Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Palacio, Aguero and the Christmas break

As the Premiership packs in four games in ten days, La Liga takes a break until early January and my could Barça do with the break. Held to a 1-1 draw by Atletico Madrid in their last match before Christmas, the blaugrana looked tired and lethargic. Thuram injured himself as Sergio Aguero blew by him to score Atletico's equaliser. Los colchoneros set themselves up very defensively, packing the centre of the park and hitting Barcelona on the counter attack. Xavi, who made some excellent runs and Iniesta, who's passing was 1nce again on point, aside, Barça were pretty flat and despite the bluster on fcbarcelona.com a draw was about as much as they deserved. The defence, down to it's bare bones, looked very shaky. Aguero (the first time I've seen him play a full match) was excellent, a constant threat against Old Man River Lillian Thuram. Having seen quite a bit of him on YouTube and being well aware of the ridiculous hype that surrounded him before signing for Atletico, I was anxious to see how he performed. He's now scored four gols in nine starts (and seven appearences as substitute) and at only eighteen will no doubt mature into a fabulous player.

January Sales

On to another Argentine forward, Boca's Rodrigo Palacio. This week Sky Sports reported that the Boquita turned down a bid of €19 million from Barcelona. Club President Mauricio Macri met with FCB while in Spain concluding the Gago deal with Real but a price could not be agreed on.

It seems that despite all their talk of not needing to sign anyone that the blaugrana are indeed sounding out new forwards. I wouldn't at all be surprised to see Iaquinta's name come up again as it did two years ago before Maxi Lopez was brought in. Gudjohnsen is just not doing it in Eto'o absence and with Saviola still not being considered an option (lord knows why not) so other options are naurally being considered. I'd rather that they stick with what they have. Javier will want to put himself in the shop window when he returns to full fitness and the latest word on Sammy is that he'll be back in late February so unless they're thinking long term I don't see the sense in getting another forward player in to plug the gap for a month or two.

With no FCB games until January 7th my posts will be a little thin on the ground between now and then but I should get a Thuram piece up by this time next week, it's fairly quiet in work so I gots time.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Defeatist attitude

I'll admit that Barça's recent form against Atletico doesn't bode well for tonight's game at the Camp Nou. The other side from Madrid, Fernando Torres et al, always seem to step it up a gear against the blaugrana, no matter how badly they've been playing. Atletico are like a poor man's Inter, it's always going to be their year, whoever they've signed is the final piece in the jigsaw (an other such crap) and of course it all goes horribly wrong within a month or two of the start of the season. Things are somewhat different this time around. While they've suffered injuries to key players, Maxi and Petrov are a huge loss in midfield, and they haven't played all that well, they're currently fourth and look to have all the right tools to make a stab at Champions League qualification, especially with Valencia blowing hot and cold.

The Barcelona squad for the game is pretty thin, Olmo and Crossas are in with Gio, Sylvinho, Edmilson, Zambrotta and Marquez all out. Saviola is back but having been out for over a month he'll only get a late run out if anything. I'm totally running out the door now but I reckon Barça will win this, 2-1 maybe. It's about time they got over the Athletico hump.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Massive waste of time yields injury and jet lag

The pointless lost in translation exercise that is the World Club Super Mega Hyper Cup has ended in defeat for Barcelona and a muscle tear for Gianluca Zambrotta that will see him miss the next four games, starting with Thursday's game against Athletico Madrid. If I didn't have anytime for this debacle before it kicked off I really don't now. Zambrotta has finally started to play like his old bianconeri self and now he's sidelined until mid-January thanks to an injury in a complete waste of time match. I really don't understand the rationale behind sending out a full strength team for such a non-event. Barça are lucky in that they have plenty of cover in the full back positions but what if 'dinho or Giuly had gotten crocked in this farce? Anyway, it's over now and Barcelona return home to find themselves in second behind Sevilla, 1-3 winners over Huelva today and with Real breathing down their necks, one point off with thirty two, having muscled their way past a resurgent Espanyol side. Fan. Tastic.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Walking on the moon

The draw for the next round of the Champions League was made this morning and Barça drew 2005 winners Liverpool. The full draw is as follows:


FC Porto v Chelsea
Celtic v AC Milan

PSV Eindhoven v Arsenal

Lille v Manchester Utd

AS Roma v Lyon

Barcelona v Liverpool

Real Madrid v Bayern Munich

Internazionale v Valencia

The first leg will be at the Camp Nou on February 20/21st and the return at Anfield on March 6/7th. I'm no great fan of Liverpool (sorry Mal, but it's not like it's a secret) and while they've hit some amazing heights under Rafa Benitez, namely the Champions League victory over Milan, I've seen far too many scrappy nil-nil draws and useless away performances to have any affection for their style of play or lack there-of. I do very much like Robbie Fowler and Xabi Alonso is fantastic but Gerrard is somewhat over-rated (in the same way Lampard and Terry are simply because they're English and constantly having their egos massaged by the English press), Crouch is a load of shite and Bellamy is a total knacker and I don't much care for knackers, much like Padraig Nally. There's an absolute age between now and these games so I'm not going to weigh in with any wild predictions only to say that I reckon both sides will win their home games so Barcelona are going to need a big win in the Camp Nou to carry them into the quarter-finals.

Superbowl Sunday and la Real

Barça are still on the surface of the moon playing in the World Series which thankfully comes to a conclusion on Sunday with the final against Internacional. Whoever wins will be champions of the universe. The blaugrana, who clearly weren't suffering too much from jet lag, beat Mexican side America 4-0 on Thursday. Woooo!

Before catching their Saturn Five rocket, Barça played La Real last Sunday and despite Sociedad being winless thus far this season and missing at least four first-teamers, the blaugrana made very hard work of beating them and had Victor Valdes to thank for making an excellent save late on to keep the score at 1-0. Valdes has had his fair share of critics, me among them, but he's really stepped up in these last few months and been in top form, pulling games out of the fire ala Casillas at Madrid. At the start of the season I would definitely have been looking to Jorquera as Valdes was struggling but he's got it together and the defense is looking a lot less shaky as a result.

The next league game is on Thursday against Athletico Madrid which Barcelona are sure to lose, as they always lose to Athletico. It's just the way of the world. The sky is blue, grass green and Fernando Torres will always play like god against Barcelona, who will look like they have lead in their boots.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Real World

I been totally eaten by work this week but I manage to catch the last half an hour of the Werder game on Tuesday. Barcelona looked comfortable and from what I saw, the German side just weren't up to the task. Clever free kick from 'dinho and a nice finish from Ice Ice Baby in the first half meant that the blaugrana could ease off a little toward the end. Iniesta came off injured but he's fit for the Sociedad game tonight. Marquez is still injured.

Looking at the Sociedad squad it's very hard to see them getting out of trouble this year. They were in a similar position last time around when the signing of Mark Gonzalez on loan from Liverpool got them out of a hole. But Gonzales has gone, as has Nihat (top scorer with a massive eight gols in the 05/06 season) and they have yet to win a game. Uranga and Kovacevic are the only decent players left from a side that 1nce sported Karpin, Xabi Alonso, Westerveld, De Pedro, Aranzabal and the aforementioned Nihat. Few good signings have been made and the current crop of Basque players, Xabi's brother Mikel among them, just aren't up to the task. I would expect Barcelona to steamroller them tonight. Kick off is at 7:00 and it's live on Sky Sports 2. The Sevilla Real Madrid game follows at nine.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Forca Espanyol!

Barça remain in first place in La Liga thanks to a fine performance from Espanyol on Sunday afternoon, coming from behind to beat Sevilla 2-1. The blaugrana meanwhile laboured to a poor 1-1 draw with Levante on Saturday night and had it not been for some good saves from Victor Valdes and two absolutely appalling misses from Mustapha Riga, the Dutch Darren Huckerby by all accounts, they could easily have lost. The aforementioned Valdes plus Deco, Xavi and Ezquerro (when he finally came on) did well but the rest of the team were listless in the extreme. It's to be expected that their minds were on Tuesday's match against Bremen, but some of their play was abysmal. Gudjohnsen needs to be booted out at the earliest opportunity. He had one decent touch, a lay off to Deco (who blazed over the bar) and that was it. One.

I was pretty disappointed to see Rijkaard take off Deco and replace him with Oleguer with twenty odd minutes left. It completely surrendered the initiative to Levante, who, despite being a limited side, played some good football, Courtois was excellent and Ettien made a huge difference when he came off the bench. They're not up to much but if they could find a decent forward who can get them even ten gols this season I think they'll stay up. Especially with 'nastic, Sociedad and Betis looking so poor (up to Sunday night I would have included Bilbao in that group but they looked good against Real and should they get Mendieta in January survival is definitely not beyond them)

It's Bremen in about twenty hours time and if Barcelona play like that again they're in real trouble. 'dinho will be back and Gio will no doubt come in for Sylvinho. Zambrotta blah, blah, blah, you know the team by now. It pretty much picks itself. Anything less than a win and they're out. See you on the other side.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Levante is where the Harte is

Liam Brady, John Aldridge and Big Cas. More recently Robbie Keane, Phil Babb and David Connolly. It's rare for Irish footballers to look beyond the British Isles when it comes to earning a crust. English football dominates here. In the papers, on radio and television, on the streets with kids in Liverpool jerseys, in the pub where Chelsea-United is as big a deal on Baggot Street as it is on the King's Road. It wasn't until the swelling of the Champions League, the foundation of the Premier League (and all the money that came with it) and Gazza's move to Lazio, prompting Channel 4 to buy the rights to Serie A, that there was any real exposure to futbol or calcio here. Football began and ended at Old Trafford or Anfield for most and when it comes to Irish players, it still does. No one leaves school for a trial with AC Milan or Auxerre. No one kicking a ball around the playground dreams of playing for Real Betis or sports a Stuttgart shirt. Ireland may have been independent since the twenties but when it comes to football, as with so many other things, we're very much little Britain.

Until the summer of 2004 Ian Harte had played professional football for only one team; Leeds United. He'd been there for nine seasons, experiencing the dizzy heights of the Ridsdale era, when Leeds spent it like Posh and Becks and powered their way to the semi-final of the European Cup; and the desperate lows that followed their defeat to Valencia, the subsequent disintegration of the club, lurching from one crisis to the next; the trial of Jon Woodgate and Lee Bowyer, O'Leary's book, bankruptcy, the loss of all of their decent players (and their ground) and subsequent relegation to the tin pot Championship. Harte, a fairly limited defender who was a good passer of the ball and could really hit a freekick, was linked with the usual suspects and a move to somewhere like Blackburn or Everton, middle of the road Premiership sides, looked to be on the cards. Instead he packed his bags for Valencia and signed a four year deal with newly promoted Levante. He played twenty odd games for the team that, after such a promising start, would get well relegated (the game that sealed their fate was a 1-1 draw with Barcelona, four matches from the end of the season, a result that saw FCB crowned Champions, like you didn't know). 1nce again there was talk of Harte being transfered to some mid-table outfit back in Blighty. And again it didn't happen. Harte stuck it out, played almost every game and helped his side out of the Segunda Liga and back into the big time.

Due to injury he has yet to play this season and has been boring viewers of Sky Sports Liga coverage with his Shearer-like analysis from time to time. I have no doubt he'll make an appearance tonight. I'm no great fan of Harte, he's dog slow and his positioning is at best very poor. That said, I admire his resilience. La Segunda Liga is every bit as bad as Serie B when it comes to shit teams and dire, hack and slash football. Like Serie B there are few foreign players and you're unlikely to have heard of the ones that are knocking around Xerez or Gijon. It takes character not to cut and run so good on Harte for staying the course (my thanks to the GOP for these particular turns of phrase :). I wish him a speedy recovery.

The squad for tonight's game is a bit thin. No 'dinho, he's rested for the Bremen game on Tuesday and Rafa Marquez is out too. Motta comes back though and will probably line out ahead of Edmilson. Santi will get a rare, rare start on the left of the attack. It'll be interesting to see if Thuram starts after his interview with L'Equipe this week.

(Very quick) Round up: Gio, Sylvinho and the World Club Superbowl Stanley Cup

New deals this week for Barça left backs Gio and Sylvinho, both until June 2008. It seems that Belletti will sign a new contract too, despite interest from Milan, who have a penchant for aging defenders.

The squad for the World Club Waste of Time has been announced and the good news is that Saviola is included. The "tournament" takes place in mid-December so it's positive to see that his recovery is ahead of schedule. Also on the plane to Disneyland or wherever this farce is being played out are Gio Dos Santos, Marc Crosas and young Ruben in gol. Hopefully they'll get a run out against erm, eh, whoever the fuck they're playing. Can you sense my complete disinterest in this colossal waste of time. Thought so.

Finally, as I'm sure you've heard, ex-blaugrana striker Henrik Larsson has signed a three-month loan deal with Manchester United. He may be thirty five but Larsson is a fantastic player and I have no doubt he'll be brilliant in his short time at United. That's your lot for the time being. More tomorrow on the match. Let's go Ezquerro!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Focus

Good lord.



What with birthdays and poker last night I didn't see any of the blaugrana's thumping of Villarreal bar highlights on youtube. A very dodgy penalty award sent FCB on their way. I think that Jose Mourinho was right when he said that Guddy has learned to dive at Barcelona, he goes over so often it's embarrassing.

Were it not for 'dinho's incredible gol we'd all be talking about Andreas Iniesta and his fine volley for the third on sixty nine minutes. But Iniesta's not famous enough or high profile enough to make the headlines. It's taken me about three hours to write this much, I'm bloody knackered, my concentration is shot and I've been doing everything bar finishing this, from watching the rugby to shave and some ironing. My heart just isn't in it today folks.

The Valencia Real game has just concluded and los Che have somehow conspired to lose despite completely dominating from start to finish. El Moro sat out the entire ninety minutes, watching his team fluff chance after chance, watching David Villa come off injured and Tavano, the new Igor Protti, go on ahead of him, watching the title disappear over the horizon. I'm going catch some West Wing on More4 now and end this debacle of a post. Bon Nit.

Friday, November 24, 2006

V is for Victory

It's also for Villarreal, who are playing Barça on Saturday. FCB huffed and puffed quite a bit in Sofia but got the result they needed. The real work is still to be done against Bremen in the Camp Nou in two weeks and Werder looked pretty decent against Chelsea last night, Weise in gol was solid, Wome, taking lumps out of Ballack and Drogba put himself about well and Frings looked every inch the quality midfielder he is. It will not be easy. Bremen have been stuttering a bit of late in the Bundesliga, dropping to second behind Schalke 04 but they'll be coming to Barcelona needing only a draw to see them though to the next round and leave the blaugrana staring down the barrel of the UEFA Cup.

Villarreal were the little team that could in last season's Champions League, with the gols of Forlan and the quile of Juan Roman Riquelme powering them to within a missed penalty in the final minute of the final in Paris. The season before had seen them finish fourth and Diego Forlan pip Samuel Eto'o for the Pichichi with a massive haul of 26 gols. Since those dizzy new heights the yellow submarines have been somewhat blinded by the lights. New signings haven't really worked out, Nihat will be out for a few months, Pires has yet to play a game for his new club and Cani, the former Saragossa midfielder has been disappointing too. Add to that the addition of duffers like Josemi and Cygan in defence... There's no European football this time around either, after the club ended last season a mediocre seventh. They're currently in ninth, on eighteen points, eight back from Barça.

That said, it's not all bad news. Riquelme is playing well and Forlan is back amongst the gols, four thus far. Most of the squad that made such a stiring run at the Champions League are still there and most of them are still young. They should crack the top six.

And what of Barcelona. With Marquez injured and Motta out with a fever the squad is down to a bare minimum. Belletti is back but he's only been training for a few days so it's unlikely he'll start. I'd expect the line up to be as follows:

Valdes in gol, Zambrotta on the right and Gio on the left with Puyol and Oleguer in the centre. A midfield of Edmilson, Deco and Iniesta (what form he's in! Keeping Xavi on the bench!) and the usual suspects upfront in 'dinho, Giuly and Guddy.

The game kicks off at seven tomorrow evening. It'll be on Sky.

Round up: Marquez secures dual citizenship plus Cruyff

Mexico captain Rafael Marquez has today secured dual citizenship. This means he will no longer occupy one of the three non-EU slots in the Barcelona team, clearing the way for Gio dos Santos, Mexican wunderkind currently playing for Barça B to join the first team squad. I've seen very little of Gio but apparently he's fantastic and he's great in Football Manager...

Johan Cruyff, a man who just can't keep his mouth shut about anything has called on the blaugrana not to make any new signings in January. He is of course right and this is hardly news but one can't help think that this is exactly the sort of comment that has Frank Rijkaard rolling his eyes and wondering if a move to Milan wouldn't be so bad after all. Cruyff still has far too much influence in the running of the club despite not holding an elected position and I for one would rather he just butted out and lay low. He's had his time, both as a player and a coach and was remarkably sucessful. Were he a board member I would have no issues, but he's not and he ought keep his opinions to himself.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

To Sofia and beyond

After Barcelona's relatively easy 1-4 win over Mallorca (previously the tightest defense in the league) on Sunday night, with gols from Guddy (two), Iniesta and Ezquerro (bravo Santi!), it's onward and downward to Sofia and a must win game (there must be another phrase for this, it's such a dreadful cliche...). The gang's all here, with the eighteen fit players in the blaugrana squad arriving in Bulgaria yesterday.

Barça played Levski off the pitch in their first Champions League game of the season, beating them 5-0 at the Camp Nou and the Bulgarian side are bottom of the group with no points and have scored just one gol. Frank Rijkaard's side really ought have no trouble winning later on today. While they're still not firing on all cylinders, Iniesta is playing very well, the defense, Marquez aside, looks sound and Levski Sofia are rubbish. The game kicks off at 7:45 and will be live on Sky Sports Active. Press your red button now.

Round up: Mitjans dies at age ninety seven and UNICEF advert

Francesc Mitjans, the architect who designed the Camp Nou, has died at age ninety seven. The stadium, opened in 1957, is one of four five star arenas in Spain (the Bernabeu, the Calderon and Olimpico Sevilla are the others)

In a bid to further Barça's holier-than-thou image, they club have produced an advert to coincide with World Children's Day. It looks and sounds more like a promo for the Champions League than anything else and it's painted in thick strokes but still, their heart is in the right place. Take a look for yourself here (requires Flash 9)

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Firing blanks

It being an international week there's been very little Barça news of note. Former Barcelona captain and one of my favourite players, Pep Guardiola, has retired at the age of 35. Josep won six La Liga titles in addition to the European Cup in 1992 thanks to *that* freekick. After he left the Camp Nou he had unsuccessful spells with Brescia and AS Roma before playing in Qatar for a little while. Having said that he wants to move into coaching, I think there's no question that he will be in the blaugrana dugout before long.

There have been some wild rumours flying around about possible solutions to Barcelona's current striking problems. Among those mentioned have been Alberto Luque and Henrik Larsson. For what it's worth Helsingborgs have confirmed that they're open to loaning Henrik for three months as the Swedish season doesn't start until April. It's unlikely that Barça will sign anyone as Saviola will be back after the Christmas break but still, who wouldn't want Henrik back, riding in on his white horse (or maybe a blaugrana horse) to save us all from Gudjohnsen.

Tonight Barcelona visit Mallorca, the team who have scored the fewest gols in La Liga. Xavi, Iniesta and Edmilson are all back from injury to shore up the midfield. As Motta's appeal has yet to be heard he'll miss out but otherwise everyone who's fit in in the squad.

Finally, a quick mention of something Dermot sent me during the week. On March 27th 2007 a team of ex-Everton players are taking on a team of ex-Barça players including Luis Enrique and Michael Laudrup. It's been organised by the Everton Collection Charitable Trust. Hardly earth-shattering news but it's would be great to seen Enrique.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

And then there were four...

an' one of them is Eidur Gudjohnsen. It seems that my post on Santi Ezquerro was nothing if not timely. Yesterday evening Javier Saviola joined Leo Messi and Samuel Eto'o on the ever lengthening list of injured Barcelona forwards. Saviola is out for up to six weeks with a thigh strain. This is a particularly tough blow for him after his fabulous performance against Saragossa on Sunday.

Barça now have two crucial Champions League games in the next few weeks, both of which they must win, with Santi as their only option on the bench if things aren't going according to plan. As Sir Alex would say, it's squeaky bum time, with qualification hinging on the final group game at home to Bremen.

(product) RED

As expected, Barcelona will appeal the sendings off of Motta, Neeskens and Naval. Motta will have his card rescinded as he did nothing wrong but I don't imagine that the others will have much joy. Neeskens grabbed Juanfran by the neck during the post-red card shoving match, Naval was dismissed for continuing to protest and mouth off to the referee long after play had been restarted and neither has any real grounds for appeal. The case will be heard during the week.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Ronaldinhoooooooooooooooooooooo!

A huge win for Barcelona last night against Saragossa, 3-1, with two gols from 'dinho and a late header from Saviola, in a match littered with injuries (Messi, Edmilson and Celades), yellow cards (ten in total), red cards (two of 'em) and no small amount of lethargy in the second half.

Let's begin at the beginning (a very good place to start). With Sevilla drawing 0-0 away at Santander, a win for either Barça or Saragossa would see them go top. Barcelona started the game the brighter of the two sides, having seventy nine percent possession but creating few guilt edge chances. Messi looked lively but after only twenty minutes he sustained a foot injury, a broken metatarsal (the bone invented by David Beckham) and he'll be out for up to three months (more on this later). He was replaced by Ludovic Giuly. The next five minutes would see both Edmilson and Royalist Celades limp off. At this stage the blaugrana were 0-1 down thanks to some awful defending by Marquez that allowed Gabriel Milito to volley home from a corner. Bar
ça's equaliser would also come from a corner, 'dinho rising higher than Sergio to tie it up at 1-1.

And that was pretty much that until the seventieth minute (with the exception of a massive roar for Javier Saviola when he came on in place of the, 1nce again, hopelessly ineffective Gudjohnsen). That's when it all, ahem, kicked off. Motta, on for Edmilson, won the ball from Diego Milito in midfield. Motta's right hand made slight contact with Milito's chest but nothing that would constitute a foul. Milito however, dropped to the ground like he'd been shot, clutching his face ala Rivaldo. Motta, on the advice of the assistant, Rafa Guerrero, was promptly sent off. The entire Barcelona bench surrounded the ref and Guerrero, 'dinho, Puyol and Thuram went mental and Frank Rijkaard looked like he was about to punch someone. Four minutes later, when play finally restarted, poor control from Gabi Milito (the other one) let in Saviola, one-on-one with Cesar. Milito hauled Javier to the ground and received the second red card of the evening.

Crikey, what to make of all that then? Diego Milito is, to borrow a phrase from James McFadden, a fucking cheat. While much of today's coverage of the game in the Spanish press has centred on Guerrero getting it wrong, there's been surprisingly little about Milito's diving and feigning injury. His behaviour was disgraceful and yet there will be no consequences for the Argentine forward. There never are. Players dive, roll around, call for other players to be booked or sent off all the time and until there's a real disincentive to not do it (an automatic suspension as opposed to a meaningless fine) it will continue to infect modern futbol. *Phew* End of rant. Gabi's red card on the other hand was completely justified, Saviola was through on gol, he was the last man, he can have no complaints. Happening so soon after the Motta incident too, he made it easy for the referee to send him off.

Right, back to the futbol. Motta's sending off stiffened Barcelona's resolve and roared on by a crowd of over eighty thousand, they went all out for the win. With four minutes of normal time remaining, Saviola was brought down on the edge of the area and 'dinho stepped up to take the free kick. There are times when you know 'dinho's head isn't right and that he's going to blaze it over the bar or into the wall but looking at him as the stood over the ball, eyes focused front and centre, you just knew he was going to score. And what a gol, a belter of a shot that swung over the Saragossa wall and into the top right corner. The Camp Nou erupted, with Ronaldinho leaping into Frank Rijkaard's arms and the rest of the team piling on top of them. The sense of relief was enormous. For 'dinho, a player who's been far from his best all season, for the team who had seen such a poor run of results lately turned around in spectacular fashion, for Rijkaard, who must have had the "here we go again" feeling when he saw Motta sent off. For all this catharsis, Valdes still had to make a smart save two minutes later to deny Real a late equaliser and it was only in injury time when Saviola (at least two yards offside) headed home the rebound from another Ronaldinho free kick that the game was well and truly won.

The fall out

Last night's game could prove to be season defining. Before Motta was given his marching orders, the blaugrana were nowhere, misplacing passes, playing over-elaborate futbol with no end product, shaky in defense and lackluster in attack. The red card was the slap in the face they needed and they played like a team possessed after it. There's still huge room for improvement but they are back in the game and back in first place.

Now, the not so good news. Messi is out for three months. Edmilson, who has an ankle sprain, is out for a slightly less "Oh. Mi. Gawd." inducing ten days. Thankfully it's Mallorca next week and not Madrid. In addition, Gudjohnsen started again and was fairly brutal. Again. Saviola came on and was brilliant. I'll stop going on about this when Guddy is dumped into a wheely bin somewhere on Diagonal.

Motta's red card will surely be rescinded on appeal as he didn't actually foul the cheating Diego Milito. I know that Barcelona have their fair share of divers (take a bow Deco) and maybe I should get off my high horse but this kind of play acting has to stop.

And finally

To follow up on my Santi article the other day, Real Sociedad have confirmed their interest in the striker. Ezquerro, for what it's worth, says he's perfectly happy at the Camp Nou. He certainly didn't look it yesterday, looking forlorn in the stands (he did make it down to pitch side for the whole red card fiasco) Whether Messi's injury means he'll see some playing time now is debatable. It'll be Ronaldinho, Guddy and Giuly upfront with Saviola coming on after an hour to show Guddy up for the plodding waster he is. Poor Santi is still at the back of the queue.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Doin' it for the kids

Tonight sees the return of three ex-blaugrana players, Sergio Garcia, Gerard Pique and royalist turncoat Albert Celades. Garcia is the only one that's likely to start, having unseated Ewerthon from the Saragossa first eleven. I've had a good footballing weekend, Milan-Roma was a cracker last night and Arsenal are playing Liverpool off the pitch so I'm hoping that things will be rounded off nicely this evening in the Camp Nou.

The squad for tonight's game is as expected. No Belletti (out for a fortnight), Xavi or Eto'o (I should really stop mentioning him at this stage, he's out until March, of course he's not in the squad). Guddy is back *sigh* and Saviola has recovered from the ankle injury and Carles Puyol will play his first game since the death of his father.

I expect a tight game tonight, Saragossa are a very good side (they're currently third, only one point behind FCB) and have some fabulous players (Diego and Gabriel Milito, Aimar and Zapater) Diego is currently top scorer in La Liga with eight gols and they have a fairly stingy defence. This game last season saw Barcelona go 0-2 down early in the second half and play some very sloppy football only to wake up somewhere around the seventy fifth minute and roar back to draw 2-2 and almost nick it in injury time.

With Sevilla drawing 0-0 at Santander (after seventy minutes) both Barcelona and Saragossa have a chance to go top of the table should it stay that way.

I'm gonna enjoy the end of the Arsenal game and grab some nosh before settling down to watch the game at eight o'clock. Full report later.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Forgotten Man

In the summer of 2005 it was pretty quiet on the transfer front at the Camp Nou. The only two arrivals, midfielder Mark Van Bommel and forward Santi Ezquerro, were both good players but hardly superstars. Van Bommel, though he had just captained PSV to the semi-final of the European Cup in addition to winning the Dutch League by a country mile, would have a modest impact at B
arça, playing a more withdrawn role than he had in Eindhoven (he netted fourteen gols from midfield in the Eredivisie). Ezquerro, scorer of eleven gols for Bilbao in the league and five in their UEFA Cup campaign, hardly played at all, starting just four games and scoring twice in La Liga.

It was to no ones suprise that Van Bommel upped sticks to Bayern a year later, filling the slot vacated by Michael Ballack in Felix Magath's side. Santi however, despite rumours linking him with a loan move back to Athletic, stayed put. A few months shy of his thirtieth birthday, Ezquerro, a strong, quick and adaptable forward should be enjoying his best form and playing regularly. Instead he's had one ten minute run out against Huelva and two Copa Del Rey games against third division Badalona, scoring his first gol last night in Barcelona's 4-0 victory.

With the blaugrana's current striking woes; Eto'o out for five months, Gudjohnsen injured (an not much use when he is fit) and Saviola out of favour, one would think that Frank Rijkaard couldn't wait to give Santi a go. Yet he barely makes the bench these days let alone the team. What's happened to the man who looked like the best forward in the Basque Country only two seasons ago? (The same question could be leveled at Nihat and Kovacevic of Sociedad, both hitting over twenty league gols the season before)

Leo Messi's emergence in the past eighteen to twenty four months has been nothing short of phenomenal. His form this season has been outstanding and with Eto'o out and 'dinho out of sorts, he's been far and away the team's best forward. This, in addition to Rijkaard's persistence with Eidur Offsidesen and the stuttering Ronaldinho, has seen everyone else bumped backwards in the queue.

Last year Santi had Larsson and Maxi ahead of him. Now it's Saviola and Giuly. However you break it down, he's been dead last on Barcelona's list of striking options for two years now. And despite his getting on the score sheet against Badalona, this looks unlikely to change anytime soon.

So what is he doing wasting his time? He's a decent striker (52 gols in La Liga in his twelve year career, most of them while at the Sam Mames) and he's not getting any younger. There are plenty of clubs (Betis, Mallorca, Athletic and Osasuna, Santi's first club) who look like they couldn't hit a donkey's arse with a banjo right now and could desperately do with a striker of his ability and experience. Here's hoping he makes the move in January as the man for Calahorra has become the forgotten man in Catalunya.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Bada-bing!

After a weekend of tragedy and a muted performance in La Coruna on Saturday night, Barça put four past Badalona this evening in the Camp Nou. Gio opened the scoring after twenty odd minutes, Santi Ezquerro added a second before half time and Javier Saviola netted twice late in the second half. Barcelona go through to the next round with a 6-1 aggregate win.

Despite both Javier and Santi getting the gols the evening, news that Guddy is back in training probably means he'll be caught offside against Saragossa on Sunday. I can't wait...

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Playing catch up

It's been a rough week for FC Barcelona. Conceding a last minute equaliser to Chelsea at the Camp Nou on Wednesday night, drawing 1-1 with a strong Depor side last night that sees them slip to second place behind Sevilla and on Friday, Carles Puyol's father, Josep, died.

Right now I'm watching Real Madrid and Celta de Vigo boot the ball aimlessly from one end of the pitch to the other and wondering how on earth Real beat the blaugrana, they're bloody awful.

Like Nice Guy Eddie in Reservoir Dogs, it's first things fuckin' last. The Champions League tie against Chelsea, while featuring some fabulous attacking play from Bar
ça, a fabulous gol from Frank Lampard and some sharp golkeeping by Victor Valdes, will be remembered for the diving, play acting, incessant fouling and general childish behavior. Motta, Deco, Marquez, Carvalho, Didier Drogba and John Terry (sent off today against Spurs) were the worst offenders, but most players had a go. I know there's a lot of needle between these sides, lord knows I can't stand Mourinho or Drogba, but watching the match descend into farce at times and with some brutal fouls (Marquez stepping on Essien, Carvalho taking Guddy out of the game completely) committed by both sides was depressing. John Giles said it best; "what we have here tonight is a diving competition."

Leaving aside the theatrics for a moment, the result, or lack thereof leaves Barcelona in a rather precarious position. They're currently on five points while Bremen have seven. Bar
ça, it looks likely, will have to beat Werder in the last match to be sure of qualifying, otherwise it's the drudgery of the UEFA Cup to look forward to.

Onward and downward to the draw with Depor yesterday that sees Sevilla (2-0 winners over Osasuna, who can't buy a win at the moment). I've only seen highlights on youtube, so I can't really comment. The penalty seemed warranted, Saviola was taken out of it. Valdes was also very unlucky to save Depor's penalty and see the rebound slotted past him (he even managed to get a hand to that). Victor is one of the weaker links in the side, he blows very hot and cold but despite his side's poor run of form (one win in five), he's been playing pretty well these past three games.

On to matters of a more sombre nature. FCB is in mourning. Not only for Charly Puyol's father, but also for former player, Sergi Lopez, older brother of Gerard (ex-blaugrana currently at Monaco) who died in a train accident. The next league match is against Saragossa on Sunday November 12th at the Camp Nou and I imagine that Puyol will 1nce again don the captain's armband.

Real have just lost (again) and I'm going to watch The West Wing and try to finish this article on Santi Ezquerro. Forca Josep Puyol y Sergi. Bona nit.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Carles Puyol's father dies

Barça captain Carles Puyol's father, Josep, 56, died yesterday in what is being reported as a "work related accident." Puyol has of course pulled out of the squad to face Deportivo tonight. I'll post up belated Chelsea reaction (I've been mad busy this week) and the like tomorrow eve but right now, my thoughts are with Charly.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Black and Blue

After a referee-aided win over Huelva at the weekend, Barcelona will 1nce again face a real test tonight. Messi is back in the squad after having his ankles kicked off him in the Bernabeu, as are Zambrotta and Gio. Poor old Santi Ezquerro misses out yet again (I'm writing a piece about Santi that will be up by the end of the week)

There's been the usual hot air spewing from Jose Mourinho about Barça's diving (rich coming from a man who's Porto team turned diving into an artform) but admirably Rijkaard has refused to take the bate.

Tonight's game is a must win for Barça. They have just four points from three games and with Werder Bremen looking a signifficant threat (Diego is playing phenomenal stuff at the moment), a loss tonight could leave the blaugrana staring down the barrel of the UEFA Cup, a competition so weakened by the Champions League that the likes of Middlesboro and Sporting Lisbon can make it to the final.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Getting back on the horse

It's seldom I'd give a damn about an early round Copa Del Rey game against some third division no-hopers but Barça's 1-2 win at Badalona on Wednesday night was much needed after two fairly abject performances was badly needed. Eidur Gudjohnsen, dire in both the Chelsea and Real games, hit both of Barcelona's gols. It took Barcelona over an hour to put the ball in the net against incredibly poor opposition and they did conceed an injury-time penalty but still, they did win and it gets them back in the right head space for Saturday nights game at home to Recreativo Huelva (the oldest team in La Liga).

Of greater note than the Copa game was Frank Rijkaard's interview on Radio Catalunya on Tuesday. "I haven't done well. The alignments and the style of play haven't been clear, and my substitutions have not helped us to win the last two games." He added that "I have done things which have affected the team and taken us away from our usual tactics. The team hasn't functioned well and we can't continue like this. It has been a warning call for me."

It's hard to imagine many other managers speaking with such candor. Compared to the usual "of course we are not worried." bollocks that Rafa, Wenger et al spew when things are going badly, Frank is remarkable, er, frank. It's impossible not to like Rijkaard. He's a straight-talking, no-nonsense kinda guy who doesn't wish to take centre stage ahead of his players and who shys away from the media circus. He is in so many ways, the anti-Jose Mourinho, both tactically and in personality. Thank god.

The squad for the Huelva game has been announced. Messi, who still has ankle trouble after being kicked out of it against Madrid, won't play. Nor will Zambrotta, who makes way for Belletti. Also sitting this one out is Gio. After his gol-scoring exploits against the might of Badalona, Guddy will probably start upfront alongside 'dinho and Giuly. I'll eat my N*E*R*D hat should Saviola line out ahead of him.

Finally, Barcelona and Nike have extended their kit deal with Nike until 2013. The deal is worth €150 million, which should keep 'dinho in sweatbands and gold chains for quite a while. Maybe Leo Messi will be able to afford a decent haircut. We can but hope.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Raul Madrid

Absolutely fucking useless. From Valdes fumbling at the back to Gudjohnsen's complete ineptitude upfront (Christ almighty but will someone teach this moron the offside rule. He was caught at least five times) Deco was dreadful. The rest of the midfield toothless. 'dinho. World player of the year my arse. Zambrotta taken apart by Robinho. After the capitulation against Chelsea five days ago Barça needed to step up tonight and instead they took an enormous step down. Messi aside, every player on the blaugrana side was rubbish. Should Guddy start the next game I may burst into tears. Awful to a degree not usually seen outside the League of Ireland for a full sixty-five minutes until he was replaced by Saviola (who immediately sent Messi through on gol with a sharp pass and had one shot himself that was narrowly pulled wide), I can barely begin to describe the open gol he missed after Messi squared the ball to him in the box. It was one of those "surely it would have been easier to score" moments that defined his contribution, or lack thereof, to this evenings game.

Misplaced passes a-go-go, over-elaborate fancy dannery, aimless corners and freekicks, constantly losing the ball in midfield... I could go on. Against a Real team who didn't play all that well (Raul was completely unmarked for his gol in the third minute and Ruud's breakaway finish was a farce from start (losing the ball cheaply in midfield) to finish (Valdes failing to collect Robinho's cross). Real though, ran out easy winners. FCB, for the second game running, did not look like scoring. Messi, their best player by miles, kicked out of it (by Emerson in particular who should have been sent off), was the only one to exhibit any verve or energy.

This performance is hard to stomach. It's like in the space to two games we're back to the bad old days where Barça played like they couldn't give a fuck. Guddy should be booted to Barça B and Ronaldinho, I really don't know... The blaugrana's next two games are against Badalona in the Copa Del Rey (Badalona are a Catalan side who play in Segunda Division B) and Huelva. Huelva are ninth in La Liga and who knows where Badalona are. After that comes Chelsea at home in the Champions League. If they continue to play the way they have; sloppy, lazy futbol, if Rijkaard continues to field Gudjohnsen and 'dinho ahead of Saviola and Giuly, if he persists with his rotation policy in defence, if nothing changes between then and now, the Blues are going to steamroller Barcelona.

Two losses in five days. Three conceeded and none scored. Barça were absolutely dire tonight. Real could have beaten them five-nil without breaking a sweat.
Madrid cabron!

With all the bluster about the Chelsea game during the week, for the first time in quite a while, the hype over
tonight's clash between Real and Barça hasn't gone into the stratosphere. Added to this is the general malaise in Madrid over the dull and negative football being played under Fabio Capello. Should they lose tonight, Real will be eight points behind FCB.

The squad for the game is as expected, everyone bar Gio, who played against Chelsea, so it'll be Syvinho at left back, and Santi Ezquerro who never plays. After his abject performance on Wednesday night 'dinho really needs to step it up tonight. Madrid won't be as bad as they were against Getafe last weekend but they're still a slow, lumbering team and Barça's energy and speed should see them shade this, 1-2, with Madrid scoring first, just to create some false hope at the Bernabeu :)

Friday, October 20, 2006

Stamford Bridge Smackdown

On Wednesday night Barça were all hat and no cattle. Ground down by a controlled and patient Chelsea side, Barcelona offered very little in the way of a gol threat. Messi played fantastically well in the first half but faded in the second fourty five. 'dinho was dreadful, Khalid Boulahrouz, who you may remember from mauling Cristiano Ronaldo in the World Cup, had him in his pocket all night. Guddy was quiet on his return to the 'bridge too.

Chelsea were far from brilliant but for all Barcelona's pass-and-move, they had absolutely no penetration up front and despite Hilario making a few decent saves in the first half he didn't have a great deal to do as the game wore on. Chelsea's gol, a screamer from sometime donkey Drogba was superb and had Michael Essien passed rather than taking a lame shot when the blues had a breakaway it would almost certainly have been two-nil.

All too frequently Barça had their final pass easily cut out. When Gudjohnsen was replaced, it was by Giuly, with 'dinho moving upfront. It's not often I'd question Rijkaard's tactics or substitutions but Ronaldinho was so poor that surely he should have been the one to get hauled off. Similarly keeping Saviola on the bench when they badly needed someone to get on the end of things. One got the feeling that had the match lasted another ninety minutes Barça still would not have scored.

They're going to have to be an awful lot better than this on Sunday night against a slow but tough Madrid side, who swept past Steaua Bucuresti on Tuesday.

Belletti to sign a new deal?

Right back Julio Belletti, currently out with a dislocated shoulder may soon be signing a new deal with the blaugrana in the coming weeks. Though he's been playing second fiddle to Gianluca Zambrotta for much of the season, he's held in high regard at the Camp Nou and a new contract should see him move up the wage scale quite a bit.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Well I guess that's why they call it the blues

I've only seen Henrique Hilario play 1nce. It was March 1997 and the then much-hyped FC Porto were given a 4-0 walloping by Manchester United, with the Portugese goalkeeper as much a part of United's victory as David Beckham or Eric Cantona. Since that calamitous performance, Hilario has been playing for dead end teams such as Nacional Madeira and Académica. Over the summer he signed for Chelsea as their third choice 'keeper. Tomorrow night he'll face Barcelona.

With both Carlo Cudicini and Petr Cech injured, Cech suffering a fractured skull after taking a knee to the head in the first minute of the Reading game on the weekend, Hilario will make his first start of the season. With the form that FCB are in currently, unbeaten in La Liga and the Champions League and with Chelsea looking out of sorts, Sheva and Robben in particular, it's hard to see beyond a result for Barcelona. Messi is on fire at the moment and aside from the long term injury to Eto'o and Belletti, out for two weeks with a dislocated shoulder (meaning he'll miss the next five games. Yes five. Please quote this to anyone who doesn't think there's too much football being played these days), FCB will field their strongest side.

As Eto'o is out, Eidur Gudjohnsen will almost certainly start against his former club with 'dinho and Messi in support, though I'd expect to see Giuly and Saviola at some stage. Messi will no doubt be in for a rough time of it at the Bridge considering what happened last time. At least he won't have Del Horno trying to break his leg again. After a lucky draw against Bremen, the blaugrana need a win here to put them back at the top of the group. I'll stick my neck out and go for a 1-3, with at least one of the gols coming from some farcical error by Hilario.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Jet lag

I got up about 30 hours ago now and brief, fitfull and uncomfortable sleep on the plane from LAX aside I've been awake for all of 'em... So let's make this quick.

Barcelona had a very good weekend. Beating Sevilla 3-1 while their closest rivals Valencia and Real both lost, they now have a clear three point lead at the top of La Liga. The game, like all involving Sevilla this season, wasn't broadcast.

Attention now turns to the Chelsea game on Wednesday. The full squad, minus Sammy and Belletti, injured in the Sevilla game, have traveled. Having sat out Sevilla I'd expect both Deco and Carles Puyol back in the side at the Bridge. I'll post a full preview tomorrow after I've had some sleep. In the meantime, have a read of Phil Ball's article on Andreas Iniesta.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Round our way

A few FCB stories to keep you ticking over until Sunday. In no particular order... Barcelona will play either Mexican side America or the winners of the Asian Champions League in the World Club Championship/ massive waste of time in Yokahama. Fascinating news I'm sure you'll agree.

Sylvinho is to sign a new one year extension to his contract. Sylvinho, the sensible man's choice at left back ahead of Gio will stay with the club until at least mid-2008. In other contract news, Javier Saviola is looking to gain a new one at the Camp Nou. Bar one of Sammy's legsfalling off I think this is rather unlikely.

On the golkeeping front, Victor Valdes may have to start looking over his shoulder at Oscar Ustari, currently between the posts at Independiente. Txiki Beguiristain has met with the club and the fee being mentioned is around six and a half million pounds.

Finally, Samuel Eto'o is 'interviewed' by Paul Doyle in today's Guardian. It's clear that Sammy would rather have his tonsils out than speak to Mr. Doyle, but here's the link anyway. And that's your lot.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

It's FCBeen a while

So the Yankee's lost to Detroit. And the A's swept the Twins. T.O.'s comeback was a bust and Notre Dame won. Go Irish! And yeah, I could give a damn about any of this. The paralysingly dull world of US sports, of grid iron football, baseball and the other one that Charles Barkley used to be good at, is inescapable over here. Every bar has five or six televisions, Sports Center (sic) is on at every hour of the day and the papers are full of it.

Mindless stats, more commercial breaks than the finale of X Factor, the stop-start, the "we've gained fifteen yards, time for everyone to have a sit down and a chat about it. No wonder American's don't like football, no one wins 98-97, games don't last dog years and there's only one break in play. And there are draws.

Walking by a guy on Fillmore yesterday who was sporting a Barcelona shirt and I realised I'd watch Blackburn Bolton before I'd suffer more fucking baseball. Roll on Sevilla on Sunday.

Monday, October 02, 2006

PS - Post Sammy

Between packing for San Fran (I'm in [Sweet Dreams my] LAX right now) and my myriad of social engagements (I'm just that popular), I didn't catch any of the Bilbao game and only saw the score, 1-3, this morning before I left the house. Gols from Gudjohnsen, Saviola and Puyol were enough to give Barcelona then win after going behind to an early strike from Fran Yeste. I know Athletic are rubbish but it's promising to see both of Eto'os heir apparents on the score sheet. Long may it continue. With the break for internationals this week and my absence from the country, it'll be all quiet on the blogging front until mid-October. But hang in there.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Oh. Bollocks.

Barcelona came away from Bremen with a point thanks to Leo Messi's last minute gol. Samuel Eto'o came away with a crocked knee that leaves him out for five months. Sammy, Barça's top gol scorer for the past two seasons in La Liga, won't play again until March. Fucking March. In the meantime Gudjohnsen and Saviola will need to get their Henrik Larsson on and step up to the plate. Of all the players for the blaugrana to lose, Sammy is far and away the most important. His injury is a huge loss and while Frank Rijkaard is claiming publically that the team will cope, I have my doubts. Gudjohnsen is a good player but he's not a twenty gol-a-season man and let's be honest, neither is Javier but at least he'll give it a go.

FCB's first game without Eto'o is at Bilbao on Saturday. Athletic have yet to win a game this term and have scored only twice. Sammy or no Sammy, the blaugrana should leave the San Mames with three points. The game is on Sky Sports Xtra at 9:30

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

It's the return of the...

No wait, you're kidding, he didn't just say what I think he did, did he? On Sunday night one of Barcelona's prodigal son's returned to a Camp Nou that rose to it's feet to celebrate his first appearence for the club in over two and a half years. On eighty five minutes Leo Messi's number came up and as he walked to the touchline los culés roared as Javier Saviola made the most unlikely of comebacks.

For the past two seasons FCB have treated Javier like an old boot. On loan first at Monaco and subsequently UEFA Cup winners Sevilla, Barça have tried just about everything to ditch Javier bar changing the locks and getting a restraining order. When he spurned a raft of offers in the summer in order to stay at the club it semed that he would merely spend the final year of his contract playing Catalan Cup games and wondering what Gudjohnsen was doing wearing his number seven shirt. Frank Rijkaard clearly doesn't rate him so it was pretty suprising and heartening to see Javier make a cameo in what, thus far at least, was the most important game of the season.

The match finished 1-1 although a ring-rusty Saviola had a chance to win it late on when he shot straight at Santi Canizares. Los Che looked very solid defensively while at the other end El Moro was left out so David Villa ploughed a lone furrow up front. Valencia were quietly impressive and when they scored mid-way through the first half it looked like being a very long night. That said, their gol did come on the break and in the second half they barely threatened, Joaquin was dreadful, all hat and no cattle and Vicente wasn't much better, fading in the extreme. Barça, much improved in the second fourty five, were giving it away, giving it away, giving it away now in midfield for much of the first period and could easily have leaked a second gol, so sloppy was some of their play.

The introduction of Iniesta for Edmilson had immediate effect as Andreas scored in the fourty eighth minute. FCB's play tightened up and Eto'o and 'dinho looked sharp late on, the former could have had a (very harsh) penalty at the death.

Maxi-mum Force

Speaking as we are of jilted Argentine forwards, Maxi Lopez scored the winner for Mallorca at the weekend as they edged Espanyol 1-0 at the Son Moix.

Klose uber alles

Tonight it's Werder Bremen in the Champions League. I haven't heard any squad news from either side (I'm writing this in Busyfeet and Coco, trying not to spill green tea on the page) though it's a fair bet that the biggest headaches for Barça will be top golscorer at the World Cup, Miroslav Klose and Brasilian fantasista Diego who has, by all accounts, started the season like a freight train. Barcelona have no injury worries and I'd expect Giuly, Thuram, Motta and Gudjohnsen, all rested at the weekend, to come back into the squad.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Beat dis

3-0. Then 5-0. Then 3-0 again. Barcelona have steamrollered all before them in the past seven days; Osasuna thanks to a brace from Eto'o and one from Leo Messi, the frankly hopeless Levski Sofia in the Champions League on Wednesday (even Carles Puyol scored and the team wore the UNICEF logo for the first time) and tonight against Santander, who, despite a few early chances, were very poor indeed, Pedro Munitis in particular. It still took Barcelona until the eighty-fourth minute to score their second, a fine gol by Giuly and 'dinho wrapped it up with a late penalty. FCB had something like 80 percent posession and despite over playing it at times never looked like losing to a team that escaped relegation by only one point last season. Deco and Eto'o, who was kicked out of it by Santander, were very impressive, as was Edmilson. Messi however was off the pace and he substitution was no surprise.

Watching the midweek game against Sofia I had a Carrie Bradshaw moment in that I couldn't help but wonder how a team that bad can make it into the Champions League. Watching Derry City hold their own against PSG on Thursday coupled with Levski's comedic performance in the Camp Nou, one would hope that in the next two or three seasons that a League of Ireland team can, with the aid of a favourable draw (Shels or Cork City would certainly have a good chance against hack and slash merchants like Anderlect), step up and make the group stages.

It's MoTD time now and as I missed all of Grand Slam Sunday (tm) earlier I'm rather looking forward to Premiership football without swooshes, Andy Gray growling and Martin Tyler talking nonsense.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

I gotta to escape now

After what seems like an age since the first La Liga game, it's Osasuna at home tonight and following the official conformation of the deal with UNICEF (first mentioned back in July) I'd expect Barça to be sporting their first ever shirt sponsorship against the side from Pamplona that finished in fourth place last year. Since then coach Javier Aguirre has left for Athletico but the squad is as you were bar the addition of Hector Font from Villarreal (plus some other scrubbers like Sorondo from Real Castilla). They lost their opening game at home to Getafe.

The Barcelona squad is as expected, no Saviola but 'dinho and Sylvinho are back in place of Santi Ezquerro and Gio. Still no place for Belletti either. I'd expect a comfortable win this evening. The game kicks off at seven and is live on Sky Sports 3.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Deadline day

It was transfer deadline day yesterday and it was all quiet on the Catalan front. The only news of note was that Javier Saviola has decided to stay at the Camp Nou. Saviola (24) has just one year left on his contract and it looks likely that he'll just bide his time and leave on a free at the end of the season. There was apparently a last minute bid from Aston Villa but why on earth would he want to go there. I don't see him getting a great deal of playing time but with injuries and loss of form, well, you never know.

No doubt you've read all about Tevez, Mascherano, Cole, Gallas, Reyes, Baptista, Olivera et al so... Tevez though, I still can't Adam and Eve it. In-bloody-credible.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

If there's a problem, yo I'll solve it...

Check out the beat while my DJ revolves it. Ice, Ice, Baby Eidur Gudjohnsen snatched the points for FCB in a fantastic opener to the season last night in Vigo. Cold as ice volleyed home in the 87th minute to win the game 2-3. A super match, marked by some hapless goalkeeping from Victor Valdes and some woops-missus defending at one end and some fine attacking at the other, Leo Messi's gol in particular. Barça were fairly average in the first half, going behind just before to the break to a Baiano gol after Valdes spilled a Canobbio shot. The second half was a different story and the blaugrana stepped it up and by the 60th minute they were leading 1-2 thanks to Eto'o and Messi. Still there was plenty of time for Celta, who were poor in the second 45 to nick an equaliser thanks to the Barcelona defence going for a nap.

Gianluca Zambrotta made his Primera Liga debut and looked his usual accomplished self. Eidur, not counting his spectacular winner, was sharp and linked the play well when he came on for Giuly late on. Barcelona's forward line was however missing Ronaldinho, who, it is now emerging, may have a row with Frank Rijkaard over his not attending training and thus he was dropped. The original story was that he was injured and at the moment it's the one that Barça are sticking to. The story broke this morning in The Sun so it may be complete bollocks.

Van Bommel signs for Bayern

Mark Van Bommel left the club on Sunday to sign a three year deal with Bayern Munich. The squad were gathered as is traditional when a player leaves the blaugrana and Mark said his goodbyes. Van Bommel never really got going at the Camp Nou, playing a much deeper role than he did at PSV, taking the ball out of defence rather than smashing 25 yarders into the top corner. He's a good player and is a good addition to the Bayern team. I wish him all the best as he rakes his studs across Diego, Rafael Van Der Vaart et al

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Even though the stars are blind

I must stop making promises I can't keep. Yessur. Before I return to the much delayed season preview parts two through four, it's Barça newsround time again. Firstly, last night's defeat to Sevilla, a 3-0 whooping in the European Super Copa in Monaco. Barcelona were dire last night and Sevilla fully deserved their victory. After beating both Espanyol and Bayern Munich 4-0 in the past week, perhaps they were both over-confident and over-tired. Whatever, it's the slap in the face they needed before Monday night's opener against Celta Vigo. The other news on Friday was the Champions League draw. FCB are in group A, along with old friends Chelsea, German runners-up Werder Bremen and Bulgarian side Levski Sofia. The complete draw is here.

Finally and to no one's surprise, Joan Laporta is once again Barcelona president. None of the other candidates were able to secure the one thousand odd signatures in order to run, so Laporta was confirmed for another four years without an election.

Van Bommel to Bayern

Some breaking news of a Saturday afternoon. Dutch hatchet man Mark Van Bommel is set to leave the Camp Nou for Bayern Munich. The deal is to be completed early next week. Whether this will see Owen Hargreaves make a move to Manchester United remains to be seen. I very much doubt that Barça will move to replace him being as Motta, Iniesta, Edmilson and Marquez can fill his position.

Later than advertised

I've gone for Barça, Real and Valencia for one, two and three (though with Valencia's signing of Joaquin, which at the moment of writing is still unconfirmed, they could push the blaugrana really close). Now let's get to things further down the table; the race for fourth place, UEFA Cup spots, mid-table mediocrity and the relegation candidates.

Itsa4

After their massive over achivement last season, it's difficult to see Osasuna hitting the dizzy heights of fourth place again. Though they have added to their squad they've lost their coach Javier Aguirre to Athletico Madrid and ala Sociedad a few years ago I think after their day in the sun they'll fall back to mid-table. Aguirre on the other hand should take Athletico, buoyed by the signings of Costinha, Sergio Aguero, Pernia and Jurado out of the mire they've been languishing in and into the Champions League for the first time in since they won the league in 95/96. There are three teams that could spoil the party at the Calderon and they are the current UEFA Cup holders Sevilla, Champions League semi-finalists Villarreal and a revitalised Real Saragossa. Sevilla are a very strong side, well organised, tough as old boots with a tight defence. They've managed to hold onto their best player, Daniel Alves, a target for Liverpool this summer and despite losing Javier Saviola (currently emptying the bins and mopping floors back at the Camp Nou), they still pose a potent goal threat (see last night for evidence of this) Midfielder Enzo Maresca has matured into a complete player rather than the bit part actor he was at Juve and alongside Renato and new signing Poulsen, they're very strong in the centre of the park.

Of the other challangers for the coveted Champions League spot, it's Villarreal, the little team that could, who look the more likely to step up, though Saragossa, with Pablo Aimar pulling the stings will certainly give it a go. Saragossa were one of the most entertaining sides to watch last time around, particularly in the Copa Del Rey, where they blew past both Real Madrid and Barcelona only to lose to Espanyol. Though they've lost Cani to Villarreal, it's much the same bunch as before with the addition of Aimar, Pique, D'Alessandro and Diogo.

Like a fool who tips Inter to win lo scudetto, I'm going to go for Athletico for fourth place, just ahead of Sevilla. They will probably finish eight...

And as for the rest of you

There are another twelve teams in La Liga and I am certainly not going to run through all of them, so here's the highlights. Super Depor are looking distinctly average these days and aside from a load of rejects from Barça B and Real Madrid Castilla, their only signing of note is Getafe striker Riki. Expect them to struggle again this year. Betis, should they lose Joaquin will be in real trouble. Olivera, their best striker looks likely to walk too. Blah, blah, blah... I think Nastic, Mallorca, Huelva and Sociedad are likely to be down in the relegation hole. Espanyol probably won't be far away either unless Luis Garcia and Tamudo start firing again. Everyone else should be safe. Ian Harte's Levante will hopefully enjoy a better spell than last time when after an impressive start they fell to pieces in the second half of the season and were relegated.

Worth watching

Of the players who've arrived in La Liga (staying away from the obvious) I reckon the following ought do very well:

Ze Castro (Athletico Madrid)
Abbondanzieri (Getafe)
Tommasi (Levante)
Sobis (Real Betis)
Chevanton (Sevilla)

And that's your lot. La Liga kicks off tonight with Valencia hosting Betis. The game is at nine and is live on Sky Sports Xtra.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

It's. About. To. Go. Down.

With less than a week to go until La Liga kicks off, it's time I got the my preview of the upcoming season. Before we get down to it, a quick round up of FCB news. The first leg of the SuperCopa was played at Espanyol's new stadium on Thursday. Barcelona won 0-1 thanks to Ludovic Giuly's 44th minute gol. The second leg is tonight in the Camp Nou at 9pm on Sky Sports 1 (though I'll probably be watching the last round of the US PGA instead). On the transfer front, Barcelona B captain, Arnau Riera has joined Niall Quinn's Sunderland. Riera made his first appearence yesterday in the Black Cats 3-1 away defeat at Southend, their fourth loss in a row. Arnau must be wondering what on earth he's gotten himself into.

Forward Mother Russia!

Rather than break this down team-by-team, I've divided it into four sections; title contenders, UEFA Cup pretenders, those stuck firmly in midtable and the likely relegation candidates. So without further ado...

The Contenders

There are really only three teams that are vying for La Liga this season and predictably enough it's the same three as last time, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Valencia. While things have been fairly quiet at the Camp Nou over the summer (until a few weeks ago Eidur Gudjohnsen was the only signing, though Gianluca Zambrotta and Lillian Thuram have since joined from Juve), it's all being going off at the Bernabeu and the Mestalla. Real have a new president in Calderon, a new coach, Fabio Capello, and a raft of new players, World Cup winning Italia captain, Fabio Cannavaro and ex-Juve pensioner Emerson, Ruud Van Nistlerooij from Manchester United and as of yesterday, Mahamadou Diarra from Lyon. In the out tray, Zizou has retired and a few of the Real Madrid Castilla players have been farmed out.

The Che on the other hand have been shoving players out the door; Di Vaio, Aimar, Mista, Rufete, Kluivert, Aurelio, Corradi, Caneira have all left, with Stefano Fiore and perhaps Roberto Ayala shaping up to join them. Though no one will miss the forever injured Kluivert or the unsettled Di Vaio, I'm quite surprised at the departures of Aimar and Aurelio. Aimar is absolutely fantastic, one of the finest players I have ever seen and much better than Saragossa (which is where he's ended up). He didn't play a great deal last season (down both to injury and being out of favour) but ala Riquelme at Villarreal, there are few players who can control the game the way Aimar can and I think that should new Valencia's new signings, the untested Tavano from Empoli and the aging El Moro fail to gel with David Villa, come October or November, Aimar will be sorely missed. The other main addition to the Mestalla is Basque defender Asier Del Horno, who's been given the short shift at Stamford Bridge after only one season. Del Horno was a super player at Bilbao yet at Chelsea all I can recall him doing is getting substituted lots and launching himself at Leo Messi. Jamie Gavilan has also joined from the racist hole in the suburbs of Madrid that is Getafe.

So how is all of this going to play out? Looking at the Barcelona squad, the loss of Henrik Larsson aside, they're even better than last year. The arrivals of both Thuram and Zambrotta are huge. I've waxed lyrical about Zambrotta before so I shant labour the point again. He's brilliant and let's just leave it at that. Over at Real, despite all the new faces it's the old ones that are still hanging around like a bad smell that will likely be their undoing. Roberto Carlos, who is the only left back at the club, is still there, as is fatty Ronaldo. Antonio Cassano, who was stellar under Capello at Roma and then fell to pieces when his mentor left for Juventus, is the size of a house and it remains to be seen whether or not Capello can whip him back into shape. Useless hacks like Gravesen, Diogo and Garcia are still knocking around too. And they have like seven strikers. Even for someone of Don Fabio's talents, there seem to be a few too many weak links for the title to return to the capital this season. They'll certainly narrow the twelve point gap but I don't think they have enough to stop Rijkaard's team from winning it for the third time in a row. Similarly with Valencia, though they have added to their forward line, too many of their eggs are in the David Villa basket and when he's off, Valencia just can't seem to get it together. I've mentioned that I think letting Aimar go is a mistake and with relations strained between sporting director Carboni and Roberto Ayala, they could lose their best defender too, which would be a disaster as they have no one in the squad capable of replacing him (I remain unconvinced that Raul Albiol is good enough to step up to Ayala's level. We shall see)

So yeah, I'm going for FCB to win it again. Not by the country mile they have these last two seasons, but by maybe five or six points.

I'll post part two tomorrow; the teams chasing fourth place and UEFA Cup spots.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Another hat thrown into the ring

There is a third challanger to Joan Laporta. Jordi Medina, a lawyer who made an unsucessful bid last time around has joined Francesc Linan Serra and Jaume Guixa. Like the others, he has little or no chance.

Arsenal are at it again

First Cesc Fagregas, now Fran Merida. Barça have seen a second young midfielder (Merida is 16) snapped up by Arsenal. Whether he proves to be another Cesc or more a Gerard Pique (loaned out to Saragossa by Manchester United last week) remains to be seen. I imagine as a youngster at Barça B or C, unless you're amazingly talented, it's difficult to see how you might break into the first team when you have so many players ahead of you in the queue. For every Xavi, Puyol, Messi and Valdes there's a Gerard, Damia, Luis Garcia or Reina who didn't quite do it at the Camp Nou and got the push (in Reina's case he's very much the one that got away, he's much better than Victor Valdes).

It'll be interesting to see if Merida breaks into the first team at Ashburton Grove this season or if he'll be going shopping with Theo Walcott at three o'clock of a Saturday afternoon.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Plan B

A quick run down of all things FCB since my last post (which I know, was more than a week ago at this stage, the frequency will ramp up as it gets closer to the start of the season)

First up is Oleguer's new contract, which sees him tied to the club until 2010. Oleguer has been incredibly solid either at right back or alongside Puyol in the centre of defence. He'll face increased competition with the signings of Zambrotta and Thuram but he's up to it. Like Carles, cut him and he bleeds Catalunya.

Second on today's agenda is the upcoming presidential election. As it stands, Joan Laporta's only rival will be Francesc Linan Serra, a candidate who has, on four previous occasions, failed to collect the thousand odd signatures necessary to run. The chances of him unseating Laporta are nil.

Next up, the summer sales. Three Bar
ça B players have joined Deportivo La Coruna. Defender Rodri plus midfielders Hidalgo and Verdu. Rodri aside, none of them have made much of an impact in the first team at the Camp Nou so it's hardly surprising to see them move on. They join Ludovic Sylvestre who's gone to Sparta Prague and Pena who's been offloaded to Albacete.

Speaking of sales, Barcelona defender Damia (previously on loan at Santander) has joined Real Betis. I don't have any details of the transfer, I just saw it in Marca (I know, I should be ashamed of myself reading that madridista rag ...)

Lastly, FCB are currently on a tour of the US (they have already been to Mexico). As with Real Madrid's trips to the moon and Manchester United's tours to new galaxys, seeking out new life and selling said life a branded shirt, the trip is all about the benjamins. That said the discovery of this pre-season hoilday (sorry, training camp) has been Giovani Dos Santos. Gio, who is just 17, has been playing super stuff in the land of the free. There has long been talk of how good Gio is (he's been mentioned in the same breath as Leo Messi) and it's great to see him get a run out alongside first team regulars like 'dinho and Samuel Eto'o and hold his own. Of course these games are meaningless friendlies but they bode well for his future.

That's it for the mo' folks. I'll get to my season preview sometime in the next week.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

It's bin along since I hit you with freestyle...

... high tech selections from the vaults of the Ice files. Good evening ladies and gentlemen and welcome to the latest in a long line of openly biased, semi-regular FCB postings here on blog that's all Barcelona, all the time. So Ice, what's going on? All types of shit homie, all types of shit. Let's begin shall we?

Thuram y Zambrotta

The Juventus fire sale has begun in earnest. On Thursday evening Bar
ça signed both Gianluca Zambrotta and Lillian Thuram from the bianconeri. Thuram, 34 and recently retired form international football with France (again), has signed a two year deal while Zambrotta, 29, has signed a four year deal. Earlier in the week Fabio Cannavaro, Italian World Cup winning captain and all round Superman signed for Real along with old man Emerson.

I'm delighted with the arrival of Zambrotta, he's one of the best right backs in the world (he can also play down the left) and one of Italia's best players. He's been with Juve for the past six seasons and is a model of consistency. He's simply brilliant and a huge improvement on Belletti, who's heart probably sank when he got wind on Gianluca's signing.

As for Thuram, I'm less enthusiastic. While he's far from finished, his performences in the World Cup were fantastic but I wonder how long his legs will hold up. He's certainly a better defender than Gio but I'm curious to see how much he'll play. Rijkaard really likes Gio (lord know's why, he's a liability in defence) so it shall be interesting to see how this one plays out.

Election time

Thanks to a ridiculous ruling by a local judge (essentially because the FCB year runs from July to June and as Laporta became president on June 22nd 2003, the ruling stated that his first eight days in office constituted a whole year...) Barcelona will hold presidential elections in the next month or two. Laporta will of course stand again and most likely win. While he has his critics he has also delivered the La Liga Championship two years in a row (with a second place finish the year before) and the European Cup and a Barcelona team playing their best football since the Cruyff (coaching) era. Baring some extraordinary happenings, there's no way he can lose.

La Liga schedule

Next season's schedule has been announced. Details are here [pdf]. The first game of the season is on August 28th, a Monday, away to Celta Vigo.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Forza Italia, Giuly, Damia and shirt sponsorship

The second half of the final is just about to start so I'll keep this quite short. Ludovic Giuly has signed a two year contract extension that will see him stay at Barcelona until 2008.

Damia (currently on loan at Racing de Santander) is recovering from his hip injury back at the Camp Nou. He'll still play the next season in Santander but considering his good form there I hope that he'll be back at Bar
ça after that, he's a decent defender and very good at coming forward.

On to the major news of the last few days, Barcelona and shirt sponsorship. Though it has yet to be confirmed officially (there's an article about it on sport.es though), FCB will, for the first time wear sponsorship on their shirts this season coming. In a deal that will apparently announced on August 11th, FCB will sport the UNICEF logo. In an interesting twist, Barcelona will donate 0.7%, about £2 million per season to UNICEF. Més que un club eh?

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Four more years

Rafa Marquez extended his contract with Barcelona on Thursday until 2010. Marquez has been pivital in the Rijkaard revolution, excelling at both centre back alongside Puyol or in the holding role in midfield.


Deutschland uber alles

I'm sitting here watching England and a Deco-less Portugal bore each other into submission of a Saturday afternoon. Jesus Christ but if Gerrard wellies another pass fifty yards over Joe Cole's head and out for a throw in... Or if Hargreaves fouls anyone else... argh, Pauleta is some donkey. This is brutal. Anyway...

I haven't blogged about the World Cup mainly because I haven't seen a great deal of it with my crazy working hours. It's on in the office but I can hardly give the games my full attention. That and what I have seen hasn't been all that great (Argentina's 6-0 walloping of Sebria and Montenegro being the highlight) It was a shame to see the
Albicelestes bow out yesterday, they've played such wonderful football, Tevez, Riquelme, Ayala, Crespo and of course Leo Messi, who didn't see any action yesterday.

I'm still backing Italia to win, especially with Luca Toni, my bet for top scorer, getting off the mark last night. Speaking of Italia, my thoughts have been with Gianluca Pessotto, who tried to commit suicide on Tuesday, falling from a window at Corso Galileo Ferraris, Juve headquarters in Torino.

The Azzurri have had a lot to deal with between the match fixing scandal, the gambling accusations leveled at Gigi Buffon and now poor Luca's attempt to take his own life. It seems as if Luca's injuries are pretty serious and he may not make it. It rather puts crap games of football in perspective.