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News article on: Football

Players coming, players going
FC Barcelona had four new players for the start of the 2007/08 season: Thierry Henry (Arsenal), Touré Yaya (Mónaco), Éric Abidal (Olympique Lyón) and Gabriel Milito (Zaragoza). In the January transfer window the club also signed goalkeeper José Manuel Pinto (Celta).

These signings were accompanied by the addition of Bojan Krkic and Giovani dos Santos, former Barça B players, to the first team squad.

Six players left Barça: Juliano Belletti (Chelsea), Thiago Motta (Atlético de Madrid), Ludovic Giuly (AS Roma), Giovanni van Bronckhorst (Feyenoord), Maxi López (FC Moscú) and Javier Saviola (Real Madrid).

Just short of two finals

FC Barcelona had a second season in a row with no titles, and was one goal away from reaching the finals of the King’s Cup and the Champions League in the 2007/08 season.

By contrast, poor away form in the League throughout the season and in particular after matchday 26 meant that by their last games FC Barcelona had no mathematical chance of winning the title. Until then, Rijkaard’s men had kept close on the heels of eventual champions Real Madrid.

Without Eto'o

Barça started the season well despite being without Eto’o for the first three and a half months after the Cameroon striker picked up an injury in the Joan Gamper Trophy (5-0) . Barça won all their home matches and got off to a good start in Europe, keeping a clean sheet until the fifth group stage game. The first defeat came after eleven matches when they went down at Villarreal ( 3-1 ).

Fortress Camp Nou

Until December things followed a regular pattern: victories in the Camp Nou and problems away from home. In the Champions League Barça was impeccable, finishing top of their group containing Olympique de Lyon, Glasgow Rangers and Stuttgart with five wins and a draw.

However 2007 closed with the first home defeat against traditional rivals and League leaders Real Madrid ( 0-1 ). Madrid went away for their Christmas holidays seven points ahead of Barça.

Great start to 2008

2008 began with a January full of matches. FC Barcelona had four League matches and five in the King’s Cup, none of which they lost, and knocked out Alcoyano, Seville and Villarreal. The side’s good form continued in February, extending its unbeaten run by six more games. As a result Barça began March just two points behind Madrid – when the gap had been up to nine – and with the King’s Cup semi-finals to come.

Performance drops off

While the first two months of the year were excellent, the next two marked the end of Barça’s challenge for the Cup and the League. In the Cup Barça could only draw the first leg 1-1 against Valencia in the Camp Nou in a match which they should have won by a hatful. They paid the price in the second leg when they went down 3-2 at Mestalla. The first final had got away, and Valencia won the title.

But it was in the League that Barça’s form really took a turn for the worse: just one win in nine games between matchdays 26 and 34, coinciding with an injury to Messi, meant that Rijkaard’s men would be another season without the title.

The result was that FC Barcelona had to form a guard of honour for Real Madrid at the Bernabéu, League champions since matchday 35, and forced them to do battle for second place which in the end was taken by Villarreal, with Barça finishing third.

One goal away from the Champions League final

In Europe, Barça easily saw off Celtic and Schalke 04, in the last 16 and the quarter finals respectively. The side remained unbeaten, but only until the second leg of the semi-final against Manchester United at Old Trafford, where they went down 1-0. The first leg, in which Cristiano Ronaldo missed a penalty in the 2nd minute, ended 0-0 which left the second leg with all to play for. Just as in the Cup, Barça ended up one goal away from the final, which was to be won by Manchester United.

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