Barcelona is a long shot to claim a third-straight La Liga title but that isn’t stopping Lionel Messi from setting new standards.
Messi slipped Arturo Vidal through for the lone goal of Barcelona’s win at Real Valladolid on Sunday, collecting his 20th assist of the league season in the process.
The helper makes Messi the second player this century to record 20 goals and 20 assists in a top five European league season after his former teammate Thierry Henry did it with Arsenal (24+20). Messi has 22 goals this season.
He’s also the first player to do it in La Liga, and the first to record 20 assists in a La Liga season since another former teammate, Xavi Hernandez.
Messi is one of eight players in Europe’s top five leagues to score 20-plus goals and one of only two with 20 assists (Thomas Muller). Only five others have double-digit goals and assists: Kevin De Bruyne, Serge Gnabry, Jadon Sancho, Alassane Plea, and Mikel Oyarzabal.
Barcelona hosts Osasuna and visits Alaves on the final two match days of the season. Can he match or even beat Henry’s goal output? He has 30 goals in 28 career appearances against the aforementioned opponents.
Real Madrid will edge closer to wrapping up the league with a win at Granada on Monday. Zinedine Zidane’s men are on an incredible and near-imperious run, having won eight-straight games and riding a 457-minute league shutout streak.
Real currently leads Barca by a point with a match-in-hand, then finish with Villarreal and Leganes.
In light of Tom Brady heading to either the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and LA Rams after ending his legendary 20-year with the New England Patriots, which soccer legends have ended their careers at similarly random teams?
Arsenal legend Ian Wright, who became their all-time leading goalscorer when at the club, moved on to Burnley, Celtic, Nottingham Forest and West Ham in the final years of his career and it just didn’t seem, right (pardon the pun). Wright playing in claret and blue was strange, even though he had played for Crystal Palace before moving to Arsenal, when you think of Wright you think of him scoring at the Clock End at Highbury and wildly celebrating as only he could. You don’t think of him scoring at Turf Moor for Burnley in the third-tier. Ever.
Pep Guardiola is a legend as a player and manager at Barcelona (probably more so the latter) as the holding midfielder was a key cog in the Barca team which won their first-ever European Cup in 1992 at Wembley. After 13 years at Barcelona he then played for Brescia (twice) and Roma in Italy before beginning an extremely nomadic final few years. After stops at Al-Ahli in Qatar and finally Dorados Sinola followed a spell at Sampdoria, with Guardiola playing 10 times and scoring one goal for the Mexican club. The reason he played for Dorados and finished his career there was due to being at management school in Axocopan, Atlixco, Puebla. That’s right, a spell living, playing and learning in the city known to be home of the notorious Sinaloa cartel fronted by ‘El Chapo’ helped turn Guardiola into one of the best coaches the game has ever seen.
Gary Lineker’s incredible goalscoring career saw him play for many clubs as he started at hometown team Leicester City then move on to Everton, Barcelona and Tottenham before ending his career at Nagoya Grampus Eight of the J-League. Because of course. Third in England’s all-time leading goalscorer list, Lineker spent the last two years of his career in Japan. The man who was the leading goalscorer at the 1986 World Cup has since become a very successful broadcaster with various outlets. Many people forget about him ending his playing days in Japan, though, and when you think of Lineker you think about him scoring goals for England and English clubs.
One of the greatest midfielders of all-time who made one of the best, if not the best, teams of all-time tick, Xavi Hernandez will always be a Barcelona legend after making 767 appearances for them in all competitions. After a stunning 24-year career at the Nou Camp which saw him come through the academy ranks to captain the side as he won eight league titles, three Spanish cups, four Champions League titles and two Club World Cups (to go alongside his two European Championships and a World Cup for Spain) Xavi left Barca to play for Al Sadd in Qatar. He is now Al Sadd’s manager but his decision to see out his playing days with three years in the Qatari Stars League was seen as extremely bizarre, at the time.
Wayne Rooney is currently playing for Derby County in England’s second-tier and that isn’t how we expected him to come to the end of his career. Rooney, 34, has been mildly successful in spells back at Everton and then at D.C. United after leaving Man United in the summer of 2017 but playing in the Championship for Derby is a strange ending for the all-time leading goalscorer of both England and Man United. His move to Derby sees him taking on coaching responsibilities with the youth teams too, so there’s a pathway into management, just like Xavi.
The club has also changed managers, and trails Real Madrid by a point for the table lead.
So of what has Barcelona been accused? For one, using a number of social media accounts to compliment current president Josep Maria Bartomeu and take shots at some massive names including current players Gerard Pique and Lionel Messi, as well as a certain famous ex-coach. From Marca:
According to a report by Que t’hi jugues, the company hired by the Catalan club manages up to almost 100 Twitter and Facebook accounts which have attacked individuals such as Messi, Xavi, Gerard Pique, Pep Guardiola, Carles Puyol, Joan Laporta and Carles Puigdemont.
Barca rejected this notion, claiming: “I3 Ventures, a service provider to the Club, has no relationship with the accounts mentioned and, if any relationship were to come to light, the Club would immediately end their contractual agreement and bring about any necessary legal action to defend their interests.”
The club demanded “an immediate rectification” to the reports.
It would be a monstrous and damning story if true, but must be taken with a grain of salt given that Marca has widely been considered a pro-Real Madrid outlet for some time. The allegations seize on the unsteadiness at Barca given the messiness of the season.
Imagine the stupidity of doing such a thing, risking the alienation of a golden era of names that made a generation fall in love with the idea of Barcelona. Couldn’t be true, surely?
Barcelona legend Xavi has confirmed he rejected the chance to return as their manager as it was “not the right time” for him.
Xavi, 39, is currently coaching Qatari side Al Sadd and Barcelona’s sporting director Eric Abidal and chief executive Oscar Garu spoke with him last week about replacing former manager Ernesto Valverde.
Experienced coach Quique Setien replaced Valverde and Xavi has told Spanish outlet Mundo Deportivo that this opportunity came too early in his coaching career as the midfielder, who played 767 times for Barca and won 25 trophies in his glittering 17-year career with the Catalan club, has only been a coach for six months in Qatar.
“Yes, it’s true that I have had a proposal from Barcelona, they were here to talk with me, but I didn’t accept because I didn’t feel that this was a good time for me,” said Xavi. “I’m very grateful to Barca, Abidal and Grau for this proposal. Of course, it’s my dream to coach Barca, but it’s not the right time. I have to be honest with you and everybody.”
Setien certainly gets Xavi’s blessing as Barca’s new coach, as the former Las Palmas and Real Betis manager is known for his attractive, attacking play and follows the coaching principles of Johan Cruyff.
“Of course Quique Setien (the new coach) is ready to coach Barcelona. I love him as a coach. My heart is for Barcelona and now it is for Quique Setien. I wish him all the best, this is the truth, this is what happened,” Xavi added.
World Cup winner Xavi will no doubt manage Barcelona one day (his current contract with Al Saad runs for another 18 months) and if the likes of Steven Gerrard turns up at Liverpool in the coming years, and Frank Lampard and Zinedine Zidane continue at Chelsea and Real Madrid respectively, it will be like 2005 all over again…
There’s no doubting the incredible experience all of these former legendary players have but some would suggest that being hired by the clubs where they made their names as players is an easy out for the hierarchy who know that the fans will get behind the manager and it will be a less risky appointment.
Barcelona legend and current Al-Sadd coach Xavi Hernandez confessed that his dream is to coach his former club, amid reports of current talks between the 39-year-old and the La Liga champions.
“I can’t deny that my dream is to coach Barcelona,” Xavi said on Saturday after leading his side to the Qatari cup final. “I’ve said it so many times, in a lot of interviews. Everyone knows that I’m a Barcelona fan, the club are in my heart and my dreams. But for now I’m focused on Al-Sadd.”
Current manager Ernesto Valverde is facing pressure at the Blaugrana after a late collapse against Atletico Madrid in the semifinals of the Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia on Thursday. It’s the 55-year-old’s second consecutive poor result, with Barcelona dropping points against rivals and league-worst Espanyol in their last La Liga bout.
Barcelona’s Director of Football – and former teammate of Xavi – Eric Abidal and CEO Oscar Grau traveled to Doha, Qatar to meet with Xavi on Friday and watched Al-Sadd’s semi-final win on Saturday, which booked the club a spot in the final. Xavi, however, was tight-lipped about discussing what was said during their meeting.
“Abidal is my friend,” Xavi added, “I’ve met with him a lot of times. I respect Barcelona, I respect Valverde and I respect my contract. I’m doing my job here. I’ve been focussing on the semi-final and now I’m thinking about the final. I’m very happy to be coaching Al-Sadd and I respect this club a lot. I can’t say anything else.”
On Saturday, Al-Sadd confirmed that negotiations between Xavi and Barcelona for the former midfielder to return to Spain are ongoing. The Qatari club has dismissed the reports in the past, but Al-Sadd sporting director, Ghulam Al Balushi, confirmed otherwise following the game.
“There are negotiations between Xavi and Barcelona now and we wish him the best of luck wherever he goes,” Al Balushi expressed to Alkass.
A graduate from La Masia, Xavi spent 24 years at Barcelona, accumulating over 700 appearances and lifting eight La Liga titles and four Champions Leagues.