Barcelona 2010/11: The Team Everyone Spent the Decade Trying and Failing to Out-Do

Barcelona’s 2010/11 side are part of 90min’s 20 Greatest Teams of the Decade series.


It’s been a long decade this, hasn’t it? Game of Thrones started (and ended), The Walking Dead started (and will never end), we had a handful of royal weddings, Star Wars came back, multiple countries elected straw-haired incompetents and every single football team on the planet busted their balls trying to catch up to Barcelona. 

The previous decade wrapped up with Pep Guardiola leading the Catalan side to Spanish football’s first treble, plus a UEFA Super Cup, Spanish Super Cup and Club World Cup. The start of the 2010s, by contrast, was a little bit more chilled out. Barça won the league in 2010, sure, but they fell out of the Copa del Rey early and were beaten in the Champions League semi-final by Jose Mourinho’s Inter. 

The 2010/11 season then, began with a couple of minor question marks over whether Guardiola’s first season – his first in charge of any senior side – was a flash in the pan (although nobody had called him a bald fraud yet). 

Joan Laparta,Josep Guardiola

So what Guardiola did to answer those questions was put together the best side of the 2010s, and one that Sir Alex Ferguson described as the best he’d ever come up against. Lionel Messi helped. 

That summer saw the departures of Thierry Henry, Yaya Toure and Zlatan Ibrahimovic – plus one-season flop Dmytro Chygrynskiy – for a combined €67m, which was reinvested into the signings of Javier Mascherano and David Villa. As it turns out, that was smart. 

A quick word on David Villa, before we go into all of the things that Barcelona did this season. The man is the greatest striker the Spanish national team ever had, and was 3/4 of the way through back-to-back double-digit international scoring seasons when he signed at Camp Nou. 

Early in his career, he took a middling Real Zaragoza side to victory in the Copa del Rey, beating Real Madrid in the final and Barça in the quarter-finals, just one season after being promoted from Segunda. His performances over two seasons in Aragon earned him a move to Valencia, where he won another Copa del Rey and finished as the club’s top scorer in all five of his seasons – winning the Spanish player of the year award in his first and leading the league in assists in his second. 

He won the World Cup the summer that Barcelona signed him, too. 

Spain's defender Sergio Ramos (L) hands

It’d be easy to put Villa right down the list of strikers to have played alongside Lionel Messi, behind the likes of Luis Suarez, Samuel Eto’o, Henry and Ibrahimovic. Easy, but wrong. Barcelona, to start the 2010/11 season, signed one of his generation’s greats. 

Surprise! Villa was good as hell in his first season at Camp Nou, scoring 18 goals in the league alone (no non-penalty taker scored more that season, although the fact that Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi scored 72 between them takes the shine off that a little) and popping up in crucial moments. 

The season started in style for the defending Spanish champions, cantering to a 3-0 win away at Racing Santander – Villa getting on the scoresheet alongside Messi and Andres Iniesta. So far, so good. 

The next weekend, they lost 2-0 at home to newly-promoted (and soon to be relegated) Hércules. If they were, for example, a brittle side in danger of showing their still-inexperienced manager up, things could have gone very badly. Instead, they went to the Vicente Calderon eight days later to battle to a 2-1 win, kicking off a run of 19 wins and a solitary draw in 20 league games.

Barcelona's forward David Villa (2L) cel

In those 20 games, Barcelona scored 67 goals. They conceded nine. 

It’s hard to put into words what watching that team felt like, even as someone whose entire professional career is predicated on being able to do just that. 

Guardiola’s Barcelona, certainly this, ultimate, iteration of it, looked like they were toying with other teams. The ball moved around the pitch like a plastic bag caught in an updraft, reversing direction at the last second to stay tantalisingly out of reach of the chasing team, who would start to flag, and tire, and BAM. Defenders dragged out of position by two minutes of passing, a ball through the lines, 1-0 Barcelona. 2-0 Barcelona. 3, 4, 5-0 Barcelona. 

Some teams – Manchester City in 2017/18 for example, and it’s no surprise that they’re another Guardiola team – have felt inevitable, almost dominant, but never to the same suffocating extent that a midfield of Xavi and Andres Iniesta could conjure; on what Ferguson once called their ‘carousel’ in midfield. They were dizzying. They were unstoppable. 

Xavi Hernandez,David Villa,Andres Iniesta

Well, mostly unstoppable. They did lose one further league game that season, losing at the cursed Anoeta to La Real just ten days after being beaten by Real Madrid in a 120-minute Copa del Rey final (won by Ronaldo in extra time, obviously), but the title was more or less wrapped up by that point.

What wasn’t wrapped up was a second Champions League success in three years, Real Madrid and Manchester United both standing in their way. In a fiery semi-final first leg at the Bernabeu, Mourinho – now managing in the Spanish capital – was sent off for getting gobby with the fourth official after Pepe was dismissed in the second half. Messi scored his 51st and 52nd goals of the season shortly afterwards, and the tie was close to wrapped up. 

A good defensive performance and a goal from Pedro, an underrated third prong to that season’s attack, saw off Real’s challenge in the return leg, leaving a Wembley showdown with Ferguson’s Premier League-winning United side. 

After Pedro and Wayne Rooney traded early goals, the Catalan side put United on the carousel and never let them off. Messi and Villa added a goal each in the second half as Guardiola’s most complete side crushed the English champions’ will, pass by pass by pass. 

Barcelona's French defender Eric Abidal

United were left shell-shocked as Eric Abidal, just two months removed from surgery to remove a tumour in his liver, lifted the trophy in London. The crowning achievement of the decade’s greatest team; often imitated, never recreated. 


For more from Chris Deeley, follow him on Twitter at @ThatChris1209!


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