Gerard Pique said goodbye at Camp Nou on an emotional night, and Barcelona beat Almeria 2-0 to move to the top of LaLiga, even though they missed several clear chances on Saturday.
This was the 35-year-old defender’s last home game for the club, for which he has played 616 times. After Tuesday’s game against Osasuna, the World Cup winner will retire from football.
Pique was able to go out in style in front of his home fans thanks to goals from Ousmane Dembele and Frenkie de Jong. Barcelona moved two points ahead of Real Madrid, which plays at Rayo Vallecano on Monday.
The center circle was covered with a huge banner that said “Sempr3,” which is a play on the word “always” in Catalan and Pique’s shirt number. Pique led the team out instead of Sergio Busquets, who was supposed to be captain.
Fans cheered every time Pique touched the ball to show their respect for a club legend and arguably their best central defender ever. In recent weeks, they had been whistling at him because he was having trouble, but now they cheered whenever he touched the ball.
“Sometimes loving means letting go,” Pique said in a tearful speech to his fans after the game.
“I’m sure I’ll come back here again in the future. It’s not a farewell.
“I left after 17 years to get some air. My grandfather signed me up for a club. I was born here, and this is where I will die. Visca Barca.”
Since he came back to the club from Manchester United 14 years ago, Pique has won 30 trophies with them. He lined up in a defense made up of three left-backs.
As Barcelona waits for their injured defenders to come back, Jordi Alba played in his usual spot, while Alejandro Balde started at right back and Marcos Alonso at center back.
Kaiky’s handball gave Barcelona a soft penalty early on, which gave them a chance to go ahead, but Lewandowski’s shot went wide and hit the outside of the post.
Fans wanted Pique to take the penalty, but it looked like the defender turned down the chance and gave the ball to the league’s top scorer and player of the month for October.
Almeria had their own chance when Largie Ramazani got through, but Marc-Andre ter Stegen quickly came out to stop him, and Gonzalo Melero cleared a Ferran Torres shot off the line.
Then, when the Barcelona winger was in a good spot to shoot himself, he passed the ball to Dembele.
The French player’s header went right to Almeria’s goalkeeper Fernando Martinez, even though the rest of the goal was wide open.
Dembele finally scored the first goal early in the second half. He dribbled in from the right wing and then put the ball in the back of the net with great skill.
Minutes later, he had another big chance, but after dribbling around goalkeeper Fernando, he didn’t shoot. The defense caught up, and Dembele couldn’t get a shot off before he was stopped.
When Ansu Fati came on as a substitute, he should have scored but shot straight at Fernando from Alba’s great cross. De Jong was there to score on the rebound.
Pique got a standing ovation when he was taken off in the last few minutes. He hugged each of his teammates on the field and blew kisses to the crowd before leaving.
The game went on almost unnoticed as the crowd at Camp Nou chanted Pique’s name as he hugged Barca coach Xavi, the other players, and the staff.
“It was a night that will go down in history, especially for Gerard,” Xavi told DAZN.
“We had a great game, and we wanted to give him the best possible send-off.
“He plays bigger the bigger the game is for him. I’ve already said that he’s a legend at Barça, and that we’re very thankful to him.”
Earlier, Chimy Avila’s two great goals helped Osasuna beat Celta Vigo 2-1 and move up to fifth place, thanks to their strong start to the season. Carlos Carvalhal’s first day as the new coach of Celta was not a good one.