Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Xavi returning to full fittness

Good news, Xavi, who's been out for the past four months with knee injury is back in training. While he's still a few weeks away from training with the squad and kicking a ball in anger, should he progress as he has done (and should the blaugrana beat Benfica) he could be back from the Champions League semi-finals and the league run in.

And re: last nights game in Lisbon, The Guardian match report is here and the more sensationalist fcbarcelona.es one is here.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Firing blanks

0-0. All to play for in a weeks time back in the Camp Nou. Deco, Iniesta and Belletti got booked. No injuries that I know of. In the game at Highbury, ex-Barcelona kid Cesc Fabregas scored the first of Arsenals two goals as they positively tore Juve apart, with Capello's side seeing both Camoranesi and Zebina sent off in the closing minutes. Juve have it all to do in the second leg and from what they showed tonight (nothing whatsoever) I can't see them getting close. Nedved and Del Piero will need to have the game of their lives. They're lucky they only have Treviso on Saturday.

The Sky Sports report of the Benfica game isn't great but it's the only one I can find right now, fcbarcelona.es hasn't been updated yet.
Light 'em up

Just under two hours to kick off at the Estádio da Luz. Despite injuries and suspensions I'd expect Barcelona to come away with a least a draw against Koeman's side. Deco and 'dinho are back and Larsson will probably start ahead of Giuly on the right. In defence I think Motta will get the nod ahead of Rodri. While he did well against Malaga and played the entire 90 minutes it's worth remembering that Malaga are awful and rooted to the bottom of La Liga. This would see Mark Van Bommel, Deco and Iniesta, who's been in a good run of form lately line up in midfield.

Benfica are without Nuno Gomes, who is the top scorer in Portugal, Nuno Assis (both suspended) and the injured Alcides (who?) Like I've said before I know next to nothing about Portuguese football so this ends right here.

Before I go, some news about the weekend game. Becks, who's suffering a brused ankle may not play in the Camp Nou. There's also been no word on a resolution to the possible referees strike over unpaid wages. With El Classico and the Sevilla derby on this weekend something will be worked out, it's all just posturing.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Who even knew there was an ITV4?

After Barcelona's abject display last night in Malaga (tempered by both Osasuna and Valencia losing (to Athleti and Sevilla respectively) all attention turns to the Benfica game on Tuesday. With Arsenal playing Juve at the same time the match has been relegated to ITV4, home to re-runs of Homicide: Life on the Street and Earth: Final Conflict.

As for team news, I've been over the blaugrana before so just a few (actually very few) words about Benfica. Nuno Gomes, who scored his sides only goal in their 1-0 over Sporting Braga, is suspended so Mantorras or Miccoli will probably start. Mantorras is the Jon Woodgate of Portuguese football, he's forever injured and there only needs to be a strong gust of wind for him to fall over clutching his hamstring. Expect Motta to give him a bit of a kicking should he start. More on this tomorrow should Newstalk or The Guardian have something decent on Benfica or Koeman as Portugal is a bit of a blind spot for me.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Words fail me

What a dreadful match. 0-0. Not much to say, incredibly scrappy, loads of fouls and aimless punts up the field to no-one in particular. The major talking point of the first half was Bar
ças disallowed goal. After Sylvinho swung in a free kick Cesar Navas handballed. The ball dropped to Eto'o and he fired it into the Malaga net. Gol! Or not, as all of the Malaga players, including Navas who handled the fucking ball in the first place, appealed to the referee to disallow the goal, claiming that it was in fact Larsson who handled. After consulting the linesman who was in no position to see anything the goal was ruled out.

And until the last minute when Samuel Eto'o hit the bar with a furious drive, that was by far the most exciting incident of the ninety. It's seldom when I'm watching the blaugrana I flick over to see what's on Sky Movies but...

Awful, lets never speak of this again.
Closer

Between Patrick’s weekend and a pulled muscle in my neck blogging about the blaugrana hasn’t been my highest priority of late so before I get onto tonight’s game at La Rosaleda against lowly Malaga, a quick run down on what’s been going on with FCB.

Injuries

Both Rafael Marquez and Edmilson are out for four and six weeks respectively with hamstring injuries sustained in Barça’s 0-2 win away to Sociedad. Henrik Larsson also took a knock in that game and didn’t even make the bench for Tuesday’s 3-1 victory over Getafe. With Carles Puyol picking up a yellow card late in Tuesdays game that sees him suspended this evening expect to see a central defense of Motta and Oleguer with an outside chance of Barça B defender Rodri coming in should Riijkaard prefer to keep Oleguer out on the right in favour of Belletti.

Two more wins

After the last two games Barça are closer than ever to a second La Liga title in a row with nine games remaining. Two fairly comfortable wins against rather average opposition coupled with Valencia’s stumbling (a 1-2 loss at Santander and an incredibly fortunate 1-1 draw with Villarreal with Santi Canizaries saving Riquelme’s late penalty) and Real Madrid’s continuing hopelessness (yet another 0-0 draw at home to Betis and a barely deserved 1-1 draw at Saragossa) has left Osasuna as FCBs closest challengers, twelve points back.

Benfica

Tuesday 28th sees Barcelona travel to Lisbon to play Ronald Koeman’s Benfica in the quarterfinals of the Champions League. Without the aforementioned Marquez and Edmilson in addition to Leo Messi and the suspended Puyol (yes, for this one too) the Barça defense will have it’s work cut out in dealing with Simao, Geovanni (both ex-blaugrana) and Nuno Gomes. That said I don’t see the Portuguese side keeping Barça out over ninety minutes (see my last post for more on Benfica, who are currently seven points behind FC Porto)

Malaga this evening

It’s top versus bottom at seven o’clock today. Malaga have won just five games all season, their last against Athleti coming almost two months ago. With Fernando “my dad used to be the president of Real Madrid don’t you know” Sanz at the heart of their defense they’ve leaked 48 goals, the second worse in La Liga behind Sociedad and top scorer Salva has netted all of seven times. Malaga are hopeless, lacking quality all over the pitch and anything other than a damn good thrashing at the hands of Barça this evening would be quite a surprise, despite the long list of absentees for the away side: Marquez, Edmilson, Messi (feels like we’ve been here before doesn’t it?), and Ronaldinho (rested). Larsson is back and Maxi Lopez is again in the squad.

Monday, March 13, 2006

The team that fell to earth

I didn't see any of last nights game at Osasuna, I was watching the Juve-Milan game (an entertaining 0-0 draw) so aside from lamenting the loss and the sending off of both Edmilson and Motta I can't really comment other than to say because of the Valencia - Real result on Saturday, 0-0 with the Ronaldo missing a last minute penatly, Barcelona are still nine points ahead.

Getting back to the Champions League draw on Friday and to Benfica. I've not seen a great deal of Koemans side this season bar the two games against United in the group stages and highlights of their win at Anfield but I've been reasonably impressed. Simao has really matured since he left Barça. Petit is superb in the holding role in midfield and both Nuno Gomes and Miccoli are decent strikers. Another ex-blaugrana, Geovanni, is a fairly nippy right winger. That said, their defence is nothing to write home about and their form in the Portugese league has been poor (they're currently third in what's typically a three horse race between themselves, Sporting and Porto). Even with Messi out I don't see them keeping out 'dinho, Eto'o and Larsson. Of seven teams that Barça could have faced, Benifca are probably the weakest and unless Koeman himself steps up and takes a few freekicks I don't give them much of a chance.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Benfica in the quarters

Barça have drawn Ronald Koemans Benfica side in the quarter finals of the Champions League. The games will be played in Lisbon on either the 28th or 29th of March with the return leg in the Camp Nou on either April 4th or 5th. I'll wax more on Benfica on Sunday, I've dinner to eat now and beer to drink.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Fuck you Jose and other thoughts on the game

1-1. A sensational goal from 'dinho in the seventy eighth minute and a totally undeserved penalty by Frank Lampard in the ninty second after Gio made a good tackle and John Terry fell over himself. Barcelona were by far the better team this evening. Ronaldinho was outstanding, Edmilson and Motta completely dominated the midfield (Lampard was a non-entity, as was Joe Cole, who, one good cross that Crespo really ought to have scored from aside, did nothing at all. Robben and Duffer were poor too). Victor Valdes didn't have a save of note to make at any stage in the game. Useless twenty four million pound donkey Didier Drogba fell about a bit, committed a few fouls and was caught offside 1nce or twice. And he had the nerve to be upset at being substituted.

The scoreline really fails to convey how much better FCB were than the loadsamoneys from the Kings Road. There was no urgency, no verve, nothing. I'm off home now but more on the game tomorrow. The only negative was Puyols booking that rules him out of the first leg of the quarters. G'night and Forca Barça!

Update

Actually Carles booking wasn't the only negative last night. Messi came off after twenty five minutes and he's out for a month with a muscle tear which will see him miss the quarter finals. With Giuly back to full fitness Barça ought be able to cope with his absence. Their next four matches are against Osasuna, Sociedad, Getafe and Malaga. Osasuna aside, who aren't as good as their fourth place suggests, the others are absolutely rubbish and FCB ought have no trouble beating them. Hopefully young Leo will be back for el gran classico at the beginning of April.

Monday, March 06, 2006

The count down

And so it begins. With just over twenty four hours to go until Barcelona play Chelsea, Leo Messi has vowed to play the match of his life "to silence the mouth of Mourinho and his players". And with a cocky fuck-you attitude that Jose would be proud of he added "Del Horno has also had a lot to say about me but so he should because he got nowhere near me on the pitch until he fouled me." True dat.

There was an excellent article in yesterdays Sunday Times by Ian Hawkey on how to beat FCB (it involves dressing up as Athletico Madrid).

To follow up on Jorge Andrades terrible knee injury. He will be out for at least six months and he will definitely miss the World Cup. My thoughts are with him and I wish him a speedy recovery.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

3-2 now, Eto'o!

As predicted Iniesta was hauled off at half time and replaced by Mark Van Bommel and Bar
ça are looking much the better side as a result. 'dinho is playing superbly, Eto'os goal a toe poke in after Marquez nudged on a corner across goal (after Andrade had gone off with what looks like a nasty injury) Sylvinho has also looked very good and I'd much rather see him start ahead of Van Bronckhorst on Tuesday. Giuly has come on for Larsson but has yet to do anything of note. There's been a total of eight booking thus far, five for Depor, who have been kicking Barcelona out of it at times (it's been nothing like the Madrid derby though which featured almost 60 fouls).

With all of three minutes left now Deportivo a looking jaded and out of it. Tristan has been dreadful since he came on, I don't recall his name being mentioned 1nce by the commentary team. In fact they have yet to have a shot in the second half.

And that's it. A good comeback. It was fairly comfortable in the end. If they defend like they have this evening on Tuesday though...
1-2 after 28 mins...

What on earth is going on? After taking the lead in the third minute through a Ronaldinho free kick Bar...

It's 2-2 now, Larsson header from 'dinhos corner. Anyway, FCB are defending so badly. Puyol at fault for the first goal, he was completely static as Juanma headed home a corner and Belletti played on Andrade as the rest of the defence stepped out for him to float another header past Valdes who was completely stranded. They're looking fairly light in midfield too, both Duscher and Sergio are running tings and Deco is 1nce again passing it to Depor more often than to one of his own players. Bar
ça could do with either Van Bommel or Motta to shore things up in the second half. The game is completely passing Iniesta by.

Incidently, the line-up is somewhat different to what was announced the other day. Giuly doesn't start, it's Eto'o, Larsson and 'dinho up front and both Gabri and Maxi make the squad.

Scratch this, the list of subs on Soccernet was completely wrong. It's since been amended.

It's almost half time now so I shall go get a cup of tea. More later folks.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Not everyone in Saragossa a racist plus the squad for tomorrows Depor game

Bravo
Mayor Juan Alberto Belloch of Saragossa. In a bid to show Samuel Eto'o (and everyone else) that the Aragon city isn't a scumbag racist, he's invited Eto'o and his family to Saragossa which I do hope Sammy will accept. Maybe this really is the start of a real stand against racism and ignorance in Spain.

On to tomorrow nights game at the Camp Nou and the main news is that Ludovic Giuly, out for the past three weeks, will start ahead of Leo Messi. Gabri isn't fit and doesn't make the squad. Maxi Lopez is left out too. You have to feel for Maxi. I've been impressed with him every time I've seen him play but he just doesn't get a look in with Eto'o and Larsson and he's bound to leave in the summer (along with Henrik who's returning to Sweden and Javier Saviola who is expected to sign a permanent deal at Sevilla, where he's currently on loan). Thus I expect that FCB will be looking for another forward, be it Thierry Henry or someone else in the summer as they'll be left with just one recognised striker in Sammy.

Depor have been up and down of late, losing to scrubbers like Alaves at home yet winning away at Osasuna. They're currently missing Juan Carlos Valeron, who is far and away their best player. Good news there so. Depor are a decent if unremarkable side, they're 7th, a point behind Sevilla, who play Athleti on Sunday. Reasonably solid in defense, their midfield, Valeron aside, is fairly poor and upfront Tristan blows very hot and cold. The game at the Riazor in October was a 3-3 draw with the blaugrana throwing away a 1-3 lead late in the game. I don't expect there to be any repeat this time, even with the Chelsea game on Tuesday. A 2-0 win with no injuries would do nicely.

The game is on Sky Sports 3 tomorrow night at 9:00 after the Madrid derby.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

€9000 fine for Saragossa plus Eto'os comments

It may not be much but it is at least a step up from the ridiculous €600 fine that Saragossa recieved last year. Perhaps this is a sign of the Spanish FA beginning to deal with the problem. The national team will carry an anti-racism banner this evening at their friendly match with Le Cote d'Ivorie. It'll be interesting to see how it's recieved.

Samuel Eto'o reponded to the Saragossa fine and to the issue of racism in Spain today.