10 years ago, Barcelona pulled off arguably the greatest achievement in club football by capturing six titles in the same campaign. In this article, we analyse how Pep Guardiola and his men attained the unprecedented sextuple or El Sextete on its 10th anniversary.
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Pep’s ‘Perfect Machine’
The name is fairly self explanatory. After taking over the reigns at Barcelona, Pep Guardiola became the 15th Catalan manager in the club’s history. After succeeding as a player of Johan Cruyff’s ‘Dream Team ‘ and later as the coach of Barça B, Pep took over as first team manager in June of 2008.
Pep was tasked with ending a barren run which saw FC Barcelona go trophyless for 2 seasons. For a club of Barça’s stature, that is unacceptable. Not only did Guardiola make the fans proud as he promised, but he also became the most successful manager in the club’s history winning a staggering 14 trophies in four campaigns.
Guardiola cultivated Barcelona into a juggernaut that dominated Spain and the rest of Europe. In his very first season in charge, Pep revolutionised the way Barça approached football and achieved the famed Sextuple. Implementing the philosophy of ‘Juego de Posición’ (Positional Play) to devastating effect, Guardiola’s side came to be known as the ‘Perfect Machine’. And rightly so. The Sextuple remains to date an achievement that no club has managed to replicate.
Decoding the Feat
As a perfectionist, Guardiola paid immense attention to detail. Winning the unthinkable Sextuple would not be easy. Meticulous planning and preparation went into making this dream a reality. Never looking beyond the match that was just ahead, having a clear tactical plan and adhering to that philosophy was key. And in 2008/09, Barcelona did just that. 10 years later, let us take a look at some of the defining moments of that beautiful journey.
A La Liga Clásico for the ages
Barça lifted La Liga with 87 points at the end of the season. Out of 38 fixtures, they won 27 and lost only 5, scoring 105 goals in the process. One particular game that Barcelona fans remember very fondly is the El Clasico. The 6–2 hammering of Barça’s eternal rivals Real Madrid. It came within a week of another crucial game against Chelsea in the Champions League. But for now let’s talk about the Clásico. It was only symbolic that Barça would score 6. A goal for every trophy they would eventually go on to lift. But this game was more about the football and the emotion. A week before the May 2nd Clásico, Barcelona played out a 2–2 draw at Valencia. A tiny gap that Los Blancos could potentially exploit.
But they didn’t. Despite Madrid being in the game for much of the early stages, Barça were too hot to handle. Real Madrid took the early lead but an onslaught from Barça saw them go 1–3 down soon after. A Ramos header did allow them to pull one back, but that was the last shard of Madrid’s fightback. Just 2 minutes later, Henry made it 2–4. The goals then kept coming as Messi got his second of the night and Piqué completed the rout with a sixth. A sextuple of goals to mark the eventual sextuple of titles.
A huge night for Barcelona capped off by Joan Laporta with a wry smile sitting besides the then Real Madrid president Vicente Boluda. Undoubtedly one of the highlights of this historic season.
Chelsea controversy catalysis
Just 4 days after the Clásico, Barça took on Chelsea in the return leg of the Champions League semis. The first leg had ended in a goalless draw, so it was all to play for. Chelsea got off to a flyer with a great Michael Essien goal in what was a largely frustrating game for the Blaugranas, dressed in yellow at Stamford Bridge. Didier Drogba was a constant thorn in Barça’s side. He and Chelsea were also the victims of a couple of blatant fouls that should have been given as penalties.
Barcelona’s superstars were not shining as they usually did. An unusually quiet game for Leo Messi as well. Barcelona were shut down by Chelsea for the whole 90 minutes. But in stoppage time, with their inner champons’ spirit, Barça found inspiration. John Terry headed away a Dani Alves cross. However, it fell to Eto’o, who laid it off to Messi. Messi dragged a few Chelsea players with him and assisted Iniesta, whose divine shot flew into the top corner.
Wild celebrations ensued, but the game was marred by the controversy. Despite that, it was a defining moment in the Catalans’ season. One that would book their spot in the Champions League final in Rome. And, when the Azulgrana gladiators stepped on that pitch in the Stadio Olimpico against Manchester United, football knew what would happen. Eto’o and Messi, with his iconic looping header over Van der Sar, would give Barcelona a 2–0 victory to lift their 3rd European Cup in history.
Domestic Cup Dominance
Barça made light work of the Copa del Rey final. On a slightly cloudy evening at the Mestella, Barcelona handed Athletic Bilbao a 4–1 drubbing. In front of around 50.000 fans, Barça put on a show on the 13th of May on their way to a historic Treble and later Sextuple.
A couple of months later, Barcelona once again bested the Basque lions in the Supercopa de España. The Spanish Super Cup was a two-legged affair back then. Barcelona had edged out Athletic Club in the first leg with a 1–2 win at the old San Mamés. This meant the second leg was still fairly open. However, in front of the home support at the Camp Nou, Barça eased to a 3-0 and sealed their 8th Super Cup with a 5–1 aggregate score.
Superchampions of Europe
Just a few days later, on August 28, came the UEFA Super Cup. In a clear night at the Stade-Louis II in Monaco, Barcelona were to face Shakhtar Donetsk. A well-organised Ukranian side coming off the back of their UEFA Cup victory. Romanian coach Mircea Lucescu knew he had his work cut out for him, and his team was brilliant. They kept Barcelona at bay after soaking up tremendous pressure.
Pep Guardiola’s side expectedly had the vast majority of the ball but, despite all their firepower, they could not make the breakthrough in regulation time. The resilient Ukrainians forced the game into extra-time. But their tiredness and Barça’s experience showed through. Pedro exchanged a series of passes with the magical Messi, who laid the ball to Pedro on a plate and Pedro duly obliged. The UEFA Super Cup also belonged to the Blaugranas.
Lucescu was unhappy but he had every reason to be proud of his side. They fought valiantly but just lacked that final bit of quality. He was left upset because he believed it came down to a “lack of experience”, which he addressed in the presser. A fine performance nonetheless.
The Sextuple: A Decade On
19th December 2019 marks 10 years since the Club World Cup final and 10 years since Barça completed the gargantuan achievement of the Sextuple. Since then, Barcelona have continued their domestic dominance with 8 titles in 11 years as well as 5 Copa del Rey titles. Barça also became the only team in history to win a second treble in 2015. With the iconic Messi-Suárez-Neymar trio, the culés dominated Europe under Luis Enrique. But since then, there have been off moments and many ups and downs. European success especially has been largely elusive.
For countless FC Barcelona fans around the world, 19th December 2009 will be a date they will never forget. The football, the emotion, the passion and the success. All of this will live eternally in the hearts of those who bleed claret and blue. So, a decade later, let’s all reminisce that with dewy-eyes. As supporters and maybe even as critics, all there’s left to do is to thank this great club, for they have represented football in its purest, most beautiful form.
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