Barca 4, Espanyol 0, aka “Now THAT’S how you throw a party!”

You’re having this party, right, and you’re thinking of every possible thing that can happen, every permutation that can go into making your party a memorable one. You have all the right foods, great music, the occasion is right, it’s all working, all planned to perfection. You have all the bases covered, then something happens, and the party is suddenly elevated from sensational, to once-in-a-lifetime.

That was kinda what happened at the Camp Nou yesterday, an extraordinary series of events that elevated a maudlin, sad event into something celebratory and memorable. Pep Guardiola coached his last first team match at the Camp Nou. The plaudits have been raining from the heavens for some time now, some beautiful, some saccharine, some silly, some heartfelt. His players had said many things, made many gestures and through it all, there was also nonsense:

–There was a falling out between Leo Messi and Guardiola
–Messi didn’t come to the announcement press conference for nefarious reasons

Messi answered all of those bits of silliness with a glorious display, his second in a row, laying four goals on our hated neighbors Espanyol, one of the teams that fought and clawed its way to stolen points from us in this extraordinary season. And after the fourth goal, Messi eschewed the usual group hug, as he was a man on a mission. He trotted over to the sideline, and hugged his coach, Pep Guardiola.

And hugged, and hugged, and hugged. Then a few teammates came over, then a few more ….

…. and suddenly, the whole group was over in an ensemble love-in. As usual, the littlest one would lead them, in figuring out exactly what to do, there was really nothing to do or say, only the simplest expression of love and affection that we know: an embrace.

To say that it was a remarkable moment would be an understatement. To say that it was a perfect moment would be about right, because in Guardiola’s last home match, against our bitter crosstown rivals, that our best player, a player who reached his fullest flower yet under the careful steerage of the coach he didn’t want to let go, physically or clearly, emotionally, that player dropped 4 goals. Yes, the churlish will note that two of them were penalties of the softest nature. But the other two were of such joy that, as our very own Isaiah said on Twitter, they should have each counted for two.

Messi was a player that wasn’t going to let anything sully his coach’s last home match. You got the feeling he would have played keeper, had it been required of him, in a match in which players rose above and beyond the call. Puyol rose from the pitch like a rocket on a set piece. Mascherano bailed out a woefully out-of-position Pinto with a clearance for the ages, one that sent him head over heels, rising to his feet almost with a “Did I make it?” expression on his face.

It was clear from the collective enterprise, the vigor at which the club attacked this match, that no player on that pitch was going to be responsible for allowing ANYTHING to sully the Mister’s last home match.

And it’s worth noting that before Guardiola, Lionel Messi was an injury-prone mass of potential. The seasons prior to Guardiola, both injury-hampered, he had 19 and 20 goals. Guardiola came in, put him on a regimen that covered every aspect of his preparation, right down the foods that he ate, specific exercises and other things to keep Messi in the state of Messi-ness. That first season brought 38 goals in all competitions, and a Treble. The next season, 45 goals in all competitions. The season after that, 50. Then this season, with a mind-boggling 72 goals in all competitions, a record that people had to go waaaaay back in time to find anyone who had done the like. Then he passed that dude.

And now, it’s just Messi, a player who has achieved so much under the steady hand of Guardiola, who is probably comfortable with the steerage of Tito Vilanova, and who is still improving as a player overall, in every aspect of his game.

We will leave it to others to question Messidependencia, whether it is wise to place such a burden on such a small pair of shoulders. We will leave it to others to natter about how all that Guardiola did was stand in the right place at the right time, as the armored car doors flew open and those bags of money flew out.

Because we’re too busy marveling at a player who has scored more goals by himself than many entire clubs.

Did the club play a perfect match yesterday, finally handing Pep Guardiola the one thing he had been seeking his entire FCB coaching career? No. But it didn’t matter. The same result would have befallen ANY team that showed up in the Camp Nou on that day, on that auspicious occasion. The players tossed Guardiola into the air, formed a guard of honor for him as he left the Camp Nou pitch for the last time, leaving him and us with memories, moments that he shared with his family as they occupied an empty stadium, a space that was almost certainly still echoing with the cheers of the almost 90,000 supporters that, in unison, showed voceferous appreciation for the man, the Mister, the legend.

What’s next? It doesn’t matter, just like the aftermath of that wonderful, amazing party that you threw, the one where it all came together. Yes, there is work, school or those other real-life committments that scrape away, making our existence a mostly mundane thing. But that is for the next day. For now, it’s the memory, reliving the delight and swapping stories of the night, that amazing night in the Camp Nou when love was so thick in the air that, like the blades of grass that some visitors reach down and swipe during stadium visits, it felt like you could have just scooped some up to take home, and preserve for posterity.

What a party, indeed.

By Kxevin

In my fantasy life, Iā€™m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, Iā€™m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.


  1. *sniff* *sniff* šŸ˜„

    Nice post, Kxevin.

    I watched the game again today. No, I’m still not over it. šŸ™

    I should have some awards up tomorrow, but for right now:

    Classiest Most Awesome & Best Dressed Coach Leaving a Lifetime Legacy Award:</b? Pep Guardiola.

    Gracies, Mister.

    1. Me neither, Blitzen. *hands over a box of tissues*

      A lovely piece, Kxevin. And those pictures are beautiful.

  2. anyone with a linkto the game? missed it un4tunately, can only imagine what Rayray was sayin

    1. I don’t think Ray did this game – he was busy laying accolades on Madrid at their Granada game.

  3. I feel like no matter how many tribute pieces I read, how many youtube videos I watch, it’s not enough for this wonderful manager. But what a beautiful sending off, and a wonderful article.

  4. The Messi Pep moment was a heart melter. Even the hardend of haters defected if just for a minute and when the whole group joined in, it just showed how Pep and his team revived the Mes Que un Club meaning.

  5. N
    When i saw the group hug it immediately hit: THIS STUFF DESERVES A BLITZEN AWARD

  6. I know he’s barely left, But I really hope to see Pep as a manager once again. Maybe his second stint could be one where he would not be as ‘hands on’ and as stressed as before, with some more help from his more able assistants. He can then go on to assume any position he likes, be it sporting director or President.
    Pep has the love and respect to become whatever he wants at Barca, but I feel he has a lot more to give to football directly, and that’s why it’d be great to see him manage the first team with perhaps a new set of players.

  7. All the best, Pep!
    A decision at the right time looks always like a decision to early..

    ps. Penalty and yellow card for that handball before the 2:0 showes clearly that the rules have to be changed for handball in the area and in general for penalties.

  8. Great piece Kxevin.

    That first touch by Messi for his hattrick was outta this world almost like he was being controlled by a playstation and then the finish to go with it. Just WOW.

    OT Mourinho just couldnt help taken a dig at Guardiola sayin that Pep should stop trying to sell an image of perfection because it is not possible and gthen at the same time time praising his own achievements. A few days ago there was a post from you talking about how Guardiola wanted the best from his players, from himself all the time and even though there is an impossible thing to achieve a perfect match but that has still never stopped Guardiola from striving for one. And how you would be watching the Copa through new eyes because doing your best accumalates in trophies even the tiny ones that make you do your best. Mourinho is right no one is perfect but that doesnt mean that you should stop trying to be and that is what makes Guardiola so special.

    Also have ran an article about how Mourinho is the greatest manager of all time but I just dont see it. Thoughts?

  9. Kevin, you’ve become the Messi of this blog. Another classic!

    My favorite Pep moment was the world club cup when he cried and Thierry Henri came over and hugged him…it’s now the Messi hug. What a great embrace.

  10. Nice one, Kevin.

    That hug was felt by cules (and even non-cules) all over the world.

  11. A bit of a subdued performance on Saturday night (inevitably livened up by Messi) although it was understandable given the recent events and it being Pep’s final home game.

    I expected more from Espanyol particuallry as they have given Barca some problems lately.

    Interesting that Montoya has started 2 of the last 3 games. Rumours that Alves is on his way out of the club?

    I have a tactical analysis of the game on my blog:-

    As always, I would welcome feedback.

  12. Kxevin,

    Thanks for helping me relive that game and moment in the clubs history. Briliant blog

  13. Valenti Guardiola (father): “Could Pep become president in the future? Wouldn’t want it. Don’t think so but don’t know what he wants to do.”

    Valenti Guardiola (father): “We saw that Pep was exhausted. He thinks about football, the game, the fans 24 hours a day.”

    I would actually love to see Guardiola back as president. Lets face it, its the only thing he hasnt done at the club. First he was a ballboy, player and then manager, whose to say he couldnt come back as president. What a sight that would be? I mean when hes not so exhausted. He is a born cule and would always so the best for the club.

    Villa’s entourage says he is already training with the ball for 2-3 weeks. Villa wants to play cup final and will be fit for Euro.

    Would love to see him in a Barca shirt again this season but I think its just a little bit too soon, but should be fit for the Euro’s

    1. Maybe in some years he can come back as President and bring in Xavi as manager after Xavi retires. Wouldn’t that be a great Barca regime?!

  14. Has anybody else asked himself why Messi hugged Pep only after his fourth goal?
    Why not after the hattrick?
    Did Messi foresee another goal of his?
    How can you ‘plan’ such a farewell gift?
    Is this another hint of Messi’s inhumanity?

    I personally imagine that Pep jokingly told Messi to not hug him before scoring his 50th league goal šŸ™‚

  15. According to Sport before Messi took the penalty Masch whispered in his ear that after the goal he should go and celebrate with the coach and thats why Messi was nodding.

    When I first saw it live I thought that Masch was asking leo if he could take the penalty but it turns out that masch was the instigator of the whole thing. He is probably the most improved/changed player that we have signed

    1. I never considered that Mascherano could improve so much but he has proven many wrong.

      His intelligence and maturity on the pitch are considerable.

      Remember the Levante game? Mascherano tackled Kone who was going though on goal with Levante leading 1-0. Valdes collected the ball before returning it to Mascherano who turned and moved quickly upfield releasing Cuenca on the right. This led to the eqauliser.

      Assuming Barca have an entirely fit squad to choose from.

      Does Mascherano start ahead of Pique?

    2. I remember (and have noted this before) when Mascherano was first rumored, people lost their minds, saying that he was only a destroyer, had limited passing skills and was a card magnet. Ramzi foretold great things, saying that he would turn out to be an excellent signing.

      I figured that he had talent, and remember cautioning against drawing any conclusions based on a different system.

      But it’s safe to say that none of us (maybe even Ramzi) could have ever foretold what he has become in our system. The way he brings the ball up the pitch now, mimicing the way Puyol and Pique make their charges, the precise long passes and spot-on short and intermediate ones are just a delight.

      And to think, he still hasn’t learned to fully be a Barca center back yet. I believe he will improve even further next season, to the point that if Puyol becomes an automatic starter again (something he has certainly made a case for in the last third of the season), Pique will be the man caught out by Mascherano.

      Back then many thought the price was high. Turns out it was cheap when you consider his quality, skill set and how he has integrated into the system.

    3. It’ll not come as a great surprise to regular readers that I can’t agree with the assessment that he will replace Pique. Before outlining why, let me say first that I think he has played really well this year. I didn’t like the way he left Liverpool with his refusal to play for them so I take all the saint Masch stuff with a healthy pinch of salt. However, I have to say that he waited his time patiently and when he got into the team he took his chance with some excellent displays. If my life depended on someone making a tackle he’d be just behind Puyol as my choice. He has also not put a foot wrong in what he says about the club so he has gained my respect there.

      However, he is not a CB – yet. He may grow into it but at the moment (leaving aside the important aspect of his lack of height) his positioning and his decision making aren’t up to it, imo. People look and see the headline tackle but being a CB isn’t really about tackling a lot of the time. It’s about keeping position, in our team knowing where to keep the high line, staying on your feet and through this being able to cut off danger. In all those respects he could learn a lot from Pique and Puyol. I’m also not taken by his long passing but that’s maybe a closer call.

      Just think back to our two biggest disappointments. Against Chelsea just after we had gone ahead and could have kept it tight, he left a three man defence where he was the middle defender to charge out after Lampard, missed his tackle (the most important one he had to make all year) and we know what happened. Not saying others couldn’t have done better as well but if he doesn’t do that the goal in that form doesn’t happen. Against, RM he had no idea where Ronaldo was because his focus is always on the ball. A good CB ( watch Pique or Puyol) will be continually looking around for danger and adjusting position. These things have happened all season. I look forward to Tito working hard with the defence, whoever he chooses, because we lost far too many goals to defensive indiscipline this season and it has cost us big time. It hasn’t been the lack of scoring – it has usually been down to positional errors leading to teams scoring with virtually their only shot at goal.

    4. True, but all of our CBs have made errors. Look at Puyol’s fumbling that allowed Khedira to tap home the first goal in the home Clasic. And Pique found himself on the bench because he wasn’t playing up to standard. If that continues, and if Mascherano continues to improve, for me it isn’t hard to see who odd man out will be.

      He has had some positioning errors but again, all of our CBs have. I fully agree with the Barca CB attributes. It’s why I said he isn’t quite one yet. But sometimes, Barca CBs have to be regular old everyday CBs, who tackle the hell out of the ball and make interceptions. Mascherano’s interceptions/won balls stats are like those of a full-time starter, which points to his positional and anticipatory qualities.

      I also think the attributes that make him not a CB make him potentially a very good Barca CB. But time will tell.

    5. Mascherano’s pass success rate this season is 88.6% which is quite low within the team but remains above Pique. He is second only to Xavi in the number of successful long passes he plays per game.

      He makes more interceptions and more tackles per game than anynoe else in the Barca team.

      He can contrinbute to the defensive and offensive sides of the game. Against Chelsea when nobody would shoot, Mascherano twice stepped forward with long range shots, one of which Cech saved well.

      The defensive errors that Barca make have always existed. Its just in the previous seasons, the attack outscored the opposition.

      With such a high defensive line, the onus is on the midfield and attack to press the opposition. When that part breaks down, the high line is ripe for exploitation and the defence can be pulled apart.

      Pique gave the ball away at the Camp Nou which led directly to Benzema’s equalising goal in the 2-2 Copa game earlier this season.

      Individual errors can be easy to identify.

      What is most interesting is that previously at Liverpool, Mascherano picked up a number of silly cautions for dissent etc This season he has collected 4 yellows in 30 La Liga appearences. That is 3 yellows less than Pique who has played 9 fewer games.

      If Pique returns to form next season then there will be a genuine discussion on who is the better central defender.

      This season, I don’t think there is any questions when it comes to naming Puyol’s central defensive partner.

      It’s Mascherano.

    1. I guess you are refering to my question?
      In that case, yes you answered it, thanks šŸ˜‰

    2. Chalkontheboots, as Kxevin rightly says, we’ll see.

      There can always be individual errors. Pique and Puyol have made them and Mascherano has made a heap more than I mentioned. Happy to outline some more if you wish. Major among them were his part in the Ossasuna game where Pique picked up the blame for all three goals which was just crazy as Mascherano played a large part in all three. However, the point I was making was that at the moment it is his positioning that is suspect. I’m not hating on him just because I don’t rate most of his interceptions. He goes into tackles that don’t need to be made and leaves gaps. You would be struggling to say the same of Pique because he understands the art of staying on your feet. You are right to mention the high defensive line. If you have rewatched our matches closely you’ll see that there has been nobody more guilty of holding the wrong position than Masch and playing people on.

      Btw, you neglected to mention his red card (two yellows) at the end of the game for needlessly mouthing off to the ref. Just saying . . .

    3. Mascherano and Pique both have 1 red in the league this season.

      On current form, it’s Mascherano every time for me but as I said, if Pique can get back to his best, it will make the decision very interesting.

      Part of your criticism regarding making some challenges is perhaps caused by him being a defensive midfielder and its the sort of a challenge a DM can make knowing there is a defender behind him except for Mascherano, there no longer is a defender behind him.

      Whoever comes in at centre back, the midfield and attack need to start pressing more aggressively again.

      Opponents have too much time on the ball to pick passes out and this is what is causing Barcelona the most problems.

  16. Interesting stat on the official website that before Peps reign we only had more posession than the opponent in two consecutive matches in the 2007/2008 season.

    Since then in 2008/2009 we had more possession than the opponent for a staggering 62 consecutive matches.

    In 2009/2010 we had more possession then the opponent for 59 consecutive matches.

    In 2010/2011 we had more ball possession than the opponent in 62 consecutive matches.

    This season we have had more ball possession than the opponent in 62 consecutive matches with two remaining

    Altogether that is 245 matches that we have had superior possession.

    The only opponents that have come close to equalling our possession are Manchester United in the Champions League final in Rome with 49%.

    Also Real Madrid in this seasons supercopa with 48%

    1. Salia,

      Thanks for the stats. Out of this world! It seems crazy, but since the 08/09 season, I’ve gone into each game assuming we’d have majority possession. That’s insane, but it was truely a reality. I don’t expect it to change w/Pep leaving, but one never knows. I didn’t realize that M.U. had so much possession in the Final in Rome. I know we had a shaky opening 10 minutes, but after that we played our “typical” game and dominated. I would’ve guessed it at 60/40 or even 70/30. Staggering numbers from a staggering team. Visca Barca!

  17. Montpellier has made the big time. Fox Soccer is showing the match today. They have a very, very tough one, against 5th-place Rennes, and Younes Belhanda is gone for the season (suspension). But if they win today, they’re back top of table. To boot, my MHSC shirts have arrived at my local post office. Sweet!

    1. Belhanda sending off was very very silly. What on earth was he thinking jeopardizing his club’s title chances.

  18. – Im quite disappointed that Barcelona only has the 2nd highest stadium attendance at 80+k/match. Dortmund is in the first place. Amazing considering that Barcelona has much more tourists. Perhaps the people in Dortmund have deeper pockets.

    -We might play Ajax. Superb! 2 historical teams. My 2 teams!!

    -Keita is already in talks with Malaga šŸ™ Why? We need you man!

    1. It’s too freaking expensive to go on a regular basis. When we first arrived here (08/09 season), the tickets for games against clubs such as Villareal, Malaga etc were about Eur40 for good seats in the lower rows of the upper tier. Now they hover around Eur60-70 for the same level games. It’s ridiculous.

      What really annoys me is that when we look at booking tickets on the club site, it nearly always shows that the stadium is full, and even finding 2 seats together for a decent price is impossible. Then, when the match is broadcast on TV, the stadium’s barely half-full. They’re not all season ticket-holder seats.

      Also – German fans live for their football. They are die-hard fans. Vacations and time off work are planned around their club’s schedule so that they can travel to as many games as possible, and because of the Bundesliga organisation, fans know well in advance what the dates and times of matches are going to be.

      RFEF in Spain, on the other had, couldn’t organise themselves out of a clear plastic bag. Sometimes the match times aren’t confirmed until 2 weeks before the matches, and that goes for the dates as well on some occasions.

      Ask mom4 about the problems she had when trying to organise her trip to Spain to coincide with games in different cities! šŸ™‚

  19. I was one of those who said stuff like “he is better without the ball but useless with the ball” and I was comparing him with Yaya Toure then (on the other blog)

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