500 games and still going strong: Pique's best moments at Barcelona

By Sports Desk August 25, 2019

Gerard Pique made his 500th Barcelona appearance when the LaLiga champions played Real Betis on Sunday and he sits proudly among the greatest defenders in the club's history.

The most decorated Barcelona defender of all time, Pique trails only Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta when it comes to honours won, and he can reflect on the memory of lifting no fewer than 29 trophies.

But there has been more to Pique's 11 years at Camp Nou than just silverware, and the 32-year-old has become renowned for his outspoken personality and uncompromising style.

To mark his milestone match, we take a look back at some of the moments that shaped a Barcelona great.

Unbeaten beginnings

Pique added steel to Barcelona's defence from the moment he arrived from Manchester United, with his first appearance for the club coming in a 4-0 victory over Wisla Krakow in the Champions League.

He made his LaLiga debut for Barca in a 1-1 draw against Racing Santander at Camp Nou on September 13, as the Blaugrana made an inauspicious start to a memorable 2008-09 season.

On target in Europe

Pique has scored goals in all of his 11 seasons at Barcelona, and his first goal in red and blue came against Sporting Lisbon in the Champions League.

After Lionel Messi put the visitors in front at Estadio Jose Alvalade, Pique made his presence felt in the opposition box and duly doubled Barca's lead from close range.

A goal in the Clasico

Real Madrid were on a hot streak when Barcelona arrived at the Bernabeu in May 2009, the capital side having won 17 of their previous 18 matches.

But the Blaugrana put them to the sword in a 6-2 thrashing, with Pique grabbing the last goal of a victory that all but etched Barcelona's name onto the title.

That was Pique's first league goal for Barcelona. Some way to announce yourself as a club superstar in the making.

Champions League vengeance

Pique was left out of Manchester United's squad when the Red Devils won the Champions League in 2008, but a year later he made up for that omission.

Barcelona went up against United in the 2009 Champions League final at Stadio Olimpico and Pique was at the heart of Pep Guardiola's defence as goals from Lionel Messi and Samuel Eto'o took Europe's top prize to Camp Nou.

Five finger salute

Pique's anti-Real Madrid stance has endeared him to the Camp Nou faithful ever since he enraged the Los Blancos fans back in November 2010.

After Barcelona thumped their old enemies 5-0, Pique held up five fingers to the Camp Nou crowd - a gesture known as the 'manita', or 'little hand', and the Madrid faithful have never forgiven him.

The second treble

After a glorious first season at Barcelona in which he won LaLiga, the Copa del Rey and the Champions League, Pique might have worried he had peaked too soon.

But any such concerns were blown away in 2014-15 when Pique starred in a 3-1 victory over Juventus in Berlin to clinch a historic second treble of domestic league, domestic cup and Champions League.

Old Trafford return

Pique described Old Trafford as his "second home" when Barcelona were drawn to play against Manchester United in the Champions League quarter-final and he relished the opportunity to return to the Theatre of Dreams.

An imperious performance from Pique helped Barca to a 1-0 victory that paved the way for a 3-0 second-leg win at Camp Nou, and United must have wished they had never let him leave for a paltry €5million back in August 2008.

Presidential ambition

In January 2018, Pique signed a contract to keep him at Camp Nou until 2022 with a buyout clause set at €500m.

The deal is expected to be the 32-year-old's last, and with club president Josep Maria Bartomeu set to stand down in 2021, there is perhaps no candidate to replace him who would be more popular than Pique, who has made no secret of his ambition to take charge of the club.

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    Quique Setien has long been regarded as a strong judge of potential in young players – they said it was one of the reasons Barcelona hired him in January despite leaving Real Betis last year having arguably fallen short of expectations.

    Ironically enough, Setien's keen eye and faith in academy products could end up costing Barca upwards of €60million, as the reimagining of their midfield looks set to continue.

    Why? Because in 2017, just after becoming Betis coach, Setien stepped in and insisted the club not sell Fabian Ruiz to Barca's B team for €1m. A paltry sum in current terms, but at the time the midfielder had only featured a few times for the Verdiblanco's senior side and just spent time on loan at Elche.

    "I refused as we wanted him at Betis. I saw Fabian's potential and we decided to keep him," Setien told Marca last year. His faith was well-placed – Fabian made 34 LaLiga appearances in 2017-18 and was one of the league's standout midfielders, earning a move to Napoli that reportedly cost €30m.

    An impressive first season in Serie A vindicated the fee and marked him out as one of Europe's most promising midfielders, leading once again to rumours of interest from Barcelona, and Real Madrid too, with both apparently seeing him as a candidate to replace ageing midfield options.

    Struggling to adapt to change, or lack of motivation?

    It's not all been plain sailing, however. This season has proven a challenging one for Fabian, who had a quiet start to the campaign before seeing his form drop off dramatically.

    When Gennaro Gattuso replaced Carlo Ancelotti, he retained faith in Fabian despite his issues, though his form didn't improve particularly with the alteration from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3.

    Italian publication Gazzetta dello Sport blasted Fabian just last month, suggesting there was a link between his form and the apparent interest of Barca, before saying his "slowness is embarrassing, almost penalising for Napoli's actions".

    But there's a feeling in Italy that Napoli's signing of midfield competition in Diego Demme and Stanislav Lobotka have coaxed a positive reaction from the Spaniard.

    With two goals in his past three matches, including excellent performances against Inter and Brescia, Fabian seems to have settled again – and just in time.

    The audition

    Given Fabian's wide-ranging skillset, he has been mentioned as a potential long-term replacement for more than one Barca midfielder.

    Chiefly, it has been suggested he might be the ideal man to push out the increasingly unpopular – among Barca fans, anyway – Ivan Rakitic, as Fabian boasts ability on the ball, incisive passing skills and is a capable striker of the ball. 

    While he may lack some of the industriousness of the Croatian, there's little doubt he would present a more refined technician in the final third.

    However, with Frenkie de Jong already at the club, others feel Fabian could be moulded into a long-term successor to Sergio Busquets, owing to their similar physical attributes and the Betis product's excellent distribution.

    According to Fabian, much of his game has been modelled on former Barca pass-master Xavi, having previously idolised Betis icon Capi – a more attack-minded midfielder – as a youngster, and such influences are clear to see.

    Regardless of Setien's presence – as it's by no means inconceivable to think he won't be at the club next season – it's obvious this tie represents a real opportunity for Fabian to shine against the players he could potentially be brought in to replace.

    How does he compare to Barca's current options?

    Currently, there is no one in the Barca midfield creating goal-scoring chances at the same rate as Fabian, who has laid on 121 opportunities since the start of last season across all competitions - Rakitic (41), Busquets (50), Arthur (41) and Arturo Vidal (47) are all way behind.

    Despite questions about his form, the Spaniard has played 38 key passes in 30 matches in 2019-20. De Jong is proving the most effective in that regard for Barca, but his 24 chances created in 33 outings on all fronts is also still some way behind Fabian.

    Fabian's record of 527 passes into the final third over the past 18 months compares pretty favourably against Rakitic (598), Arthur (374), Vidal (273) and Busquets (717).

    Fabian's average overall pass completion percentage at Napoli stands at 89 per cent, and while that is less than those posted by Busquets (91) and Arthur (93), it's by no means a dramatic drop-off and is the same as Rakitic's record. It suggests Fabian would have no issue acclimatising to Barca's style of play, regardless of whether or not Setien is still at Camp Nou.

    But proving those previous struggles merely came down to a blip in a generally tumultuous season at Napoli and building on his recent revival with eye-catching performances against Barca, in a Champions League tie no less, would suggest he has the mentality as well as the ability to play for the Spanish champions.

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    Quique Setien's first match in charge in the competition will see him tasked with improving Barca's fortunes on their travels in Europe, although Napoli have an enviable goalscoring record in front of their own fans.

    Bayern Munich head to Chelsea in a repeat of the 2012 final that they lost on home soil, and goals certainly appear likely given the previous meetings between the pair.

    However, the Bundesliga champions will need Robert Lewandowski to find his shooting boots given the striker has struggled in recent seasons when going beyond the group stages.

    Here is the pick of the Opta facts ahead of two tantalising first legs...

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    17 - The four previous matches in all competitions between Chelsea and Bayern Munich have produced 17 goals, an average of 4.25 per game.

    18 - Bayern won maximum points (18/18) and had a goal difference of +19 in the Champions League group stages this season, the best performance by a team in the group phase of the competition. However, none of the previous six teams to have won all their group games have subsequently lifted the trophy that same season.

    1 - Chelsea have won only one of their past six Champions League games at Stamford Bridge (D4 L1), a 2-1 victory against Lille last December.

    5 - Chelsea and Bayern scored the joint-most goals from set-pieces in this season's Champions League group stages (5), including three each from corners.

    597 - Bayern striker Robert Lewandowski has scored 10 goals in this season's Champions League, only the second time he has reached double figures in the tournament after 2012-13 with Borussia Dortmund. However, he has failed to find the net in his past 597 minutes in the knockout stages of the tournament, his longest drought.

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    2 - Napoli were eliminated in their two previous European Cup/Champions League two-legged ties with Spanish opposition, both times against Real Madrid: 3-1 on aggregate in 1987-88 (first round) and 6-2 in 2016-17 (round of 16).

    0 - Barcelona's last away win against Italian opposition in the Champions League knockout stages came in April 2006, when they beat Milan 1-0, courtesy of a Ludovic Giuly goal; current Napoli boss Gennaro Gattuso played in that game for Milan. Since then, Barcelona have failed to win any of their five such away trips to Italy (D1 L4) and have failed to score in the past four.

    20 - Napoli have only failed to score once in 20 Champions League games at the San Paolo, a goalless draw against Dynamo Kiev in November 2016. They are also unbeaten in their past seven home games in the competition (W5 D2).

    1 - Barca have won only one of their past eight away games in the Champions League knockout phase (D2 L5), a 1-0 victory against Manchester United in April 2019. In those eight games, they have scored only two goals and conceded 17.

    10 - Lionel Messi's total of two goals in five games in this season's Champions League group phase was his lowest for 10 years (since two goals in 2009-10). His only goal on Italian soil in the Champions League knockout stages was in the 2009 final against Manchester United at Rome's Stadio Olimpico – he has failed to find the net (or deliver an assist) in each of his subsequent five appearances.

  • Messi to Napoli? You can never say never in football – Pique Messi to Napoli? You can never say never in football – Pique

    Gerard Pique believes it is possible Lionel Messi could one day play for Napoli, but the Barcelona defender hopes the superstar retires at the LaLiga giants.

    Messi and Barcelona face Napoli at the Stadio San Paolo on Tuesday in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.

    It has led to fresh comparisons between Messi and Diego Maradona, an Argentina great who starred at Napoli.

    Asked if Messi could emulate Maradona and sign for Napoli, Pique told a news conference: "You can never say never in football, but I guess that is complicated.

    "You should ask him as he decides his future. I would like him to retire with us. I can't tell you more."

    Messi has scored 23 goals in 28 games in all competitions for Barcelona this season.

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