Venue : Camp Nou, Barcelona
This week kamikaze kontiki could not do the preview again so I will once again be filling in for him. Barcelona's last home game of the league season comes off today and what a season it has been. This article is a preview article but since most of the focus is towards the Champion's League final on Wednesday with several players already rested last week, I think it appropriate to take a small look back at what has been accomplished in the league this season before we look at the game.
What a Difference One year makes
It seems somewhat like a dream to be honest, it's hard to believe the position that Barcelona were in last year at this point. By this stage of the league last year Real Madrid had already been crowned La Liga Champions, Barcelona had just endured the humiliation of the pasillo and followed that up with an abysmal display being bent over by Madrid for a 4-1 demolition.
There was talk of the Barca dressing room being split into factions with a Ronaldinho faction, an Etoo faction and a Spanish faction. There was talk of black sheep in the Barcelona dressing room and accusations of heavy partying and faking of injuries. Sid Low a, Barcelona leaning, columnist for the Guardian of London described it in the following way in his post match article saying
"After giving Real a guard of honour, Barça followed up with a display so complete in its patheticness, so utterly gutless, that it summed up their season."
as well as
"It was Real Madrid versus Barcelona, the clásico, but it was all about the pasillo - the guard of honour that beaten Barcelona had to hand the newly-crowned champions. As the chant runs, it was time for "¡Barça, cabrón!" to "¡Saluda al campeón!"; for Barça, you bastards, to salute the champions."
"Worse still, it was a performance so complete in its patheticness, so utterly gutless, that it summed up Barça's season, "the final brick in our wailing wall" as El Mundo Deportivo put it, "the final stab in the supporters' back", according to a mourning Sport, whose front cover this morning is completely black and reads: "Tragic End: You have dishonoured the Barcelona shirt". "
Just a few short months on coach Frank Rijkaard removed and local club legend Josep Guardiola (up to that time manager of the B team for 1 season) installed. What a master-stroke that proved to be. Guardiola promised in a news conference to “to try to seduce my players because I believe in the power of the word,”. “They’ll have to learn that they’re not worth much alone, that talent and inspiration can only become great when they are at the service of the team.”.
In that vein Ronaldinho, Deco, Edmilson, Zambrotta, Thuram, Dos Santos, Ezquerro and Oleguer were sent on their way and Keita, Pique, Dani Alves, Hleb and Caceres were brought in.
Few could have predicted the turnaround that was about to occur. In their first pre-season friendly Barcelona demolished Scottish team Hibernian in a display that had Barcelona fans suddenly feeling surprisingly optimistic. Barcelona went on to demolish all opposition on their pre-season tours of Scotland, Italy and the United States scoring 25 goals in 5 games. Suddenly the fans were starting to become optimistic again even though the wins were against smaller opposition teams.
But one of the most telling games of the season would come up next and it would show the fight that Pep had instilled in this team. The Joan Gamper trophy is the traditional curtain raiser to the season that usually takes place between Barcelona and another "big team". Boca Juniors came to open the season and after a cagey game Boca took the lead in the 72nd minute. The good start to the season seemed to be slipping as memories of the previous season came back.
-Joan Gamper Trophy-
Desperately needing a goal just to equalize Barca kept pushing forward until in the 92nd minute (sound familiar?) up stepped Captain Carles Puyol planted a corner into the top corner of Boca's net to send the Barca fans into celebrations. The joy was not over yet as in the 95th minute Etoo nodded in a cross to send the Barca fans into raptures and give Barcelona the unlikeliest of victories. The team had shown its steely resolve which would be shown again to devastating effect on a cold London night later in the season.
Still, the season did not start in the most convincing of fashions. Barcelona hammered Wisla Krakow 4-0 in their first Champion's League qualifier, but when Guardiola decided to rest players for the return leg in Poland the weakened Barca team lost 1-0. That loss seemed to throw off the Barcelona team and they opened the season with a 1-0 away loss to Numancia and followed that up with a 1-1 draw at home to Racing Santander.
Suddenly the panic button had been hit, as Barcelona with 1 point from a possible 6 and no wins in the 3 games having scored just 1 goal in the process seemed to be haunted by the ghosts of the previous season. But as so often this season Pep and his boys got the result they needed when the pressure was at its greatest. Barcelona beat Sporting Lisbon of Portugal in their next Champion's League game and followed that up with a 6-1 humiliation of Sporting Gijon in front of Gijon's home fans.
The team was well and truly off and running and they never looked back. A small blip in January aside, the team has played fantasy football for most of the season scoring goals for fun and running opponents off the pitch. What a difference a year can really make.
Barca Play for the record books
Barcelona have nothing to play for again this season in the league except perhaps the record of the most goals in a season which stands at 107 set by Real Madrid in the 1989/1990 season (38 games). Barca currently have 104 so 4 goals in the next two games would make them the highest scorers in a single season ever in the history of La Liga. Another record that the team could still break is the most wins ever in a season which stands at 28 set in a 38 game season by Real Madrid in the 1987/1988 season.
The Blaugrana currently have 27 wins so victory in their next two could see them win the most games ever in a single season of La Liga. The final record that they can extend is the most points ever for a 38 game season with 3 points awarded for a victory. Real Madrid got to 92 points in the 1996/1997 season but they did it in a 42 game season. With two more wins Barca could tie the most points ever amassed in La Liga despite playing a full 4 matches fewer than that Real Madrid team.
Osasuna Play to survive
While Barcelona attempt to erase all records set in the modern era, Osasuna are desperately battling relegation and are currently in 17th place on 37 points tied on points with 18th placed Sporting Gijon and just 2 points clear of 19th placed Numancia. With Osasuna being just 1 point behind 16th placed Getafe and 3 points behind 15th placed Real Betis they are in the fight of their lives to stay up as any of the bottom 6 teams could go down.
Barcelona have stumbled over the La Liga finish line not winning in their last two and just winning once in their last 4 games. They have not needed to win however and the last loss was played after the title had been decided already and players had been rested for the Champion's League Final
Last 5 La Liga games
Barcelona 4 - 0 Sevilla
Valencia 2 - 2 Barcelona
Real Madrid 2 - 6 Barcelona
Barcelona 3 - 3 Villareal
Mallorca 2 - 1 Barcelona
Osasuna meanwhile have not won in their last 6 La Liga games and are in abysmal form. Things get no easier for them as they have Barcelona at away next and Real Madrid at home for the final league game of the season. Their one consolation is that Barcelona will rest players for the Champion's League final and Real Madrid have nothing to play for but pride on the last day of the season. It will be a difficult task but their players will know it could have been worse if Real Madrid and Barcelona were still battling for the La Liga crown
Last 5 La Liga games
Osasuna 2 - 3 Malaga
Valladolid 0 - 0 Osasuna
Osasuna 1 - 2 Recreativo Huelva
Getafe 3 - 0 Osasuna
Osasuna 0 - 0 Sevilla
Tactics and Lineups
I wont attempt to predict either of these as this is not an ordinary game. It has already been reported that Valdes wont play in La Liga again this season and Messi has said he will be resting before the final. Etoo while chasing the Pichichi (named after famous Athletic Bilbao player Rafael Moreno "Pichichi", not pikachu the pokemon) should get some time off even if he does start the game in an attempt to regain his best form.
We should see some who have played less such as Bojan, Caceres, Hleb Sylvinho and Gudjohnsen get some more minutes in before the Champions's League final. We could see some more of youngsters Jeffren Oier and Xavi Torres who trained with the first team Friday. Also training with the first Friday team were Abraham, Botia, Gai Assulin and Marc Muniesa. Muniesa who was recently profiled on this blog as one of fast the rising stars of the Barcelona youth academy was mentioned by coach Pep Guardiola Friday.
"Despite the fact that I know most of these players from last season, it is god to give them the step up to see how they cope at first team level against first division teams. Just look at what happened wit Sergi Busquets. Marc Muniesa? He is a young player who everyone speaks very highly of. He is a left-sided central defender that has come back from a serious injury and done well and is someone we have to nurture."
The Barcelona website has hinted that Muniesa could be set for a debut and you can see what Marc Muniesa looks like below
You can also check out more of Barcelona's young stars that could be making the jump to the first team in the coming years here : Barcelona's Spanish U-17 Stars.
Barcelona are set to have their Camp Nou party with reports that "Musicians will perform before kickoff, and Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola and captain Carles Puyol are scheduled to express their thanks to supporters by addressing the crowd after the game. The team will then make a lap of honour accompanied by a firework display, with fans giving Barcelona an enthusiastic send-off for the final in Rome." Osasuna still have something to play for but the Barcelona players that do play will be anxious to prove to Guardiola that they are in form in the event that substitutes are needed in the Champion's League final. Overall a celebration of a fantastic league season even though Guardiola has stated that the team will play to win you get the feel that this game will be more about avoiding injuries than crushing Osasuna.
Prediction Barcelona 3 Osasuna 2
Saturday, 23 May 2009
Venue : Camp Nou, Barcelona