Thursday, April 27, 2006

Oh my fucking gawd!

Christ almighty, a more stressful ninety minutes I have not known since the game in Levante last season where Barça secured the title. With every missed chance, Eto'o, 'dinho (what has happened to his free kicks, they've been absolutely dreadful of late), Giuly, Belletti, Larsson one could feel Milan grow in confidence. I felt like I'd been kicked in the stomach when Sheva scored only for it to be ruled out for some nonsense percieved push on Marquez. A ridiculous decission, there was nothing wrong and the goal should have stood. But anyway, it didn't count and the blaugrana are going to Paris to face Arsenal.

Puyol was superb this evening (when his he not?) but ala Frank Rijkaard I don't wish to pick out individuals for praise, the entire team were magnificent. I must to bed so more in the am. G'night.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Outside it's raining...

Well done to Sid Lowe for spinning a column this week out of the Sevilla match not being played. As it happened, with game rained off I caught both the debate episode of The West Wing on More4 and then the Dylan documentary again on BBC Four. Not a bad Sunday evenings television.

The Milan game is tomorrow and the blaugrana have no new injury worries. Milan however got a right kicking in their win at Messina and lost Kaka, Ambrosini and Nesta to injury. Ambrosini is done for the season and Nesta may well miss the game at the Camp Nou. Pippo Inzaghi is back though along with old man Cafu.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Unlucky Number Seven

Should Valencia fail to beat Athletic this Sunday, Barça can secure their second La Liga title in a row with a win away at Sevilla. I've seen quite a bit of Sevilla lately and they're a solid team who've coped well with losing their manager, Joaquín Caparrós, to Deportivo, and their two best players, Baptista and Sergio Ramos, to Real Madrid. The likes of Daniel Alves, Enzo Maresca, Fernando Sales, Jesus Navas and Andres Palop in goal are all excellent. And then of course they have Javier Saviola.

When Joan Laporta suceeded Joan Gaspart as president, FCB was in dire financial straits. Millions had been wasted on useless players or ones the club didn't need, while layabouts like Patrick Kluivert were pulling ridiculously high pay packets yet conrtibuting little or nothing to the team. Thus these past three seasons, despite the arrival of Ronaldinho, Eto'o, Deco, Giuly et al, has seen a huge number of players leave the club. While I can't say I miss most of them, there are three I wish Barça had held onto; Pepe Reina, Cesc Fabregas and Saviola.

Reina is a much better goalkeeper than Valdes and his performances for Villarreal and Liverpool since he left the Camp Nou have been outstanding and were it not for the super human Iker Casillas he'd surely be Spain's number one for the World Cup in Germany. With Cesc of course it's more complicated. Had he stayed at Barcelona there's no way he'd have developed as quickly as he has at Highbury under Arsene Wenger and with Xavi, Motta and Iniesta ahead of him it's likely that he'd still be lining up for Barça B and playing Catalan Cup games.

And then there's Javier. While at Barça he averaged a goal almost every two games. He worked hard and gave his all in a team that had more excess baggage than Imelda Marcos on a Ryanair flight. With Rijkaard's men beating all and sundry in the past two seasons it's easy to forget just how the team were a mere two years previously. Watching Barça was like having your teeth pulled and Puyol, Cocu, Luis Enrique and Saviola were frequently the only players who looked remotely bothered.

Yet once Eto'o and Larsson were signed, despite his efforts, his commitment, his goals, it was only a matter of time before Javier got the heave-ho, first to Monaco for twelve miserable and injury blighted months and then to Sevilla where he's had a much better time of it, starting, scoring and powering his team to the UEFA Cup semi-finals and sixth in La Liga and within spitting distance of fourth and the Champions League. Which is no more than he deserves.

I looks probable that Saviola will stay in Sevilla, he's happy there and unlikely to wear the blaugrana again, which is a real shame. With Larsson heading back to Sweden at the end of the season, the number seven shirt at Barça will be free and there's Argentine kid at the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan who could easily don it once again.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Are we there yet? Almost...

Behind Samuel Eto'o and Ronaldinho, Ludovic Giuly is the third highest scorer at Bar
ça in the past two years. On Tuesday night he rifled home what may prove to the his most important gol yet for the blaugrana. Running onto a measured pass from Ronaldinho, he shot past Dida from an incredibly tight angle to leave Barça ninety minutes away from the final in Paris.

I only caught bit of the match in work, Gila hiting the post, 'dinho using his chest, thigh, in-step and finally the back of his heel to control the ball while Alessandro Nesta pulled out of him, Giuly's gol, Valdes save from Kaka. I was very impressed with Iniesta in midfield, up against Gattuso he more than held his own. Valdes too was assured when he had to be, though it was Dida who was the busier to the two goalkeepers. The negatives are Oleguer's strained leg muscle which means he misses not only the Sevilla game at the weekend but also the second leg next Wednesday. Added to that yellow cards for both Puyol and Valdes (for time wasting), though I can see Carles' being appealed as he made no contact whatsoever with Gila.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Hell is...

Not seeing the Milan-Barcelona game this evening because there's something up with Eye-TV on the G5 *sigh* There's no new squad news since the weekend. As for AC Milan, Pippo Inzaghi is out with a fever but seeing as he's being replaced by Gilardinho I don't know if this is good news or not. Read Kevin McCarra's preview of the game here.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

You best protect ya neck...

It's been a while I know but due to a muscle spasm in my neck I've tried not to spend any more time than necessary infront of the Mac. So like James Richardson on Gazzetta, I'll give you a quick run down on what's happened to the blaugrana since April 5th.

W-D-W

There's been three games, one nervy 2-0 win over Benfica to secure a place in the Champions League semi-final against Milan (good site, there are highlights of all of Milan's recent games), the first leg of which (in the San Siro) is on Tuesday; an inexplicable 2-2 draw with the useless Racing Santander and an accomplished 1-0 win over Villarreal in the Camp Nou last night. There've been more injuries, to Messi again, this time in training and he'll miss the game on Tuesday. Also out is Henrik Larsson who came off after only nine minutes against Villarreal, followed shortly by his replacement, Santi Ezquerro. Deco won't be available either, being as he's suspended as a result of a rather soft yellow for an over eager challange on Benfica goalkeeper Moretto.

Read on

Leo Messi has a book coming out. Well kinda. On St. Jordi's day (that's the 23rd of April, like you don't know) Sport, the Catalan sports paper, will distribute 'Leo Messi - Bar
ça's Treasure'. It features a foreword by Diego Maradona and interviews with Frank Rijkaard, 'dinho and Cesc Fabregas amongst others. I'm guessing it will all be in Catalan so sadly I won't be leafing through it anytime soon but no doubt it's a great read.

The other Argentine at Bar
ça

With the blaugrana
suffering a rash of injuries of late, Maxi Lopez, the forgotten man at the Camp Nou has been seeing some playing time. He came on for the final fifteen minutes at the Estadio El Sardinero and played almost an hour against Villarreal and looked pretty good. I shant go on as it's almost one in the morning now and I've been over this before, but I think Maxi is a decent striker and quite the gentleman (despite all his time on the bench and in the stands, not once has he complained or had a bad word to say about the club) so it's heartening to see that lanky frame of his back on the pitch. Eto'o aside, he was the best forward in the Villarreal match, holding the ball up very well and putting himself about with real purpose. It will have done his confidence no harm at all. Força Maxi and good night.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The taking of scores

With the first leg in Lisbon finishing 0-0, it really is all to play for tonight at the Camp Nou. In squad news Edmilson and Sylvinho are back. While Gio will probably keep his place on the left the return of Edmilson is huge, he's been outstanding this season and will need to be on point this evening against Simao and Geovanni. Carles Puyol is back from suspension and speaking of which, Van Bommel, Deco and Oleguer are all one yellow from sitting out he first leg of the semi-final against Milan should Barcelona progress this evening.

I didn't see the Milan-Lyon game last night but from what I've read the rossineri were incredibly lucky with Inzaghi scoring in the 88th minute and Sheva finishing off Houllier's side in the 93rd.

I'm reasonably confident of FCB beating Benfica this evening. They're still without Nuno Gomes, their top scorer and after looking like they couldn't hit a donkeys arse with a banjo in their past three games surely Eto'o and Larsson will get back in the groove. Puyol and Edmilson back in defence should mean that Valdes lapses in concentration aside, that Barça can keep a clean sheet.

Before I go, a quick word about the yellow submarines. Manuel Pellegrini and his Villarreal side have been nothing short of superb in the past two seasons. Ex-blaugrana Juan Roman Riquelme has matured into one of the best midfielders in Europe, defensively they're very tight with Quique Alvarez, Arruabarrena and Marcos Senna particularly impressive. And of course there's Diego Forlan, laughed out of it at United, he went on to become top scorer in Europe last season and while he's seen his form dip this time around, (mostly due to Riquelme's being injured) he's still managed a respectable eleven thus far. Beating Inter last night was just reward. Roll on the semis and the Gunners sink Submarines headlines...

Monday, April 03, 2006

Sid Lowe on the game that was far from a classico

Sid Lowe on the rather damp squib that was el Classico on Saturday.

In non-FCB related news, Cesc Fabregas will be fit to play against Juve on Wednesday. Not much team news for Barcelona yet though it will probably be the same eleven that started against Madrid minus the injured Motta who'll be replaced by Oleguer in the centre of defence with Belletti coming in on the right. Sylvinho is still not match fit either. On the Benfica side, Nuno Gomes is out with a knee injury. He missed the first leg too (through suspension).

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Carles Puyol: man of iron

There was a moment in the second half of el Classico last night that tipifies the difference between Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Barça had their umpteenth corner and both Puyol and Sergio Ramos rose for the ball. They walloped their heads together and Ramos fell to the ground clutching his face. Puyol on the other hand rubbed his nose, shook his head and walked away. He is made of Catalunya. Rijkaard substituted him late on as Carles appeared to be mildly concussed and couldn't really walk straight. He still took the time to place the captains armband on 'dinho and applaud the Camp Nou. What a man.

Now, on to the match the Carles was playing in. Stats, like facts, can be used to prove anything but lets trot out a few anyway. FCB had 68% of the possession, they had 35 shots on goal, 11 of which were on target yet their only goal came from the penalty spot. Madrid had two shots on goal (Soccernet says three but I can't recall a third), one of which Baptista punted over the bar early in the second half and the other a simply sublime goal by Ronaldo. They were reduced to ten men after twenty five minutes when Roberto Carlos got sent off for being a spa (booked for arguing over the
awarding of the Barça penalty and then again for arguing about the award of a free kick) yet for all the blaugrana could throw at them Casillas' heroics aided by some poor finishing from Larsson of all people meant that it finished 1-1.

It wasn't a great game, the second half in particular really dragged at times. Casillas was simply incredible, Madrid would be in dire straits without him. Motta was carried off before half time with a knee injury (yes, again) and will be out for up to three weeks. With Marquez and Edmilson already out,
Barça are looking a little lightweight down the middle. Thankfully the draw means that they're still 11 points clear of Real with only seven games left and Sevilla aside they don't have anyone decent to play so they should cope so long as no one else steps on a rake.

So what else? 'dinho had a bit of an off night, all of his freekicks were rubbish and clattered against the wall. Eto'o was a bit perepheral at times too, getting stuck out on the left too often. No one played badly though, Valdes didn't have a save to make (there was absolutely nothing he could have done for Ronaldos goal, it was just brilliant) and the defence was rarely called upon either.

The lack of goals is somewhat worrying. In their last three games, FCB have scored just once, from the penalty spot against a godawful Malaga, a very beatable Benfica and the ten men of Real Madrid. With the second leg of their quarter final on Wednesday they really need to sharpen up.

That's about it, Fiorentina and Roma are on Bravo now so...

"The referees seem to be against us. They blow for non-existent penalties and free kicks." - Ronaldo

Yes of course they are. The refs are against Real Madrid. The same way they're against Manchester United and Juventus. Shut up Ronny. Before I go though have a read of the match reports from fcbarcelona.es and realmadrid.com. While the blaugrana one is somewhat skewed toward FCB, the Real one is off the charts biased and absolutely hilarious.