At the halfway stage of the 2008/09 La Liga season Barcelona have played every team once, and in the 19 games played have won 17 of them, drawn 1 and lost just the once. That solitary defeat came in the first game of the season at Numancia and this was also the only league game in which they failed to find the net.
At the back end of last season Barcelona had to give a humiliating guard of honour to Real Madrid, at the Santiago Bernabeu before succumbing to a 4-1 hammering which condemned them to finish 18 points behind their bitter rivals.
So what has brought about this change of fortune which has seen Barcelona become probably the best & most exiting team not only in Spain but arguably Europe. Pep Guardiola, who for many within the club was not the first choice to become coach, a Catalan, who went to school 100 yards from Camp Nou, a former ball-boy and captain of the “Dream Team” that won four successive League titles and the clubs first ever European Cup in 1992, was appointed first team coach, and as one Barca insider said “This season Barca have two things they didn’t have last season, hunger and a coach”. Frank Rijkaard had led Barca to two League titles and the Champions League, but as Rijkaard’s assistant Eusebio admitted “After winning the Champions League it was hard to find the motivation.” Now with Guardiola in charge the motivation, hunger and desire has returned.
Deco and Ronaldinho were shown the door as they were seen as the two players most guilty of cruising through the second half of last season, rumour has it that Ronaldinho missed over 50 per cent of the clubs training sessions, and Martin Caceres from Villareal for £15.5m, Gerard Pique from Manchester United for £7m, Aleksandr Hleb from Arsenal for £11.8m, Seydou Keita from Sevilla for £13 and Daniel Alves from Sevilla for £32m were brought in. Daniel Alves, with his forward runs down the right has been a revelation and has ten assists to his name and it is no coincidence that Barca has scored three times as many goals from the right than from the left. They have scored 59 goals by the halfway stage, an average of over 3 goals a game and also the highest ever total in La Liga and also on course to beat Real Madrid’s record of 107 goals in 1989/90.
Samuel Eto’o, who Guardiola wanted to sell, is La Liga’s top scorer with 18 goals, Thierry Henry, after a poor first season, was told he had a part to play and is finally hitting form scoring 11 times and Lionel Messi, without question the best player in the world at the moment, has weighed in with 12.
Barca play an attacking formation of 4-1-2-3 with Alves as an auxilary attacker which allows Messi to drift inside with Toure providing midfield cover in front of the back four allowing Iniesta and Xavi to push further forward and apart from Martin Caceres and Sylvinho the entire squad has played some part in Guardiola’s revolution.
They have scored six goals on three occasions, away at Sporting Gijón and at Camp Nou against Atlético Madrid and Real Valladolid; four and five goals have been scored twice. Under Guardiola Barcelona have been brilliant in this his first season as a coach, true he led Barcelona B to promotion, but many had reservations saying he was too young and too inexperienced.
How wrong they were.
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