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Barca end a terrible week on a high as Pep tutors Tito

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By Phil O’Connor

Barcelona rounded off a rollercoaster week with a 7-0 drubbing of Rayo Vallecano – out of Europe and with the league already conceded by Pep Guardiola, the pressure lifted and Barcelona were able to enjoy themselves once again. The Copa Del Rey final on May 25 will mark Guardiola’s final competitive game in charge at the Camp Nou, bringing down the curtain on a four-year reign that has yielded a ton of trophies. Announcing his decision not to extend his contract at an emotional press conference, Guardiola weariness with football was apparent, but almost immediately speculation began as to when he would comeback – and possibly more importantly, where. If his career as a coach continues to mirror his time as a player, there are some rocky times ahead. This is the second time Guardiola has left Barcelona; after a glittering career as part of Johan Cruyff’s “dream team”, when he departed as club captain in 2001 he did so empty-handed, as Barca failed to win a trophy in his final season. In what seemed an odd move at the time, he moved to Brescia in Italy before stints in Qatar and Mexico, but the twilight years of his club career never came close to echoing the success he enjoyed at the Catalan club that raised him. Six years after his departure as a player, he returned to the Camp Nou to coach the reserve team and he became a winner once again, winning promotion with the Barcelona B team before taking over from Frank Rijkaard. Guardiola has already been linked with London club Chelsea, and no doubt he will be linked to every top job that becomes vacant this coming summer. But the 41-year-old will need to be very careful about the next job he takes on – despite all he has achieved to date, his methods are not guaranteed to succeed elsewhere. Everything he has achieved as both a player and a coach has been done surrounded by Barcelona players, and has been steeped in the traditions of the club. Many of those who won promotion with him with the Barca reserves went on to become loyal servants in the first team. Others, like Gerard Pique and Cesc Fabregas, were schooled at Barcelona before leaving for England and then returning – despite their Barca heritage, both players had to work hard to adjust to Guardiola’s game plan. And if players raised at the club have these difficulties, what chance does a whole new dressing room adapting to his methods? Immensely intelligent with an obsessive attention to detail, Guardiola’s basic tactics have remained true to Barcelona’s heritage, and his tactical tinkering has amounted to moving players around within the system, rather than trying to change it. It is hard to imagine him suddenly sending out a team to play 4-4-2, or ordering his side to start playing long balls in desperation. It might also be difficult for him to inherit players who simply don’t understand his way of seeing the game, or those who cannot adapt to it. There are few other clubs in the world who can offer the embarrassment of playing riches that he had at Barcelona. A decent outside bet might be for Guardiola to take over from Vicente del Bosque as manager of the Spanish national side. Taking on that job would give him breathing room at the same time as keeping him involved in football. He would be out of the pressure-cooker atmosphere the Camp Nou but still operating at the highest level. Added to that, he would still have contact with players and a tactical structure that will be familiar to him from his time at Barcelona. As Barcelona’s performance at Vallecano this weekend showed, the shackles are now off and the possibilities are many. Probably the only one that can be ruled out at this stage is him taking over from Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid – other than that, anything can happen. PHOTO: Barcelona’s coach Pep Guardiola (R) and his assistant coach Tito Vilanova talk before their Spanish first division soccer match against Rayo Vallecano at Vallecas stadium in Madrid April 29, 2012. Guardiola will leave Spanish soccer giants at the end of this season and will be replaced by Vilanova. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

Inspirational Guardiola leaves powerful legacy

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The inspiration for a team widely considered one of the best to grace the game, a thorn in the side of bitter rivals Real Madrid and a symbol of Catalan nationalism, Pep Guardiola has been all these things and more as a player and coach for Barcelona.

The spectacularly successful 41-year-old, who announced on Friday he was quitting at the end of the season, led Barca to a club-record 13 trophies in his four seasons in charge including two Champions League crowns and three straight La Liga titles.

Barca tired? Not on this evidence

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Men tuning in for lots of action in Tuesday’s Champions League last 16 first leg ties would have rued the decision to stay in front of the TV on Valentines’ Night when Barcelona v Bayer Leverkusen and Olympique Lyon against APOEL Nicosia reached the 40-minute mark.

Both were 0-0. APOEL had not registered a shot on goal. Barcelona had dominated their German opposition with 78 per cent of possession, yet no opening score.

from Reuters Soccer Blog:

Relief in Barcelona as Guardiola extends contract

SOCCER-FIFA/During Barcelona’s 3-0 win over Atletico Madrid at the Nou Camp last Saturday, which set a Spanish record of 16 straight La Liga victories, there was one thrilling passage of play which perfectly illustrated the work ethic Pep Guardiola has instilled among his squad of wonderfully gifted players.

The ball was played into space for Atletico forward Sergio Aguero. Lionel Messi suddenly appeared, sprinting back into defence. The World Player of the Year ran shoulder to shoulder with his Argentina team mate, stole the ball, beat Felipe Luis with an audacious piece of skill and started yet another assault on the visitors’ goal.

from Reuters Soccer Blog:

Five things we learned, or had confirmed, in Monday’s “Clasico”

SOCCER-SPAIN/CLASICO1. Lionel Messi is a more effective “big game player” than Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Portuguese may be the world’s most expensive player but Argentina forward Messi has got the better of the man whom he succeeded as World Player of the Year on their last four meetings.

from Reuters Soccer Blog:

The strange story of Ibra and Pep

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As Barcelona close in on the signing of Javier Mascherano from Liverpool, Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s future at the club seems to becoming ever more complicated.

Coach Pep Guardiola’s decision to move for the combative Mascherano is understandable after Yaya Toure’s departure to Manchester City.

from Reuters Soccer Blog:

Is Guardiola losing his Midas Touch?

SOCCER-SPAIN/It was always going to be difficult for Pep Guardiola to repeat last year's astonishing achievements when Barcelona swept up six trophies.

Since adding the Club World Cup to their haul in December, they have started to look vulnerable, and, more recently, jaded.

from Reuters Soccer Blog:

Barca blame bad luck but Rubin coach is wilier than most

Has Lady Luck deserted holders Barcelona as their players suggested or did Rubin Kazan coach Kurban Berdyev and his players pull off the tactical masterstroke that has eluded so many others since Pep Guardiola took over at the Nou Camp at the start of last season?******It was probably a bit of both that led to Barca’s 2-1 defeat on Tuesday, their first Champions League reverse in 10 matches and a first home defeat in any competition since they lost to Osasuna last May when they had already secured the La Liga title.******The match was reminiscent of last season’s semi-final first leg against Chelsea, when the visitors defended stoutly in numbers and several times came close to grabbing a goal on the break.******Rubin went one better than the London club, exploiting the indifferent form and lack of pace of Barca’s Mexican central defender Rafael Marquez for Gokdeniz Karadeniz’s excellent winner on the counter attack.******The wily Berdyev, an intensely private man, watched impassively from the sidelines fingering his prayer beads, and Barca’s rivals, both in Spain and beyond, will doubtless try to learn from his success.******Whatever the reasons for Barca’s shock defeat, the hacks at the Madrid-based sports sheets were rubbing their hands on Wednesday, gleefully pointing to last weekend’s goalless draw at Valencia in La Liga and proclaiming the demise of Guardiola’s record-breaking side.******“Russian revolution at the Nou Camp!” trumpeted Marca.******“The ‘Pep Team’ lost their identity and were unable to produce the rhythm the match required. This Barca is not the champion,” was the headline in As.******The Barcelona-based papers preferred to focus on the fact that the European champions remain top of Group F after three out of six matches and have their fate in their own hands ahead of the trips to Kazan and Dynamo Kiev and Inter Milan’s visit to the Nou Camp.******“Crisis? What crisis?” asked Gabriel Sans in El Mundo Deportivo. “Barca have lost some fluidity and tactical freshness but their fate still depends on their own results.******"The glass is half full and they’ll drain it in Russia and drink to the health of whoever wants it.”******“Damn woodwork!” wrote Sport, referring to Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s acrobatic volley that shook the crossbar in the second half and Yaya Toure’s header at the death that crashed against a post.******Guardiola seemed to take the loss in his stride, although he had a minor altercation with a Russian journalist at the post-match news conference when he was bizarrely asked if he even knew Berdyev’s name.******“This is why football is special,” he said of the match. “In any other sport, with our statistics, we would have won.”******PHOTO: Barcelona's Zlatan Ibrahimovic reacts as Rubin Kazan's Vital Kaleshin (R) gestures during their Champions League soccer match at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, October 20, 2009. REUTERS/Albert Gea

from Reuters Soccer Blog:

What price Barca retaining the trophy in the Bernabeu?

Manchester United palpably failed to become the first team to retain the European Cup in the Champions League era but few would bet against Barcelona managing the feat next season.

And where would be the perfect place for Pep Guardiola's stylish side to achieve it? The Nou Camp? No, next year's final is in Madrid and the Barca fans I spoke to in Rome after the game could not think of a better venue to show their rivals and world football that they are undisputed kings.

One down, two more to come for Barcelona?

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There were nervous moments for Barcelona in the first half of the King’s Cup final but a three-goal nine-minute burst from Lionel Messi, Bojan Krkic and Xavi helped them to a 4-1 win over Athletic Bilbao and the first leg of a possible treble.

The league title could be their this weekend, on Saturday if Real Madrid fail to win at Villarreal or failing that on Sunday if they can manage a point at Real Mallorca.

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