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.