With the 2017-18 season all wrapped up, The Hard Tackle brings you a throwback to five of the best moments of the campaign for Barcelona.
Barcelona had quite a season to remember in 2017-18, some for bad reasons, but most of them for good, even brilliant reasons. The Champions League campaign was one to forget, seeing as it ended in a catastrophic fashion. As far as domestic football was concerned, there was very little stopping Ernesto Valverde & co.
The Blaugrana coasted to the La Liga title without facing much of a competition, while their thrashing of Sevilla in the Copa del Rey final (more on both, later) asserted their dominance in domestic football. But, this wasn’t all. There were many more moments to remember the season by. Here are our top five picks from the season gone by for Barcelona.
Title Triumphs: A Spectacular Start to Ernesto Valverde’s Reign
Ernesto Valverde took over the reins of Barcelona from Luis Enrique, with the big task of reclaiming the La Liga title from Real Madrid’s grasp. As it would later turn out, Los Blancos surrendered the title rather meekly, falling short of their bitter rivals by a massive 17 points.
Barcelona’s nearest challengers over the course of the season turned out to be Atletico Madrid, who wouldn’t prove to be worthy enough rivals either. Indeed, it was quite the remarkable campaign for Barcelona, as they lost just once over the course of the season, and won the title by an astounding 14-point margin.
The La Liga triumph wasn’t all though, as Barcelona also clinched the Copa del Rey title for the fourth successive year – they seem to have made a habit of winning the cup competition. Local rivals Espanyol were the only side who ran Valverde & co. close in the end.
The final was, in fact, a one-sided affair – one that their opponents would like to forget soon – as Barcelona thrashed Sevilla 5-0. In the end, it was a memorable double for Valverde in his first season in-charge of Barcelona, and a good base to build upon in the forthcoming season.
A Record Broken, But the Invincible Dream Remains Unfulfilled
Considering the way they have dominated domestic football over the last decade or so, it is not surprising that some record or the other keeps on getting registered in their name just about every season. And, it wasn’t anything different this time around either.
This time around, Barcelona embarked on a journey towards invincibility, looking to go the entire league campaign without a loss. In order to achieve the impossible, they had to break the record of the longest unbeaten run in La Liga history (38 games), set by Real Sociedad between 1979 and 1980.
They managed to do so, in the process also shattering a previous club record of a 31-game unbeaten run. In order to achieve the impossible dream, Valverde also seemed to have put Champions League success on the line, albeit inadvertently so.
But, just when it looked like Barcelona would go on to achieve something that no other side in Spain had ever done, their dream was broken. In the penultimate round of league games, Barcelona were beaten 5-4 at Levante in a crazy game, which would subsequently prove to be their only blemish in league football for the season.
A record they admirably strived to achieve still remained a step too far. But, there was some consolation as they at least had the record of the longest unbeaten run in La Liga history all to themselves – a record that is unlikely to be broken anytime soon.
Major Contract Extensions
As the initial months passed, there was a growing air of uneasiness around Camp Nou as two of Barcelona’s biggest players worryingly had their futures up in the air. Both Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi had been refusing to commit to new contracts with the club, despite Josep Maria Bartomeu’s best efforts. But, good news would soon greet the fans.
Iniesta was the first one to sign the dotted line, put pen to paper on a contract that is rarely heard of in the footballing world. The Barcelona captain signed a lifetime contract with the club in a deal that was set to keep him at Camp Nou for the rest of his career. There was heartbreak in store later in the season, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
For now, Barcelona fans heaved a huge sigh of relief as El Capitan put all the uncertainty around him to rest. All that remained after that was for the side’s talisman, Lionel Messi to follow in Iniesta’s footsteps and sign a long-term deal of his own, especially with rumours running rampant over a possible move away from Camp Nou.
Soon enough, Messi would sign a new contract too, reportedly becoming the highest-paid footballer in the world once again. The Argentine maestro’s new release clause was set at €700 million, with Barcelona perhaps taking cue from Neymar’s shock departure last summer, and keeping potential suitors well away.
Later, the likes of Sergi Roberto and Gerard Pique would go on to sign new deals with Barcelona, who looked to be taking all the right steps to tie down their most important players to lucrative contracts.
Loss to AS Roma: Disaster of Epic Proportions
Sure, losses were really rare to come by for Barcelona in the 2017-18 season, with Ernesto Valverde’s men ending on the wrong side of the result just thrice over the course of the season. One of these losses though, would leave a lasting impact, souring an otherwise tremendously successful season.
Barcelona met AS Roma in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League as they looked to win yet another treble. A 4-1 win in the first leg at Camp Nou looked to have set them on course for a semi-final qualification as well. But, that is when disaster struck.
In the second leg at Stadio Olimpico, nothing went their way, with Roma shutting Valverde’s men right from the get go. With less than ten minutes left in regulation time, just one goal separated the two sides. If Roma scored, they would go through on away goals. If Barcelona held on, they would just scrape through.
But, it wasn’t to be for the Catalans, as Kostas Manolas scored one of the best goals of his career to end Barcelona’s hopes. The loss would prove to be the one major blemish in an otherwise imperious season, and perhaps, made Iniesta’s decision to depart from Camp Nou all the easier, which brings us to…
Infinite Iniesta: A Heartbreaking Goodbye
It was a decision that left Barcelona fans shell shocked. After all, Iniesta had signed a new contract with the club mere months ago – a lifetime deal no less that was supposed to see him remain at Camp Nou for the remainder of his career, and even beyond. This wasn’t a part of the script.
But, it would turn out to be a living nightmare as Iniesta confirmed speculation around his future – and the fans’ worst fears – in an emotional press conference, announcing his decision to leave the club of his dreams after 22 years. Camp Nou would no longer be his home.
Following the announcement, every minute that Iniesta spent on the pitch was celebrated by Barcelona fans in emphatic fashion as their captain edged closer to saying goodbye. When the moment finally came, the veteran midfielder got one of the most stirring of farewells. There was not one dry eye in Camp Nou.
A news that still is hard to take for each and every Barcelona fan. Iniesta will no longer wear the famous jersey of the Blaugrana, with Vissel Kobe now his new humble abode.