoiding goal dot com, so I can’t read this article. But I’ve heard of this story before and certainly don’t agree with it.

          I’m fine with people using generic names to call rivals for light-hearted teasing reasons (I’ve done that many times), but there should be a “do not cross” line somewhere.

          The internet is for free speech and I’m just a guest in this space, so you can say whatever you want, but I strongly disagree with this particular comparison/name-calling.

          • mom4
            July 15, 2012

            providence, I have to agree with messifan. Such comparisons are over the top and are disrespectful of the millions killed, injured, orphaned during that sad time in human history. Football is a game only. We may dislike some of the football ‘bad guys’ but their affect on the human condition is really negligible by comparison.

  4. July 14, 2012

    That video of L’Hospitalet players arriving at the Camp Nou looks awesome; their excitement when entering the pitch is priceless.

    I totally forgot how often Iniesta got injured last season, esp. at the beginning, but he finished the season really strong 😀

    From my hazy memory, January was one of the hardest months for us with along with April (sadly) 🙁

    Looking forward to reading the next installment. Gracies, nzm!

    • nzm
      July 15, 2012

      Yeah – just love the excitement on the L’Hospi players’ faces – they’re like little kids in the candy store!

      January was a very hard month – my brain hurt from working out all the injuries!

      Thanks, messifan!

  5. Xingxian
    July 15, 2012

    How beautifully bittersweet… the feelings of the 3-1 victory came back to me while reading this, but I felt them filtered through a sieve of knowing what was to come.

    Thank you for writing 🙂

    • nzm
      July 15, 2012

      Always nicer to write about the Barca games in hindsight! 😀

  6. Ben
    July 15, 2012

    For those of you in the US, the U19 championship will be shown on GolTV at 5 PM eastern. I’m looking forward to watching Grimaldo play on TV since the streams of previous matches have been so horrific that it was hard to tell what was going on.

    • Messiah10
      July 15, 2012

      Thanks for the info. I’m all over that!

  7. Messiah10
    July 15, 2012

    Watching the 1st highlight of the CL game was awe-inspiring. The 1-2 between Messi & Adriano was fantastic. The control Messi had to switch it from his right to left and then angle the shot(when most would have gone for near post) so it was a far post shot was crazy! The cross from Cuenca to Cesc showed what speed and skill he has. He can only get better next season. There are really no words for the 4th goal and Messi’s hat trick. Pique’s backheel and Messi’s continued effort and run are sublime. That’s our CB assisting Messi! Back heeling nonetheless! Looking forward to a healthy & hungry Barca 2012-13! Visca Barca!

    • Messiah10
      July 15, 2012

      It’s also great to hear Gullit, Seaman, & the other pundit talking about Barca & Messi. I love to hear praise from former players, especially Gullit.

  8. providence
    July 15, 2012

    @ messifan and mom4 it was for only teasing and name calling reasons, i didnt meant to disrespect those who suffered.i’m sorry and thanks for correcting me,i will not use it again, thank you . I love you all. Viva messifan viva mom4 viva Barca.

    • Messiah10
      July 16, 2012

      I didn’t see anything wrong with the reference. Hitler is used as a slang term in the U.S. to describe any over the top a-hole who is an antagonist. Nazi is also used to describe an over zealous group or person who is strict or fanatical. I see those names and terms used all the time in the media and social networks. I don’t think it’s a case of being insensitive as much as being oversensitive.

      • nzm
        July 16, 2012

        Yeah – touchy subject and not a name to bandy around, especially in Germany.

        True story: my in-laws, who are German, were visiting us in Dubai when we lived there. They got into the elevator one day, and one of our Arab neighbours was in it. He got chatting to them and asked them where they were from.

        When they told him that they were from Germany, he gave them the Heil Hitler salute – not realising that this was taboo. He was just trying to be friendly. :roll:

        That was about 7 years ago. My mother-in-law has still not gotten over it. It ruined her holiday – and caused much angst for our whole household for the next couple of weeks that they were still with us. She still has palpitations just thinking about it.

        It’s actually illegal to give the Heil Hitler salute in Germany, as well as to sing the first verse of the National Anthem, and you can go to jail for voicing doubts over the Holocaust – so Hitler is not a name that you would want to bring up as an analogy for any over-bearing person.

        • Messiah10
          July 16, 2012

          I know about the laws in Germany and the complex that German people have with WWII and their roll in it. It’s a shame b/c most German people of the past 3 or 4 generations have had enough to deal with(Communist Eastern Block). Hitler’s name is synonymous with tyranny, oppression, genocide, etc. I don’t take his politics or actions lightly. However, he is easy to make fun of because of the way he acted and looked(ridiculous mustache). He is the butt of a lot of material in movies, plays, stories, etc. Hence, Providence joking that Mo is Hitler. I see nothing wrong with that. I don’t take myself that serious. There has to be laughter in the world at even the most insufferable characters or we’d go mad with hate and bitterness. It’s the same way Osama Bin Laden was made fun of in the States on Saturday Night Live and by many comedians. One of the funniest things I’ve seen on YouTube lately is a spoof of Hitler ranting about how to stop Barca. It’s Hilarious! I wish it were in English, but the subtitles do a good enough job. I encourage anyone who wants to laugh to check it out.

  9. July 15, 2012

    Off-topic: So I’ve been wondering for a while as to why Malaga, Qatari-owned, has not bought anyone this summer. And then I found this article today from MD:

    So the club’s owner is not willing to invest anymore and looking to sell Cazorla and Isco according to the article. I read something sometime ago about the owner only paying bills on his visit to Malaga, which was the reason Fernando Hierro left the club. It was a strange business set up. Now the club has debt that needs to be paid and a run-away owner.

    I was looking forward to seeing how Malaga will compete next season, now I’m worried for their fans and players. La Liga – a place for not fit and proper owners :/

    • Jim
      July 15, 2012

      Everything’s relative. Look at Rangers 🙂

    • nzm
      July 15, 2012

      The hack who wrote that piece – Serra – is the same person who wrote a total BS piece on Pep and Barca at the time of Pep’s announcement to leave the club.

      A quick read of the comments will tell you how “well-regarded” this “journalist” is in Spain. 🙂

      Don’t believe it until it happens.

      • July 15, 2012

        Ah, okay. I was a little worried about this. Hope it doesn’t come true. La Liga needs some competitions.

      • nzm
        July 16, 2012

        Well – now – that bastion of truthful news, has also picked up the story. Let’s see if it plays out.

  10. nzm
    July 15, 2012

    Oof – barcastuff reporting that a 60 million deal has been struck for Neymar. All that needs to be decided is whether he comes this season or next year.

    He’s gonna have to sell a lot of shirts to pay off that one.

    • Anonymous_69
      July 15, 2012

      We would need to save whatever is left of the current transfer fund (not going to happen) and then some, just to have that money ready next season. I really hope we just drop our interest in him.

      • July 15, 2012

        Ain’t gonna happen. Rosell is obsessed with his beloved Neymar. I think he’ll join us sooner or later, and I prefer sooner so we can get this saga over with. But 60M for a kid??? Rosell-hate level is going up and up everyday for me.

        • Messiah10
          July 16, 2012

          Neymar would pay that $60 million back in shirts sales in a year or 2. He’s the biggest star in Brazil and S. America. He’s already earning more in Brazil then most players do in Europe. Why do you think he’s paid that much? Because he brings people through the gates, sells mega amounts of merchandise, and generates sponsorship. He’s easily worth that figure and more. Look what CR did for EE when he came. Everyone cried at the figure EE paid for him(it is absurd), but they made that in kit sales in the 1st year! Having a player of Neymar’s talent and global brand would only be a win win for Barca. He also won’t be a flop. He’s going to be up there with the greats. I’m salivating at the prospect of him playing with MESSI!, Iniesta, Pedro, Xavi, Alexis, etc. His game fits perfectly with us! I hope it happens this year, but I’m more inclined to think next season will be the move. He needs to asap so he can adapt to the physicality of Liga and CL football. I don’t think he’ll tear the world apart from the get go. He’ll need to adjust, but when he does, look out!

  11. nzm
    July 15, 2012

    U19 Spanish players showed great control to win against Greece tonight, but play through the center of the pitch was almost non-existent.

    Painful to watch Deulofeu perform so many useless step-overs, only to lose the ball. Hope that habit gets kicked out of him, pronto.

    Between him and #10 Rodriguez, it’s a competition to see who can be the side’s biggest rockstar.

    It wasn’t until Deulofeu played through the middle and made a sublime pass to Rodriguez that the team scored the only goal.

    Good win, but some work to be done in midfield.

    Very impressed with Grimaldo – in fact the whole back-line was pretty solid, but then they weren’t really put under any huge stress by a deep-defending Greece.

    • July 15, 2012

      Yeah, I thought they were playing a false nine with Paco?. And agree – Geri is not ready for first team action; he needs some more tactical learning. I didn’t see any petulant attitude from Geri in this game, but Jese definitely showed some signs of petulance. One instance, he was hitting the ball after the ref called a foul on him near the goal-line and got a warning for it. Grimaldo looked great for a 16 year-old.

      • replayed
        July 15, 2012

        Re: “I thought they were playing a false nine with Paco?”

        If anything, Alcácer was playing as too much of a real nine for someone who seems more adept at playmaking than shooting. He spent too much time playing up against the centre backs without getting any service. And when he did get the odd pass, he was more likely to ping another pass or to let the ball through to someone else, rather than to turn and run at goal with the ball. Plus when Deulofeu or Rodríguez would break through on the wings, Paco would keep running towards goal amidst a sea of defenders instead of stepping back and making himself available for a cut back. Even his passing was wobbly, as he fumbled a couple of opportunities of putting people through on goal.

        I understand he was started as a striker because of injury, but the nine role really doesn’t seem to suit him. He looked magnificent when he was pulling the strings from deep against France, but he seemed all out of sorts today. At least, he didn’t keep giving the ball away.

        Anyway, he’s my new favorite young player anywhere, even if it feels like I’m cheating on Barça by lusting after other people’s prospects.

        • jordi™
          July 16, 2012

          Hes actually better at scoring than play making. A couple years ago he scored 15 in 13 for the under 17’s and they were all natural finishes.Hes a born scorer that can do a good job at assisting as well like villa.

          • replayed
            July 16, 2012

            Ah, I hadn’t realized. Maybe I should be giving more credit to the Greek defense.

            Thanks for all the background info by the way. This tournament was my first time following a youth team — I needed a fix to get me from the Euros to the Olympics — so aside from Deulofeu, all those players were new to me.

            I was pleasantly surprised by the high level of play.

    • ciaran
      July 15, 2012

      In fairness, Deulofeu had a great tournament and will mostly likely be named player of the tournament.
      The boy has buckets of talent and amazingly has the physique that most of our players lack. If he can get to spend a bit of time with Messi and Iniesta and learn humility he could be unbelievable.

      Barca have invested an awful lot in this kid, between sponsorship and training from a very early age so I fully expect the money men to start putting pressure on Tito to start introducing him in the first team squad. There was already an article suggesting that Deulofeu, Neymar and Messi as our strikeforce for the foreseeable future, completely forgetting about the likes of Alexis, Pedro, Cuenca and Tello.

      As I said, if he gets a little humility we should be good. In terms of his teamwork, it’s always easier with better players around him. The star of most teams generally has an issue with this. All the best pure strikers are selfish, we are just spoilt with Messi.

      I think that Messi has skewed reality for most people. The general public now expects 18yr old youngsters to be in the first team and if someone hasn’t broken into the first team by 21 he should be sold.

      • July 16, 2012

        amazingly has the physique that most of our players lack

        Maybe he does now, but Deulofeu has struggled with his weight in the past. Compared to this time last year he is much slimmer & more athletic/muscular. Hope he manages to keep it up.

  12. July 15, 2012

    RoSELL (president): “Ronaldinho changed the negative dynamics of the club. He turned Barça’s course around, and this continues until today.” [via @barcastuff]

    Translation: MY signing! It was my signing that was responsible for FCB’s success!!

    Which explains his fixation for Neymar..

    • nzm
      July 15, 2012

      Ya – his signing was pretty much the first one to see the door when Pep came along. 😀

    • July 16, 2012

      HIS signing was David Beckham. He even announced that one in an interview and many, before becoming (and making the club) a joke as the english man headed to the rival. Ronaldinho was the back up plan demanded by public after the Beckham-To-RM shock (Which I celebrated then, for the record). Rosell connections had a huge impact on convincing Roni to sign for a less tempting club like Barca (At that time) than the likes of Man Utd. But all in all it was a collective effort, not a one man show.

      Then again, if we have to buy the “Roni was rosell’s signing”, shouldnt we believe that Eto’o was Laporta’s signing? Adriano was Rosell’s option? Scolari instead of Rijkaard? I doubt with Adriano and Scolari instead of Frank and Eto’o Ronaldinho’s majic would’ve been enough,

      If there is someone to take credit for building this team, it is neither Rosell, nor Laporta. Its Txiki Begiristain.

      • July 16, 2012

        But all in all it was a collective effort, not a one man show.
        I doubt whether RoSELL sees it like that. To him, the way he was bragging about his Nike connections while signing Ronnie in the BBC documentary, the signing wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for him – hence its his signing, which as you suggest is never the case..

  13. mom4
    July 15, 2012

    Finally home with a real computer.’
    Dang girl, you’re good at this. These trips down memory lane are fantastic. I’m gonna watch that Club World Cup game again tomorrow.

    I can’t wait to relive my favorite game of the season, FCB v Real Betis (4-2). It wasn’t our finest game, but it was my favorite because I was there. And then you’ll review my second favorite game that I watched during a fun night with two special new friends (do you want my share of the olives? 😉 )

    • nzm
      July 16, 2012


      You get special mention in the next part because of all the reasons of which you write.

      Was tempted to put in the photo of you, A and J on La Rambla, but decided to respect the anonymity! 😀

        • mom4
          July 16, 2012

          I deny EVERYTHING. What happens in Barcelona stays in Barcelona (thankfully along with the hangovers). There are no pictures (well???)…these ae not the droids cules you are looking for- move along…and the cake is a lie.

          • nzm
            July 16, 2012

            Heh – we’ll get shirts printed with that on it, for your next visit!

      • mom4
        July 16, 2012

        but decided to respect the anonymity!

        Good girl! Next bottle of cava is on me!

        • nzm
          July 16, 2012

          Yay – cava! Another visit to La Champagneria? 😀

  14. July 16, 2012

    I am fairly certain that we have a deal with Santos for Neymar. His recent comments about Messi and the club make it clear that he is paving the way for something. It’s one thing to have admiration after the CWC beatdown, but this is ridiculous. So it seems that the only question is how much?

    The report of 60m is so absurd as to beggar description. Not only does the number not come from something vaguely approximating a reputable source, but that number would mean a great many things:

    –RoSELL has lost his mind.
    –So has ZubiZa.
    –RoSELL is banking his presidency on this signing.
    –We have no respect for the sanity of the transfer market (such sanity as it is)

    In a real, proper world, we’d pay no more than 15-20m for Neymar, with performance-based targets that would hike that price, assuming he doesn’t become Robinho II. That kind of a deal I can see. Santos will want a club to break the bank for Neymar, as they understand what they have. But Neymar is like computer vaporware. It’s the greatest thing ever, until you start using it.

    And are we really going to pay 60m for someone to get in Sanchez and Villa’s way? Because the biggest question is where does Neymar play? At present, he’s over on the wing, where Sanchez and Villa will be hanging out, since Messi has the middle covered. Could move Sanchez to right, but what about Villa? Good question.

    If he comes next season, the Sanchez question remains.

    Make no mistake, Neymar is talented, one of the most talented players to come out of Brazil in a while. He leaves Robinho in the shade at this same point in their development, but it’s still a big gamble. We’d be wrong to expect a calm, humble Masia bookworm, so people citing his personality in that regard should reconsider.

    But the question will be how he integrates into the club and its culture. In many ways, a club such as ours is perfect for him, as he won’t be the best player, or even one of the best players. If we sign him, and he shows up with a haircut, saying all the right things, I won’t be as nervous.

    • Gogah
      July 16, 2012

      The 60M price is just plain absurd.
      The only thing RoSell had going for him is the shrewd manner in which he got some transfers completed. While he failed in areas like speaking out when it mattered, protecting the club and retaining his coach, his financial austerity seemed and still seems like one of his few virtues.
      I’m not anti or pro (laporta or rosell) but If we pay anything over 35-40 for a hyped up unproven kid, Laporta is definitely the lesser evil.

    • Messiah10
      July 16, 2012

      I would rather sell a injured Villa entering the latter stages of his career and sign Neymar. His potential is to much to pass on. He plays the left where Villa does. He could also play the false nine and give Messi a rest. He is one of the most globally marketed players in the world. Ronaldo made up his transfer in shirt sales in 2 years. Neymar isn’t Robinho. Not even close. This kid is special. I would pay the rumored fee and a lot more to make sure he is at Barca.

      • hansh
        July 16, 2012

        Good points, Messiah10, especially that Neymar could give Messi a rest in the middle. We talk about the false 9 position as if there is no doubt as to who will ever play it – and when Messi is healthy, there is no doubt. However, it’s foolish to assume that Messi will be healthy forever, so we have to think about who would slot into his position. Alexis? Villa? Cesc? I think Neymar would be an excellent option there as well. (Of course, maybe Vilanova will have the courage to rest Messi once in a while too, so we’ll need someone to play while Leo is moping on the bench :))

        The shirt sales/marketability component also makes it worthwhile to pay a large fee for Neymar. 60 million is insane in my opinion, but there are some good reasons to bring Neymar to Barca.

    • mom4
      July 16, 2012

      No player is worth a 60M transfer fee unless he’s short, has a tat of his mama on his back, and likes legos. Good thing we don’t have to pay what that one’s worth!!!

      • Messiah10
        July 16, 2012

        You’re saying CR wasn’t worth the $80 million EE paid? These players generate huge amounts of cash for the clubs in ticket sales, T.V. rights, merchandise sales, and sponsorship. I don’t know. I must have a skewed view on this coming from the states, but $60 million isn’t all that much for what the kid will be worth in a few years. I know football transfers and wages haven’t been as much as in the U.S., but that’s where they’re headed. I remember when baseball players were signing for 40-60 million contracts. Then the contracts exploded. There are 2 players who signed for $250 million!!! That said, baseball isn’t near as popular globally as football. It has a large Central American and S. American following, but nothing in Europe and nothing in Asia except Japan. Football prices are going to increase and increase. It’s inevitable and already happened. I say get him while the price is still this low, because in a year or 2 it could be $100 million.

        • July 16, 2012

          Comparisons to Wrongaldo don’t hold up, as he was proven on the biggest stage(s) already. It was a safe investment. He owned the Prem, no reason to think he wouldn’t do the same in the Liga. Neymar has owned Brazil. So have a lot of players. But he has yet to play anywhere else, and NOTHING (pressure of Santos/expectations notwithstanding) like what he would be coming into with FCB.

          As I noted, he is much, much farther along than Robinho was in his development/talents, but the Robinho II inference deals with a much-lauded, expensive player who comes straight from Brazil into the bigs for a lot of dosh, and doesn’t meet expectations. And for 60m …. put it like this: if people think that Thierry Henry came with an immense set of expectations related to his price/performance (ditto for Txigrinski), they ain’t seen nothin yet.

          In looking at what Neymar would bring to us, he would explode the Brazilian market for us. This is not to be underestimated. Right now our best player is Argentine. Signing Neymar would make FCB shirt sales in Brazil skyrocket. But it isn’t about that. It’s about how he is going to fit into the machine that we have, and will he do so effectively, physically and psychologically. I can assure you that, if this happens, the first time he takes a ball and goes waltzing off on a parade of stepovers and other foolishness, not only with the knowledgeable cules boo the life outta him, but Messi, Xavi, Puyol etc will have a heart-to-heart with him.

          • nzm
            July 16, 2012

            Not only would he open up the Brazilian market, but he has some heavy sponsorship behind him, into which Rosell would love to tap. Panasonic and Red Bull are huge, let alone all the other sponsors he has, including Unilever.

        • mom4
          July 16, 2012

          Um, yep, that’s what I said. Granted, if there were an exception to my belief, CR would be it. That’s my opinion, sorry.

          Neymar…I don’t care if he walks on water in Brazil, he is unproven in EUROPE . 60 is too much for an unproven player. Watch the CWC final again.

          • Messiah10
            July 16, 2012

            The CWC was 1 game against the best team ever. How is he expected to cope? He had to have been nervous as hell. I would’ve been. In a reply above I said that he’ll need time to adjust and he will. So does every player that jumps abroad or leagues. It’s a different game. I wouldn’t expect him to come in and score 20+ goals his 1st season. Maybe with the $ you ought to, but the $ is more about promise & marketability. I’ve started watching a lot of Brazilian league and Copa games the last 2 years because of him. He’s the real deal and only 20. If it takes him a year or two to adjust, so what? We have the ability to let him pace himself and not throw him to the wolves. His biggest hurdle will be physicality and a higher defensive line. It will take time for him to adjust, but he will and come strong. We’ll be kicking ourselves if we don’t get him. It sounds like we are and I can’t wait.

  15. Lev
    July 16, 2012

    Kxevin so that my reply won’t get lost 15 posts above I will put it here. Neymar will do little to nothing for FCB shirt sales in Brazil cause in South America we all buy replicas of replicas (so China will profit a lot but that’s besides the point).

    Agree that 60 million is way too much for Neymar. Better forwards are available for that price in Europe.

    • nzm
      July 16, 2012

      Thanks for confirming that, Lev – it was my first thought as well, that the counterfeit business would do well out of it!

      In Morocco, we could have bought a player shirt, for each member of the First Team, for the same amount as what we can buy one player shirt for, in the official shop. But we didn’t… 😀

      • July 16, 2012

        Thanks Lev. Now there’s REALLY no point to a crazy purchase price.

        • Messiah10
          July 16, 2012

          Really? Shirt sales aren’t limited to Brazil. I’m sure there are some legitimate shirt sales in Brazil as well. China profits from legitimate shirt sales too because they make both!

          • Chiu
            July 16, 2012

            LOL on China profit from both original and fake shirt. Agree with your point. Bwahahahha

    • barca96
      July 16, 2012

      35mil is tops what I would pay for Neymar.

      I would’ve preferred to pay 30m for Hazard and 20m for Munian.
      And have 10m as a spare change to buy Bojan back.

  16. Benjamin
    July 16, 2012

    Hi all. Don’t know if this has been mentioned recently, but with PSG’s recent signing of Silva, is Sakho possibly in the move? Haven’t really seen him play and heard he had a down year last season, but I remember him being mentioned as a possible replacement for abidal.? Seems like he could possibly fit the bill. Anyone have any insight into whether this is feasible and/or a good idea?

    • Messiah10
      July 16, 2012

      I’ve seen Arsenal’s Laurent Kolchelny mentioned in England’s press. God I hope not!

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