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The Weekly Review: Week 52: FC Barcelona Awards

Am I glad that’s over! Don’t get me wrong, 2011 was a hugely successful year for FC Barcelona, that much is obvious, but there were times that seemed hopeless, or at least were too close for comfort. Thinking back to the start of the year – although it applied right the way through until the start of this season – Barcelona did struggle for a fairly long time. They were grinding out wins by one or two goals with notable droughts from David Villa and Pedro just adding to the tension felt by the end of April.

The Clasico World Series was far from scintillating viewing for any Blaugrana fan, but compelling nonetheless. Jose Mourinho got the closest anyone has come to dethroning the Catalans, but ultimately he could not get the job done. Explosive press conferences remarks, Cantenaccio with added fouling, it was nigh on anti-football from Los Merengues so it must give Pep Guardiola great pride to look back on the past 12 months knowing that his team pulled through once more.

The Champions League final was arguably the pinnacle, although it probably wasn’t the performance of the year (more on that later). It ensured a spot in the Club World Cup, and for at least the next twelve months we can claim that our team is the best in the world. Real Madrid managed just the one trophy in 2011. Barcelona on the other hand lifted five. Just like 2010, five is the magic number...

With respect to those five trophies, here’s a Manita of awards for 2011:

Breakthrough of 2011 – Isaac Cuenca


Isaac Cuenca must go down as the revelation of 2011 after his meteoric rise from the third division to a starting berth on the right-wing. Farmed out to Sabadell in the 2010/11 season he helped the Catalan side reach the Segunda although no-one quite expected him to break into the Barcelona squad. After all, he played in the same position as summer signing Kiko Femenia and prodigal talent Gerard Deulofeu, but it appears as though he has won Pep Guardiola over with his unique style of play, which is very much a fusion of the modern game and old-fashioned wing-play.

Whether he is operating on the left or right side, it appears as though the touchline is like oxygen to the youngster. As a result he stretches defences, creating spaces for his illustrious teammates to exploit or simply enough room to humiliate his marker with a dazzling array of skills. The only rival for this award in my eyes could have been Ibrahim Afellay for his showings in the first half of 2011, but injury struck the Dutchman down when it looked as though he would push for a starting place. However, if the price we pay as Barca fans is the promotion of Cuenca, then so be it. 2011 has been a memorable year for Isaac Cuenca, but I hope he is just getting started.

Signing of 2011 – Cesc Fabregas

The first half of the year was filled with the tedious rumours, but the second half proved that it was all worth it, hefty price-tag and all. While Alexis Sanchez has offered a whole new dimension to the Barcelona style of play, Cesc Fabregas has revolutionised it completely. Initially I was a doubter, why did Barcelona need another world-class midfielder? By the end, I was wondering how I ever lived without Cesc.

Sure, he started off on fire scoring goals for fun, but it was the latter stages of the year that convinced me. First he scored the third and vital goal in the Clasico, that was probably justification enough but it appears as though his arrival and the subsequent problems it should have caused selection-wise has brought out the best of Guardiola. Switching to a 3-4-3, Barcelona won the Clasico despite going a goal down and absolutely slaughtered Santos in the Club World Cup. Should he continue in a similar vein, Cesc is on course for around 25 goals and 20 assists in his debut season for Barcelona. That is truly staggering, even by his standards.

Performance of 2011 – The Clasico: Part Seven

No matter how many Clasicos the calendar churns out, they never get any less interesting. Barcelona headed into this particular match three points behind their great rivals, albeit having played a game more. A loss would have been catastrophic. When Karim Benzema scored after 22 seconds, it looked hopeless. As they say, the rest is history. Pep shifted the team around, switching to a 3-4-3 and Jose Mourinho had no answer. Barcelona began to dominate the midfield, and Real’s defensive problems began to appear. Alexis Sanchez grabbed the equaliser, before goals from Xavi and Cesc rounded off a fine performance.

In truth, it could have been five or six such was the dominance displayed by the end of the encounter and although the game against Santos was perhaps more aesthetically pleasing, it could not match the sheer jubilance that the team must have felt after the Clasico. For us Barca fans, it reminds us that the team remains one step ahead of Real even if the standings currently hint at the opposite. Above all, it was irrefutable proof: Pep knows best.

Most Important Player – Carles Puyol

Unlike the award for best player, this will not go to Lionel Messi, as it must be said that Carles Puyol is irreplaceable. I haven’t thoroughly checked the statistics, but I can say in complete confidence that when Puyol has started, Barcelona have not lost. Think back, Puyol did not start against Arsenal, nor against Real in the Copa del Rey final. He was injured for the trip to Getafe, and he was rested for the defeat to Sociedad after the title had been secured.

When Puyol does start, he invariably leads by example and leaves it all on the pitch. Cristiano Ronaldo must have nightmares about a shaggy-haired Spaniard while Neymar was shut down by that same man; he is (much like Messi) indescribably good. If the team doctors can keep Puyol in good shape for the year ahead, the sextuple in within reach.

Best Player – Lionel Messi

I kinda gave it away in the last award, but really it was never going to come as a surprise that Lionel Messi was the best player in 2011 for FC Barcelona. After all, when you score 59 goals and register 28 assists, it is a pretty good year. That is the most amazing thing; you read these stats and don’t even think twice. Normally they would at least require a double take, but with Lionel Messi, the bar has been raised so high it is now inconceivable to think of a limit.

Not only did the mercurial Argentine score so many goals, but when the big occasions came around, he delivered unlike Cristiano Ronaldo. Not only did he score the two goals against Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-final, but he also single-handedly won Barcelona the Supercopa, was man of the match in the Champions League final and FIFA Club World Cup, while he scored in all but one final in 2011. Who cares about the Copa del Rey anyway? Odds on favourite for the Ballon D’Or and who would bet against more winners medals? Whatever the case, I firmly believe we are watching the greatest player of all time.

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