The Hard Tackle provides a throwback to five of the top highlights for Barcelona in 2019 and the year that was.
It was a year that promised a lot but did not always deliver. It was a year of remarkable highs and disappointing lows for Barcelona. Another La Liga title was won, but for all intents and purposes, 2019 was a rather underwhelming, even if eventful, year for the Blaugrana.
Lionel Messi continued tormenting defences while the star of Marc-Andre ter Stegen continued to soar. For everyone else in between, though, the levels ebbed and flowed, much in tune with the team as a collective. With that being said, The Hard Tackle takes a look at the top five moments of 2019 for Barcelona and their fans.
Alone at the Summit of Spanish Football, Yet Again
It had been a season of twist and turns. It had been a season wherein Ernesto Valverde’s men were not always at their best and did have to depend on Lionel Messi a lot of times to bail them out. But, Barcelona made sure they ended the decade much in the same way they had started it, by winning another La Liga title.
The start was hardly ideal as after winning their first four games, the Catalans failed to win their next four. Cracks were starting to show in a side that, in the previous season, was only beaten for the first time on the penultimate matchday of the league campaign. This time around, that first defeat came in September, an embarrassing 2-1 loss at Leganes.
This was in the middle of a four-game run draws with Girona, Atletico Madrid and Valencia. A second defeat of the season followed in November, as Barcelona were beaten at home for the first time in La Liga in over two years, although this setback was preceded by impressive wins over Real Madrid and Sevilla.
The loss to Real Betis, though, would be the proverbial kick up the backside that Barcelona as a collective needed to wake up and take charge of their title tilt. It would be another six months before Barcelona would be on the wrong end of a result in La Liga. By then, their coronation as the Spanish champions had already been confirmed.
The man to seal the deal? Who else, but talisman and captain Lionel Messi, who had carried the team on his shoulders in so many games that season. Coming off the bench, the little magician scored the only goal in the game to guarantee Barcelona’s place at the summit of Spanish football.
Their nearest challengers, Atletico Madrid, were to finish a staggering 11 points behind. This was an eighth league title in the last 11 years for Barcelona, who thoroughly dominated the decade in Spain. The gap to record champions and bitter rivals Real Madrid was bridged yet again.
Barcelona, with 26 top-flight triumphs, were now just seven behind Los Blancos in the list of all-time champions of La Liga, which made the success even sweeter. However, this is when the season started to unravel, as we will find out shortly.
Champions League and the Anfield Agony
Twelve months after the miracle in Rome, Barcelona had managed to get past the hurdle that was the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals. This time around, they had come through unscathed, without much of a fuss. Up next, Liverpool.
Much like Barcelona, Liverpool had endured a traumatic end to their Champions League campaign in the previous season. Much like Barcelona, Liverpool had enjoyed a rather straightforward passage through to the penultimate stage of Europe’s premier club competition.
Unlike Barcelona, however, Liverpool did not receive a humbling at the hands of AS Roma en route the Champions League final. So, as the two favourites to go all the way were all set to lock horns in the semi-finals, anticipation was invariably building up. It was Barcelona who drew first blood, as the Lionel Messi show gave them a 3-0 lead in the tie at the end of the first leg at Camp Nou.
There was added drama as Luis Suarez, a Liverpool cult hero, did not just score against his former side, but went one step ahead and celebrated wildly as well. A controversial moment? Perhaps, but in the pressure cooker situation that is a Champions League semi-final, it is quite understandable for a player who has not always had his scoring boots on in Europe lately.
As for the goals by Messi, he first bundled the ball into the open net to put Barcelona two up. The piece de resistance, though, was the goal that rounded the win off, as Messi curled a free-kick into the top corner to bring up 600 goals in Barcelona colours. The Catalans now had one foot in the final. Or did they?
A nightmare awaited them in the second leg, as a Liverpool side that had a mountain to climb and were missing two of their best players in Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino did the impossible. Even with 45 minutes left in the tie, Barcelona, who had looked out of sorts up until the interval, would have fancied their chances. But, it wasn’t to be.
Georginio Wijnaldum first levelled things up just 11 minutes after the players emerged for the restart. Then came the scarring moment, as a corner was taken quickly and Divock Origi scored the fourth and clinching goal to send Anfield raptures. Barcelona had been on the wrong end of another miracle. This time, it was the agony at Anfield. The season, though, was to unravel further.
From Bad to Worse, The Wheels Had Come Off
With the La Liga title already secured and the Champions League ouster confirmed, Barcelona were only left with the prospect of completing a league and cup double for the second successive year. In front of them were a Valencia side that had revamped their season superbly after a difficult first half of the campaign.
Meanwhile, Barcelona’s own pursuit of winning the Copa del Rey for a record extending 31st time had not been without its fair share of hiccups. Ernesto Valverde & co. kicked off their campaign in the competition, easing away with a 5-1 aggregate win over Cultural Leonesa. The Round of 16, though, is where the matters became complicated.
In the first leg at Estadi Ciutat de Valencia, a second-string side lost 2-1 to Levante, which forced Valverde’s hand. The manager now had to rely on the first-team stars to see them through to the quarter-finals instead of using the tie to rest some of them.
A similar pattern would ensue in the next stage, as the regulars would come to the rescue in the return leg after defeat on the road. The performance in the semi-finals against Real Madrid was much more decisive, as Barcelona set up a finals date with Valencia.
In the final for the sixth year running, Barcelona were vying to win the Copa del Rey and extend their record for the fifth successive season. Alas, it was not to be, as a clinical display by Valencia condemned them to a shock defeat, despite a late rallying call by Lionel Messi.
This was a night that showed that the wheels had well and truly come off for Barcelona in the latter stages of the season. After the embarrassment at Anfield, Seville provided fans and players alike with even more moments of hurt. Would the summer bring some hope?
One Year Later, Griezmann Arrives at Camp Nou
It’s the summer of 2017. The fabled MSN trio had reached a dramatic and heartbreaking end, with Neymar leaving Barcelona. The Catalan powerhouses would not be the same force again; not for at least the next two years.
Ousmane Dembele was supposed to be the man to replace the enigmatic Brazilian, only for injuries to play spoilsport. Even Philippe Coutinho was tried as a possible solution but to no avail. Then, in the summer of 2018, Antoine Griezmann was chased for the longest time, but his pursuit would leave Barcelona red-faced as the Frenchman announced his decision with a ridiculous documentary.
Griezmann was not leaving Atletico Madrid in 2018. Fast forward twelve months, and the rumours had resurfaced. Barcelona still remained interested in Griezmann, and they finally had their man this time. This time, there were no infamous documentaries. This time, a straightforward announcement brought about the end of his time at Atletico Madrid.
Controversy was still not far away, as Los Colchoneros cried foul over the player’s rightful release clause. But, all that was in the background. For this was a statement signing by Barcelona, who had now secured the services of one of the best players in the world, someone who was already a proven quantity at club and international levels.
The 28-year-old has not always delivered, with the start to life as a Barcelona player being quite a turbulent one for him. In recent months, though, Griezmann is starting to show his mettle and his presence continues to fill fans with hope over a bright future. But, only time will tell if he indeed becomes the long sought solution in attack.
There’s No Stopping Messi: A Golden Year for the Little Magician
2019 might not have been a year to cherish for Barcelona, but for Lionel Messi, it was another year that reaffirmed his status as an all-time great. This was a year wherein Messi’s importance in the side had never been greater. The diminutive Argentine almost single-handedly won plenty of games, as many around him flattered to deceive.
As the 2018-19 season came to an end, Messi was on top of La Liga’s scoring charts once again, thereby pocketing the Pichichi Trophy for the third year running and the sixth time in his career. His 36 league goals were also the most across all European top-flight leagues, meaning he had won the European Golden Shoe for the second successive year. One of those goals saw him bring up 600 strikes in Barcelona colours as well.
This was just the start, though, as the accolades kept on pouring in. Barcelona might have been ousted from the Champions League at the penultimate stage, but Messi ended the competition as the season’s top scorer. Sure enough, he was a part of the UEFA Team of the Year as well as the FIFA FIFPro World XI.
Unsurprisingly, Messi was also named as the La Liga Player of the Season for 2018-19. Did anyone else even have a chance? By September, Messi was officially the best in the world once again, as he was named The Best FIFA Men’s Player. The cherry on top, though, came in the final month of the year.
For the sixth time in his career, Messi was awarded the Ballon d’Or, beating Virgil van Dijk and great rival Cristiano Ronaldo to the throne. A raging debate, which continues to this day, followed as to whether he deserved to be rewarded with the Golden Ball, but very few can argue that it was another golden year for the little magician. Truly, in a league of his own.