FC Barcelona's 20 Finest Moments Under Pep Guardiola

Anurag BhattCorrespondent IMarch 15, 2012

FC Barcelona's 20 Finest Moments Under Pep Guardiola

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    With uncertainty hanging over the future of Pep Guardiola's contract extension at the club, now seems to be a good time to sit back and take stock of just how perfect his era has been for the club.

    His 13 trophies, a win ratio of better than 72 percent, and an unbeaten record at the Santiago Bernabeu are just some of the highlights of Guardiola's reign at Barcelona.

    Three years of champagne football have had their share of unforgettably joyous moments which will live forever in the hearts of all Cules.

    Here is a look at the 20 finest moments under Guardiola.

20. 6-1 Victory over Sporting Gijon (2008)

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    Two matches, two points.

    Pep Guardiola's era started with a whimper as Barcelona lost to Numancia in their first La Liga match under his reign and followed it up with a poor draw against Racing Santander.

    After two mediocre seasons, this scenario seemed all too familiar for Cules. However, Guardiola's men turned it around on Matchday 3 with a thumping 6-1 victory at Sporting Gijon's El Molinon stadium.

    It is safe to say that this was the match where the Guardiola's era truly began. This match was the one that really kick-started Barcelona's season which culminated in the first ever treble in the history of Spanish football.

19. 4-0 Demolition of Bayern Munich (2009)

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    In what seemed to be a close tie during the announcement of the draw, Barcelona found out that they would be hosting German giants Bayern Munich during the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal before travelling to the Allianz Arena for the return leg.

    Bayern were always going to find it hard, having lost 5-1 against Wolfsburg just a few days before their Camp Nou visit, but even they would not have expected the systematic dismantling that Barcelona subjected them to.

    Lionel Messi, Samuel Eto'o and Thierry Henry all go onto the score sheet as Barcelona's front three made Bayern's defense look unschooled. In 45 minutes, Barcelona were four goals ahead of their opponents and had all but booked their place in the next round.

    Then president Joan Laporta called that performance the best first half in the club's history, and there were few who would disagree with him.

18. Last Gasp 3-2 Win over Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup (2011)

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    Few things are better than getting yet another win over your hated rivals, and that is exactly what happened in the final of the Spanish Super Cup.

    Despite getting dominated in the first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu, Barcelona carried forward the important advantage of two away goals to the Camp Nou. However, Real Madrid were not to be outdone, and managed to pull the score to 4-4 on aggregate.

    The tie seemed poised to go into extra time, but that is where having a player like Lionel Messi counts. As the seconds ticked down and extra time loomed nearer, Messi rose to meet a fantastic cross from Dani Alves from the right flank.

    Real Madrid's frustrations spilled over when Marcelo attempted to break Fabregas' legs with a horrible tackle. This led to a touchline bust-up in which Jose Mourinho showed his despicable side by poking Barcelona assistant manager Tito Vilanova in the eye, but the trophy was well and truly in Barcelona hands.

17. Re-Signing of Cesc Fabregas

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    Many may disagree, but re-signing Cesc Fabregas has been one of the best decisions of Sandro Rosell's presidency. Completing his signing has been of great help to the club both on and off the pitch.

    The La Masia graduate has fit into the Barcelona setup like it was made for him. He plays a more advanced role than either Xavi or Andres Iniesta, which has almost made him a pseudo forward.

    In the absence of David Villa, and Pedro's poor form through the season, Barcelona can count themselves lucky to have the goal-scoring services of Fabregas at their disposal. Without his regular goal-scoring exploits, Barcelona would be even further off the pace in La Liga than they are right now.

16. Eric Abidal's Return to Full Fitness

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    Barcelona were jolted in February 2011 when Eric Abidal was diagnosed with a liver tumor. The details of the defender's condition were not revealed, but he did undergo surgery almost immediately to have it removed.

    There were doubts over his ability to ever take the field again, but Abidal made an emphatic return to full fitness, coming on as a late substitute amid a standing ovation against Real Madrid in April of that same year.

    He then went on to start in the Champions League final against Manchester United and was handed the trophy at the presentation ceremony by captain Carles Puyol.

    Unfortunately, fresh reports from Barcelona indicate that Abidal will have to undergo a liver transplant—a move that will almost certainly result in the end of the Frenchman's career.

15. Lionel Messi's "Poker" Against Arsenal

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    Lionel Messi put to bed any lingering debates over the identity of the best player of our generation when he single-handedly demolished Arsenal with a four-goal haul at the Camp Nou.

    Manuel Almunia was tasked with merely picking the ball out of the net as the Argentine genius ran rings around the Arsenal defense and scored goals seemingly at will.

    A smashing shot into the top corner was followed by a delicate finish, a chip and then a fortuitous strike through the hapless Almunia's legs as Messi exposed the Arsenal defense time and time again.

    The sheer mastery that Messi displayed on that night had Cules all over the world in a state of joyous pride at having such an incredible talent at their club. That performance certainly ranks among the best individual performances in Champions League history.

14. Lionel Messi's Third Ballon D'Or

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    Lionel Messi joined the small but hallowed list of players who have won three Ballon d'Or awards in their career with his third consecutive win in early 2012.

    The best player in Barcelona history cemented his legendary status by winning the highest individual trophy in football for his record-equalling feat.

    His performances over the year 2011 for Barcelona had been nothing short of phenomenal, and the vote breakup reflected his dominance: he had 48 percent of the votes as compared to the second-placed Cristiano Ronaldo's 22 percent.

    It was another extremely proud moment for the club as a whole to see two players on the Ballon d'Or, with Xavi Hernandez finishing third.

13. 2009 Copa Del Rey Final

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    Three days before Real Madrid lost to give Barcelona the La Liga title, Barcelona faced off against Athletic Bilbao at the Mestalla in the Copa del Rey final.

    Bilbao scored early through Gaizka Toquero, but Barcelona equalized through Yaya Toure, and then added three more goals through Lionel Messi, Xavi and Bojan to win the match with a comfortable 4-1 scoreline.

    It was the first trophy of the Guardiola era, and would soon be followed by 12 more in the next two years as the team laid claim to becoming the best Barcelona squad of all time.

12. 2-0 Win over Real Madrid in Champions League Semifinal

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    While "la manita" was certainly satisfying, another victory over Real Madrid holds almost as much of an emotional appeal in Cule hearts.

    A season-long smear campaign by Jose Mourinho and the Madrid media seemed to have taken its toll on Barcelona. Pep Guardiola, normally the most calm and respectful speaker at press conferences, let forth a stream of expletives and promised Mourinho that Barcelona would talk on the pitch.

    During the match, Pepe got sent off after a horrible studs-up challenge on Dani Alves. Lionel Messi then converted a cross from Ibrahim Afellay to give Barcelona a 1-0 lead and an all-important away goal.

    It was the goal that followed that grabbed all the headlines, though. Taking the ball from Xavi at the center circle, Messi then ran past every Real Madrid player in his path before finishing coolly past Iker Casillas, who could do nothing but gape at the unbelievable nature of Messi's goal.

    The 2-0 win that Barcelona grabbed away from home gave them a huge advantage going into their home leg, which they drew 1-1 to make their second Champions League final in three seasons.

11. Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta Making the Ballon D'Or Podium

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    For the first time since the legendary AC Milan team of the 1980s, all three finalists for the Ballon d'Or came from the same club.

    Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta shared the stage together in a ceremony which was an extremely meaningful one for Cules worldwide, who got to see their heroes get the recognition they deserved for a magnificent season.

    Messi won the award, while Iniesta, who had scored the goal that won Spain the World Cup, came in second. Xavi finished third by a small difference of votes.

    It was a proud moment for Barcelona as an institution, and further proof of the sheer brilliance that the team exhibited under Guardiola.

10. 2009 World Club Cup Final Win Against Estudiantes (2-1)

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    A searing night at Abu Dhabi started in disastrous fashion for Barcelona, as Mauro Boselli gave Argentine opponents Estudiantes a first-half lead. Barcelona seemed incapable of breaking down the determined defense until Pedro finally sneaked a header over the keeper in the 89th minute, forcing the match to go into extra time.

    Through extra time, Barcelona looked exhausted and toothless. The match seemed destined to go to penalties, until a perfect cross by Daniel Alves was chested (yes, chested) into the Estudiantes goal by an onrushing Lionel Messi, giving Barcelona a hard-fought 2-1 victory.

    The match was followed by an outpouring of emotion as Barcelona lifted their sixth trophy of 2009. Indeed, Pep Guardiola burst into tears at the presentation ceremony and had to be pacified by Thierry Henry and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

9. Breaking the Record for Most Consecutive La Liga Wins

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    Alfredo di Stefano's legendary Real Madrid side set the record for most La Liga wins in a row, a record which remained unequalled until February 5, 2011.

    That Real Madrid side had won 15 matches on the trot. Guardiola's Barcelona went one up and made it 16 with a 3-0 home win over Atletico Madrid.

    It was only fitting that this record would also be heavily dependent on Lionel Messi. The Argentine wizard scored all three goals to help Guardiola's side break yet another record on their path to becoming one of the best teams of all time.

8. 6-2 Win over Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu

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    Visiting the Bernabeu in the middle of two Champions League semifinal matches against Chelsea was always going to be difficult for Barcelona. Real Madrid needed a win against Barcelona to keep their own La Liga aspirations alive, and the tired state of their rivals would certainly help their case.

    Real Madrid captain Raul went so far as to say that Real Madrid were the favourites for the match, since, well, the match was being played at the Bernabeu.

    He could not have been more wrong.

    Despite an early goal from Gonzalo Higuain, Barcelona were never troubled by Real Madrid. They pumped in six goals against a seemingly tactically inept Juande Ramos, who seemed utterly befuddled by the brand of football played by the blue and claret shirts on the Bernabeu pitch.

    There may have been only a four-point difference between both sides in La Liga before the match started. After 90 minutes, however, there was no doubt in anyone's mind which team was the best in Spain. Barcelona shut out that argument with a performance so sublime that even the most die-hard Cules could not resist pinching themselves in disbelief.

7. The First La Liga Title (2009)

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    Two seasons of mediocrity were too much for FC Barcelona as they wrested the La Liga title back from Real Madrid without even having to play their match on the day the title was decided.

    Real Madrid had to win at Villarreal's El Madrigal to prevent Barcelona from sealing the title early. However, they lost 3-2, which meant that Barcelona were the champions of the 2008/09 edition of La Liga.

    Real Madrid's defeat also handed Barcelona the Liga and Copa del Rey double, as they had won the final just three days before against Athletic Bilbao.

    Celebrations followed in Catalunya, but were slightly muted as the biggest event of the year, the Champions League final against Manchester United, was yet to be played and won.

6. The Second La Liga Title (2010)

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    The 2009-10 La Liga title race was enthralling and breathtaking, depending on which team one supported.

    Barcelona fans rejoiced at seeing their team, pushed by Real Madrid all the way to Matchday 38, lift the title with a record-breaking 99 points.

    Real Madrid fans, meanwhile, mourned their team's inability to win the trophy despite amassing a not-too-shabby 96 points.

    Barcelona went into their last match of the season needing a win against Valladolid at the Camp Nou to seal the league title. It was never going to be a difficult job. However, to reach that position, they had been prodded, pushed and stretched by a Real Madrid side that refused to give an inch (except when the teams played each other).

    Winning a title is always special. Winning on the last day of the season is even more so.

5. The Third La Liga Title (2011)

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    Barcelona's third La Liga win in three years was particularly satisfying because of the identity of the man they beat.

    Jose Mourinho had taken the reins at Real Madrid, but was unable to wrest the advantage from Barcelona. The Catalan side sealed the title with a 1-1 draw at Levante with two matches to go, giving them an insurmountable lead of six points plus a superior head-to-head record against their hated rivals.

    In the title celebrations, Jose Manuel Pinto poked a dig at Jose Mourinho's famous “¿Por que?” (why) rant earlier in the season. The English translation of what he says in the video is, "It's a time to be happy and to celebrate. If anyone wants to know why we are here, it's because we are the best. That is all there is to say."

4. 2011 Champions League Final Win Against Manchester United (3-1)

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    A repeat of the final of 2009 saw a role reversal in the buildup, with Barcelona being tipped as surefire favourites to overcome the English champions at the Wembley.

    This time the pundits got their predictions spot on. Barcelona never looked even slightly troubled as they took a lead within 25 minutes. Despite Wayne Rooney's equalizer before halftime, Lionel Messi and David Villa silenced the English crowds with two sublime goals from outside the penalty area to give Barcelona a 3-1 lead.

    In the post-match presentation, Eric Abidal lifted the trophy in what would become the defining moment of the 2011 sporting calendar. Captain Carles Puyol's selfless gesture to give the Frenchman the trophy was heartwarming considering the nature of the disease Abidal had recovered from to start the match and play a starring role.

3. 2009 Champions League Final Win Against Manchester United (2-0)

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    In the buildup to Barcelona's final against Manchester United, the Catalans were given little chance of pulling off a result against Sir Alex Ferguson's men.

    United had only one player missing—Darren Fletcher—while Barcelona were without both first-choice fullbacks Dani Alves and Eric Abidal. In addition, Andres Iniesta and Thierry Henry were carrying major injuries which meant they would be way below their best. Surely Barcelona were going to add to their ignominious haul of two European Cup final defeats.

    What followed, however, was a masterclass which left no doubt about the identity of the best team in the world. After the virtuoso performance that Barcelona displayed against Manchester United on that May night in Rome, few dared to question their claim to being the best team in Europe.

    For Guardiola, this match was "the most important match [of my life] as a player and a coach." His team certainly gave him the ultimate reward as they lifted the Champions League trophy to complete their historic treble.

2. Andres Iniesta's Goal vs. Chelsea

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    The way Guardiola runs down the touchline in the embedded video exemplifies the emotion that all Cules felt when they saw Andres Iniesta's shot hit the back of Petr Cech's net.

    Under Guardiola, Barcelona had played sublime football for a year, but found themselves a goal down against Chelsea. Managed by the wily Guus Hiddink, the Blues had defended for 180 straight minutes and snatched a goal which gave them a hard-fought 1-0 aggregate lead.

    As the second wound down, Barcelona seemed certain to exit the Champions League on a heartbreaking note. However, in the 93rd minute of the match, Iniesta received a pass on the edge of the area and sent a shot flying past Cech.

    Many Barcelona fans list this moment as the best they have ever witnessed. The scenes of the celebration that followed the goal are etched into every Cule's memory.

1. "La Manita" over Real Madrid at the Camp Nou

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    The night of 29th November, 2010 will go down in Barcelona folklore as the day Jose Mourinho got utterly humiliated by his former club.

    "El traductor" returned to the Camp Nou amid an already hostile reception in his first Clasico as Real Madrid manager, and saw his team reduced to shambles against an imperious Barcelona side.

    Guardiola's men were relentless, running past the uncoordinated white shirts and scoring goals at will. Real Madrid looked like a deer caught in the headlights as Barcelona went rampant. The Camp Nou echoed the joyous screams of 100,000 Catalan fans who were absolutely ecstatic at the five unanswered goals their team managed to score against their hated rivals.

    It was the first five-goal haul in the historic rivalry since Real Madrid scored five against Barcelona way back in 1995.