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.