FC Barcelona Report Card for 2012

Michael CernaCorrespondent IDecember 26, 2012

FC Barcelona Report Card for 2012

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    Barcelona finished 2012 considered by many to be the best team in football.

    In fact, despite winning just one trophy this year, they were ranked among Europe's elite throughout the year.

    Now that the year has drawn to a close, let's review the highs and lows of La Blaugrana over the past 12 months.

    After reading, please feel free to give your own opinions for which moments or players deserve to be recognized for each of these topics.

Best Moment: La Masia Dominates Levante

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    It took nearly a decade to come to fruition, but Louis Van Gaal's dream of fielding 11 academy players was finally realized on November 25, 2012.

    From the 13th minute, when Martin Montoya came on for the injured Dani Alves , Barcelona played with 11 homegrown players.

    It was not the first time this had happened (thrice did Pep Guardiola field 11 academy stars), but the timing made this moment all the more historic.

    Two days after Barça's 4-0 win over Levante, Catalunya voted yes on a referendum to earn independence from Spain.

    Fielding 11 would be impressive for any club in football, but the fact that Barcelona is one of the biggest, most successful clubs in all of football makes the feat even more respectable.


    Honorable Mention: Barcelona finish the year unbeaten in the first half.

Worst Moment: Fernando Torres Seals Chelsea's Progress

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    April 24, 2012. It was supposed to be the night Barcelona clinched their third Champions League final in four years.

    Instead, it was the night Chelsea held out the Spanish giants to book their own trip to Munich and then become champions of Europe for the first time.

    Barcelona had been wrecked by injuries and failed to win the first leg of the semifinal tie with the Blues, but they were as confident as ever going into the second leg at home.


    Defining Moments in a Season-Defining Match

    Things started out pretty well for La Blaugrana when Gary Cahill was unable to finish, confidence was won when Sergio Busquets scored and momentum shifted greatly when John Terry was sent off.

    The deal looked all but sealed when Andres Iniesta put Barcelona up by two goals just before halftime. That was where Barça's story ended, though.

    Ramires scored just moments later, Lionel Messi missed a penalty just after the break and then Fernando Torres sealed the win just before added time.


    Camp Nou Scarred

    Barcelona fans had already had to suffer by watching Real Madrid basically celebrate winning the title at Camp Nou.

    Now those fans had to watch Chelsea celebrate perhaps their biggest win in team history in the same spot.


    Honorable Mention: Tito Vilanova's cancer relapse.

Biggest Problem Area: Fitness

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    Last season Real Madrid had built such a big lead over Barcelona that it would have taken a huge drop for La Blaugrana to even get back in the title race.

    Surprisingly, Los Merengues nearly did lose their double digit lead and left the door open for their rivals to overtake them.

    Injuries, however, proved too great for Barça to overcome and they finished without the two biggest trophies.


    Injuries Take Their Toll

    Barcelona's attack was decimated last year and Lionel Messi had to carry the biggest load of his career.

    Whether through injury, poor form or slow recovery of his teammates, Messi was forced to scored nearly half of his team's goals in the spring and also this season.

    The back line was the biggest weakness on the squad, but injuries were also the biggest factor for that.

    At full strength, Barça's defense are one of the best in Spain. Unfortunately, they were rarely at full strength this year.

    This will play a huge role again as the season wears on and the club targets a treble-winning season.


    Honorable Mention: Relying on Messi too much for goals.

Biggest Strength: Midfield Quality

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    Barcelona are still the standard for having a great midfield in football. There is no question about that.

    When a new young player has a great game or when a team puts on a clinic in midfield, people either race to label them the Barcelona of their league or prematurely start comparing them to the likes of Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets.

    This year Lionel Messi has been phenomenal, perhaps better than any player we have seen in any single season in history.

    However, as great as Messi has been, the combined strength of his partners in midfield have been even better in 2012.


    Individually and Collectively the Best Midfield of This Generation

    The great Xavi had a career high in goals while Andres Iniesta was finally recognized as the best midfielder in the world.

    Cesc Fabregas finally found his place in the team while Sergio Busquets once again proved why he is the most visionary, smartest holding midfielder in Spain and probably anywhere.

    Beyond the starters, Thiago Alcantara continued his development as arguably the most talented young central midfielder in football.

    Barça's midfield has unrivaled talent, tremendous depth, youth, leadership, and has become even more tactically diverse under Tito Vilanova.


    Honorable Mention: Lionel Messi, the best football player alive.

Most Disappointing Player: Alexis Sanchez

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    Many Cules are a bit too harsh on last year's big Chilean signing, but there is at least reason to criticize Alexis Sanchez for not performing at a top level in 2012.

    The young winger was prematurely thrust into a starting role last season after Barça's first three starters were lost to injury.

    While he did perform admirably, he has continuously struggled to master the complicated Barcelona system and has yet to really learn what role he best excels in.

    He was not bad by any means last spring, but he was not stellar either.

    This season he has been very hard-working, but has not really contributed much with scoring goals or even creating them.

    Fans would be wise to have patience with this extremely talented forward, but 2012 was a disappointing year for Alexis Sanchez nonetheless.


    Honorable Mention: Pedro

Most Improved: Cristian Tello

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    Last season Cristian Tello finished with a string of inconsistent and disappointing performances that saw fans prematurely and even unfairly lose faith in him.

    This season he has arguably been the best forward Barcelona has had behind Lionel Messi.

    The 21-year-old recently signed a contract extension and his play this season certainly justified that.

    Tello has become much less predictable, has grown more bold with his shooting and has shown lots of potential as both a finisher and creator out wide.


    Honorable Mention: Adrian

Most Valuable Player: Lionel Messi

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    Sergio Busquets is the glue that holds Barcelona together.

    Andres Iniesta is the magician that breaks down the opposing defense.

    Xavi is the engine that keeps the tempo and focus of Barça's football on task.

    Lionel Messi, however, is the man who makes Barcelona the best team of this generation.

    He scored 91 goals this year, assisted in 20 more and put his name in the annals of football lore as one of the greatest players to ever live.

    Without him, Barça would still be an elite club, probably one that could still contend for every title in Europe with a slower, less offensive style like that of Spain.

    With Messi, though, Barcelona are one of the best teams football has ever seen. 2012 will forever be his.


    Honorable Mention: Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta


    Please also check out La Liga's Winners and Losers of 2012