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.