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La Liga: Tito Vilanova steps out of Barcelona’s shadows

Pep Guardiola’s successor as Barça coach is not a big name, but he has been instrumental in the team’s success of recent years.


Vilanova was highly influential during Guardiola's four years in charge.

As the curtain was raised on the liga season last summer, he was largely an anonymous figure known only by FC Barcelona aficionados, but one lone act would change that. As a melee that so often accompanies a Clásico broke out at the Camp Nou between the 22 men on the pitch, substitutes and technical staff, José Mourinho calmly strolled over and poked Tito Vilanova in the eye.

The Barcelona assistant coach swiftly responded with a slap to the back of ‘The Special One’s’ head. Vilanova was no longer anonymous and while still in the background, his figure would loom large over Barça’s season, culminating in his appointment as the new head coach after four years of Pep Guardiola at the helm.

So often when coaches are promoted from within, it is said that the number two was the true genius behind the manager’s success and while that would be an exaggeration, in this case it appears to bear some truth. With Vilanova absent for some time this season with illness, Barcelona’s form dropped and Guardiola was often seen on the phone in the dugout requesting help from his right-hand man. When he was named coach of the year at the FIFA gala earlier in the year, the former Barça midfielder dedicated part of his speech to the man who would eventually succeed him.

On Friday morning as journalists eagerly awaited Guardiola’s official announcement, the managerial candidates were being rounded up. Strong favourites were Marcelo Bielsa, Ernesto Valverde and Luis Enrique. Even former Chelsea manager André Villas-Boas was being touted for the job.

Vilanova was barely mentioned but when finally announced, it seemed such an obvious choice. Guardiola had been given the same surprising opportunity when he was promoted from Barcelona B manager to head of one of the world’s biggest clubs four years ago – and look how well that turned out.

It seems only logical that for a club with such a strong identity and specific style of play, they would choose to stick close to home to preserve the Barcelona philosophy that is now so intertwined with Guardiola’s history and subsequently with that of the assistant coach.

It is a move which will provide continuity and while Guardiola assured the waiting press pack that the club was in safe hands, it remains to be seen how the new man in charge will tackle the step forward into the spotlight. He is taking on the role at a difficult time, which has seen Barcelona all but concede the liga title to Madrid and certainly their Champions League trophy to either Chelsea or Bayern Munich.

Tactical nous is one thing, man management is quite another and unlike Madrid’s number two, Aitor Karanka, who regularly holds press conferences in the absence of Mourinho, the Spanish press – who are unforgiving at the best of times – have yet to hear from the new man. Vilanova will have to find his voice and fast.

Seven for Barça

The weekend’s action saw Barça – who had uncharacteristically lost three consecutive games – get back to winning ways with a 7-0 thrashing of Rayo Vallecano.  The Catalans kept their dim title hopes alive with goals from Lionel Messi and Pedro Rodríguez both notching braces in the rout. Thiago Alcântara and Seydou Keita also found the back of the net, while Antonio Silva Rober suffered the misfortune of scoring an own goal.

Meanwhile, Real Madrid were in action at midday against Sevilla, where Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring in the 19th minute and while the visitors had chances, they were made to rue wasted opportunities when Karim Benzema finished twice at the back post.

Had Barça lost their late game, Madrid would have been celebrating their first league title in four years. Instead, the party celebrations have been put on ice until the next matchday.

With the race for la liga all but officially wrapped up, the battle for the Pichichi is still neck and neck with both Messi and Ronaldo currently tied on 43 goals.

At the bottom of the table, Racing Santander were the first club to be relegated this season following a 3-0 defeat to Real Sociedad. A double from Antoine Griezmann and a strike from Imanol Agirretxe sealed the fate of the Cantabrian side whose off-the-field problems have proved detrimental to their on-field form.


Rayo Vallecano 0 – 7 FC Barcelona

Real Betis 2 – 2 Atlético Madrid

Málaga CF 1 – 0 Valencia CF

Real Zaragoza 2 – 0 Athletic Bilbao

Real Madrid 3 – 0 Sevilla FC

Villarreal CF 1 – 1 Osasuna

Getafe CF 1 – 3 RCD Mallorca

RCD Espanyol 0 – 3 Sporting Gijón

Levante UD 3 – 1 Granada CF

Real Sociedad 3 – 0 Racing Santander

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