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.