Arbitrary and capricious “Top 10” lists are always fun. They are fun for the writer because they get to throw an opinion out into the ether with no real backing or reasoning and pretend this is legitimate. They are even better for readers because they can create their own lists and consistently lambast the writer. So… knock yourselves out.
Here we have FC Barcelona’s Top 10 Moments of the Year (from after the Champion’s League final until the end of the Valladolid match). Please note, these are moments, not just goals, saves, good things for the club, or bad ones. These are the 10 most important events that occurred throughout the year that I feel are the most significant in terms of lasting moments. Feel free to add yours below or correct any I may have missed.
The signing of Maxwell; the loss to Atletico Madrid; the tie to Almeria; Messi v. Valencia; Messi v. Stuttgart.
Number 10: The Signing of Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Background: The big add ass ninja Swede came in with as much pomp and circumstance as one can muster. Saying all the right things about never wanting to play for Madrid and famously kissing the crest at his inauguration made him an immediate star in the eyes of many fans. Yet many still held reservations about how he would fit in to the club, if he could come through in big games (*cough Madrid 1-0, brace against Arsenal first leg /cough), and how a man known as a prima donna would fit into Mr. Guardiola’s no nonsense coaching style.
Why It Is Here: You don’t just sign the best striker in Italy, insert him into a lineup that won a treble (and later more), while offloading one of the greatest scorers in club history PLUS $40 million every day. And regardless of how well he plays, this was a momentous occasion for the future of the club. It has become even greater with speculation of an impending exit to Italy or to a big name English club.
Number 9: UEFA Super Cup 1-0 Win Over Shaktar
Background: Barcelona attempts to make it 5 for 5 on the year by beating Ukrainian squad Shakhtar Donetsk in Monaco. Crazy scheduling conflicts including European obligations, La Liga raring up, other Super Cups in Spain, and World Cup qualifying means the squad is already tired by the end of August (I know, poor FCB, what with the best players in the world and winning everything makes us tired). Oh, and there is the small, minute detail of FCB agreeing to terms with Shakhtar’s best player, Dmytro Chygrynskiy, mere hours before the game, although he gets to play one more game for his home team before making the move.
Why It Is Here: Any time you win your 5th trophy, it is going to be a big deal. When you do it by playing a side that has parked 3 buses in front of the gate and literally makes 1 offensive foray during the entire game, it means it is even better. However, to me, this was the team doing what they had done the previous year and in all the tournaments: picking their spots, waiting for the perfect setup, and finally making the breakthrough with solid play. All in all, the boys take home number 5, tying Celtic’s record for most trophies in a year’s span, and beating a stubborn side in the process. Also, this was likely Pedro’s metamorphosis from Pedrito to P!!!!!!!! His goal was the ultimate in clutch and would prove a fitting preview for the rest of his year.
Number 8: FC Barcelona 1 – Real Madrid 0
Background: It’s the good guys versus EE, it’s Rocky versus Drago, it’s free society versus Francoists. Basically it is the biggest league match of the year to this point and the first time to the two sides get together since the 6-2 thrashing in Madrid last season. If I need more motivation to put a game against Madrid on one of these lists, then I guess I’m with the wrong team.
Why It Is Here: It might be higher if this had been the road victory (FCB has a much better record against RM at home, obviously). The clutch play in the second half finally opens it up and an incredible volley from The Guy Who Never Scores In Big Games, not to mention Captain Carles’s most clutch game I can remember. He saved 2 open goal shots after parry’s or excellent moves and was categorically the best player on the field; this performance is how he will always be remembered long after he is gone. Winning a grinder like this, against our closest competition keeps the season going strong because let’s all be honest, our performances against RM are the basis for everything else.
Number 7: Supercopa de Espana
Background: The first legitimate games of this year are a continuation of the previous season’s dominance. Normally contested between the winner of La Liga and the King’s Cup, Barcelona could not very well play themselves, so Athletic Club it is. The first leg was also Zlatan’s first experience with the club after recovering for an injury. Ah, new beginnings.
Why It Is Here: Winning two games is always good. Starting off the season with another trophy for the mantle is even better. Doing so while integrating new faces into the lineup and facing crushing weight of expectations from the past year, well, that is a momentous occasion. Barcelona effectively put on two pragmatic, pretty as you please performances, is rarely tested after the first leg and takes home the trophy for number 4 of the 6. Sounds mundane, and maybe it was, but damn trophies are nice, and that’s why they make the list.
Number 6: The Best 2-0 Win You Will See (so long as you don’t count Champion’s League Finals)
Background: Barça’s CL run had been hit-or-miss, at best, thus far. After drawing the toughest group, the team stinks it up in Milan with a tie, wins a snoorer against Dynamo Kiev, then loses to the Little Russian Engine That Did, Kazan, then ties Kazan in Siberia, or the Seventh Level of Hell, or some such place. So basically, backs to the wall, win or enjoy the Europa League.
Why It Is Here: The best team game the boys played all year in my estimation. If you ever want to know why Xaviniesta is the best Midfield tandem in the world, watch this game. Watch the passing, the setups, the looks, the shot… ok, I needed a moment. Oh yes, lest we forget another clutch performance on the wing from Pedro, Pique showing why he’s a top 5 defender in the world (and scoring a goal), Abidal doing his thing, and basically everything working perfectly.
Number 5: Pick Six – Club World Cup Wins
Background: Barcelona travels Abu Dhabi for the final piece in Pep’s six shooter (wooooo, bad puns!). The games come during the Winter break for La Liga and the team is tasked with facing opponents they know little about, so yeah, these games have “trap” written all over them. So basically the team has to overcome complacency if they want to take the greatest trophy haul in a calendar year in the history of the club game.
Why It Is Here: Pep Guardiola crying after the final was heartwarming. Estudiantes taking a 1-0 lead and sitting on it while Barça played exhausted and from behind. The semi was a clinical dismantling after surrendering a 1-0 lead before taking the win at 3-1. The final was an epic back and forth with Estudiantes playing extraordinarily, a clutch strike from P! in the 89th minute to send it into extra time, and finally, masterfully, beautifully, Messi chests the winner home at 110′. Here because it was an epic final and a worthy victory for #6.
Number 4: Champion’s League Semi-Final, 2nd League Leg, Inter-Barça
Background: Inter ran away with it after some lazy defending and a couple of questionable calls in the 1st leg, winning 3-1. FCB needed at least a 2-0 win to keep going in an attempt to become the first side to ever repeat in the Champion’s League proper. Mourinho was always going to park the bus and this had showdown written all over it.
Why It Is Here: The last 10 minutes were crazy enough. I sat on my knees in my living room pleading with the TV, pleading for the ref not to disallow Bojan’s goal that would have sent us through, trying to find some way past the masterclass defensive performance Inter was showing. Prior to that however, you had Biscuits becoming an internet meme, Ibra coming off in sad fashion, and the battle of the two best young coaches in the world. Oh, and Pique scored. Oh, and a bogus red card. Oh, and it ended our CL run with Inter celebrating on our pitch. Sometimes the most painful ones are the most important, and this is a prime example. Sadly, sometimes the worst losses mean the most, this is one of those times.
Number 3: 4 in a row over Madrid
Background: Although the team was in pole position since the beginning of the year, Madrid, despite some slips, had been excellent at keeping pace (even if it meant coming from behind to beat junk squads they should have hammered). This game is at Madrid, a win would allow FCB to hold the tiebreaker absolutely and give the team breathing room down the stretch. Finally, our boys were in the middle of a 10-match in one month run.
Why It Is Here: If the first game against Real was a grind with one bright-shining, beautiful moment, this version was a pendulum, wholly relying on the play of Xavi pivoting in the middle. The starting lineup was strange when Alves started up front on the left, meaning the there were few targets up front with Messi moving around more. But Xavi bides his time, gets kicked down, and then plays a ball that 3 other players on the planet can hit correctly. This win really set up the final stretch, gave the blaugrana the tie-breaker, and put every bit of pressure on Madrid. A ridiculously clutch performance from every player on the field, even those playing out of normal position.
Number 2: Messiah 4-Arsenal 1
Background: FCB should have come into the second leg of the Champion’s League quarters up 8-1, but Manuel Almunia literally played the best half of his life before Ibra put in two (he never does it in big games) and then Arsenal clawed it back. This game also looks like a trap with Barça possibly looking ahead to Real Madrid at the weekend (see Number 3). So the stage was set for Barça to play an opponent it usually sees more of during the offseason.
Why It Is Here: If anyone ever had any doubt who the best footballer in the world is today, this game answered it. Messi takes a few moments to get going and Nik Bendtner makes this one look like it might be a nailbiter, but then, well, magic. The first goal was setup by an unlucky bounce for the Gunners, then by one of the best shots you will ever see (Messi is a great player). The second comes on a good pass from Pedro and Messi cooly destroys it home (Messi is a Playstation game come to life). The third comes from racing 40 yards and sending an audacious chip over Almunia that was oh so gorgeous (Messi is the greatest player on earth). And finally, Messi is a bit selfish in the second half and holds on only to be shut out by Arsenal, before megging Almunia for number 4 with a bullet (Messiah Mode). I’ve said too much, might as well let video do the talking…
Number 1: La Liga Champions FTMFW
Background: So far as we knew, it was win or rely on Getafe Malaga to take down the EE. Beat Valladolid and we are champions for a 20th time and number 2 in a row. The previous week against Sevilla the team ran out to a lead and then faltered down the stretch, barely holding on despite fast and furious pressure. All the pressure you can get against a Valladolid side that was fighting to avoid relegation to hold off the most expensive side in the world that had been building steam since losing in Number 3.
Why Is It Here: Valladolid shot out like a rocket and some suspect play in the defensive third starts to cause headaches and this starts to remind me of 2-2 v. Almeria all over again. And I’m terrified we are going down and EE will sweep it out from under us. Then sheer blind bounces of the ball lead to an own goal, Yaya takes control in the midfield and Pedro puts it in at 2-0 to close the game out. But of course there is the minor matter of Messi needing 3 to break Ronaldo’s single-season record for FCB. He “only” picked up two goals to tie the record. Oh, and of course, the win left no doubt as to who would raise the trophy for La Liga on the year giving Pep 7 to his name, tying him for 2nd for all FCB coaches after 2 years, and setting up a chance for number 8 in the Supercopa in August. Other will certainly argue that Messi’s performance was single-handedly better (it was) or that the Madrid games were more important (possible tangentially), but if we lose or tie this game, there is a very good chance EE capitalizes and we lose out. Hindsight is wonderful, but no one thought RM was “only” tying Getafe. Basically, winning the league was the goal from the get-go, and without this game, it would never have happened. Plus, it leaves you with this one lasting image: