Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Palacio, Aguero and the Christmas break

As the Premiership packs in four games in ten days, La Liga takes a break until early January and my could Barça do with the break. Held to a 1-1 draw by Atletico Madrid in their last match before Christmas, the blaugrana looked tired and lethargic. Thuram injured himself as Sergio Aguero blew by him to score Atletico's equaliser. Los colchoneros set themselves up very defensively, packing the centre of the park and hitting Barcelona on the counter attack. Xavi, who made some excellent runs and Iniesta, who's passing was 1nce again on point, aside, Barça were pretty flat and despite the bluster on a draw was about as much as they deserved. The defence, down to it's bare bones, looked very shaky. Aguero (the first time I've seen him play a full match) was excellent, a constant threat against Old Man River Lillian Thuram. Having seen quite a bit of him on YouTube and being well aware of the ridiculous hype that surrounded him before signing for Atletico, I was anxious to see how he performed. He's now scored four gols in nine starts (and seven appearences as substitute) and at only eighteen will no doubt mature into a fabulous player.

January Sales

On to another Argentine forward, Boca's Rodrigo Palacio. This week Sky Sports reported that the Boquita turned down a bid of €19 million from Barcelona. Club President Mauricio Macri met with FCB while in Spain concluding the Gago deal with Real but a price could not be agreed on.

It seems that despite all their talk of not needing to sign anyone that the blaugrana are indeed sounding out new forwards. I wouldn't at all be surprised to see Iaquinta's name come up again as it did two years ago before Maxi Lopez was brought in. Gudjohnsen is just not doing it in Eto'o absence and with Saviola still not being considered an option (lord knows why not) so other options are naurally being considered. I'd rather that they stick with what they have. Javier will want to put himself in the shop window when he returns to full fitness and the latest word on Sammy is that he'll be back in late February so unless they're thinking long term I don't see the sense in getting another forward player in to plug the gap for a month or two.

With no FCB games until January 7th my posts will be a little thin on the ground between now and then but I should get a Thuram piece up by this time next week, it's fairly quiet in work so I gots time.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Defeatist attitude

I'll admit that Barça's recent form against Atletico doesn't bode well for tonight's game at the Camp Nou. The other side from Madrid, Fernando Torres et al, always seem to step it up a gear against the blaugrana, no matter how badly they've been playing. Atletico are like a poor man's Inter, it's always going to be their year, whoever they've signed is the final piece in the jigsaw (an other such crap) and of course it all goes horribly wrong within a month or two of the start of the season. Things are somewhat different this time around. While they've suffered injuries to key players, Maxi and Petrov are a huge loss in midfield, and they haven't played all that well, they're currently fourth and look to have all the right tools to make a stab at Champions League qualification, especially with Valencia blowing hot and cold.

The Barcelona squad for the game is pretty thin, Olmo and Crossas are in with Gio, Sylvinho, Edmilson, Zambrotta and Marquez all out. Saviola is back but having been out for over a month he'll only get a late run out if anything. I'm totally running out the door now but I reckon Barça will win this, 2-1 maybe. It's about time they got over the Athletico hump.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Massive waste of time yields injury and jet lag

The pointless lost in translation exercise that is the World Club Super Mega Hyper Cup has ended in defeat for Barcelona and a muscle tear for Gianluca Zambrotta that will see him miss the next four games, starting with Thursday's game against Athletico Madrid. If I didn't have anytime for this debacle before it kicked off I really don't now. Zambrotta has finally started to play like his old bianconeri self and now he's sidelined until mid-January thanks to an injury in a complete waste of time match. I really don't understand the rationale behind sending out a full strength team for such a non-event. Barça are lucky in that they have plenty of cover in the full back positions but what if 'dinho or Giuly had gotten crocked in this farce? Anyway, it's over now and Barcelona return home to find themselves in second behind Sevilla, 1-3 winners over Huelva today and with Real breathing down their necks, one point off with thirty two, having muscled their way past a resurgent Espanyol side. Fan. Tastic.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Walking on the moon

The draw for the next round of the Champions League was made this morning and Barça drew 2005 winners Liverpool. The full draw is as follows:

FC Porto v Chelsea
Celtic v AC Milan

PSV Eindhoven v Arsenal

Lille v Manchester Utd

AS Roma v Lyon

Barcelona v Liverpool

Real Madrid v Bayern Munich

Internazionale v Valencia

The first leg will be at the Camp Nou on February 20/21st and the return at Anfield on March 6/7th. I'm no great fan of Liverpool (sorry Mal, but it's not like it's a secret) and while they've hit some amazing heights under Rafa Benitez, namely the Champions League victory over Milan, I've seen far too many scrappy nil-nil draws and useless away performances to have any affection for their style of play or lack there-of. I do very much like Robbie Fowler and Xabi Alonso is fantastic but Gerrard is somewhat over-rated (in the same way Lampard and Terry are simply because they're English and constantly having their egos massaged by the English press), Crouch is a load of shite and Bellamy is a total knacker and I don't much care for knackers, much like Padraig Nally. There's an absolute age between now and these games so I'm not going to weigh in with any wild predictions only to say that I reckon both sides will win their home games so Barcelona are going to need a big win in the Camp Nou to carry them into the quarter-finals.

Superbowl Sunday and la Real

Barça are still on the surface of the moon playing in the World Series which thankfully comes to a conclusion on Sunday with the final against Internacional. Whoever wins will be champions of the universe. The blaugrana, who clearly weren't suffering too much from jet lag, beat Mexican side America 4-0 on Thursday. Woooo!

Before catching their Saturn Five rocket, Barça played La Real last Sunday and despite Sociedad being winless thus far this season and missing at least four first-teamers, the blaugrana made very hard work of beating them and had Victor Valdes to thank for making an excellent save late on to keep the score at 1-0. Valdes has had his fair share of critics, me among them, but he's really stepped up in these last few months and been in top form, pulling games out of the fire ala Casillas at Madrid. At the start of the season I would definitely have been looking to Jorquera as Valdes was struggling but he's got it together and the defense is looking a lot less shaky as a result.

The next league game is on Thursday against Athletico Madrid which Barcelona are sure to lose, as they always lose to Athletico. It's just the way of the world. The sky is blue, grass green and Fernando Torres will always play like god against Barcelona, who will look like they have lead in their boots.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Real World

I been totally eaten by work this week but I manage to catch the last half an hour of the Werder game on Tuesday. Barcelona looked comfortable and from what I saw, the German side just weren't up to the task. Clever free kick from 'dinho and a nice finish from Ice Ice Baby in the first half meant that the blaugrana could ease off a little toward the end. Iniesta came off injured but he's fit for the Sociedad game tonight. Marquez is still injured.

Looking at the Sociedad squad it's very hard to see them getting out of trouble this year. They were in a similar position last time around when the signing of Mark Gonzalez on loan from Liverpool got them out of a hole. But Gonzales has gone, as has Nihat (top scorer with a massive eight gols in the 05/06 season) and they have yet to win a game. Uranga and Kovacevic are the only decent players left from a side that 1nce sported Karpin, Xabi Alonso, Westerveld, De Pedro, Aranzabal and the aforementioned Nihat. Few good signings have been made and the current crop of Basque players, Xabi's brother Mikel among them, just aren't up to the task. I would expect Barcelona to steamroller them tonight. Kick off is at 7:00 and it's live on Sky Sports 2. The Sevilla Real Madrid game follows at nine.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Forca Espanyol!

Barça remain in first place in La Liga thanks to a fine performance from Espanyol on Sunday afternoon, coming from behind to beat Sevilla 2-1. The blaugrana meanwhile laboured to a poor 1-1 draw with Levante on Saturday night and had it not been for some good saves from Victor Valdes and two absolutely appalling misses from Mustapha Riga, the Dutch Darren Huckerby by all accounts, they could easily have lost. The aforementioned Valdes plus Deco, Xavi and Ezquerro (when he finally came on) did well but the rest of the team were listless in the extreme. It's to be expected that their minds were on Tuesday's match against Bremen, but some of their play was abysmal. Gudjohnsen needs to be booted out at the earliest opportunity. He had one decent touch, a lay off to Deco (who blazed over the bar) and that was it. One.

I was pretty disappointed to see Rijkaard take off Deco and replace him with Oleguer with twenty odd minutes left. It completely surrendered the initiative to Levante, who, despite being a limited side, played some good football, Courtois was excellent and Ettien made a huge difference when he came off the bench. They're not up to much but if they could find a decent forward who can get them even ten gols this season I think they'll stay up. Especially with 'nastic, Sociedad and Betis looking so poor (up to Sunday night I would have included Bilbao in that group but they looked good against Real and should they get Mendieta in January survival is definitely not beyond them)

It's Bremen in about twenty hours time and if Barcelona play like that again they're in real trouble. 'dinho will be back and Gio will no doubt come in for Sylvinho. Zambrotta blah, blah, blah, you know the team by now. It pretty much picks itself. Anything less than a win and they're out. See you on the other side.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Levante is where the Harte is

Liam Brady, John Aldridge and Big Cas. More recently Robbie Keane, Phil Babb and David Connolly. It's rare for Irish footballers to look beyond the British Isles when it comes to earning a crust. English football dominates here. In the papers, on radio and television, on the streets with kids in Liverpool jerseys, in the pub where Chelsea-United is as big a deal on Baggot Street as it is on the King's Road. It wasn't until the swelling of the Champions League, the foundation of the Premier League (and all the money that came with it) and Gazza's move to Lazio, prompting Channel 4 to buy the rights to Serie A, that there was any real exposure to futbol or calcio here. Football began and ended at Old Trafford or Anfield for most and when it comes to Irish players, it still does. No one leaves school for a trial with AC Milan or Auxerre. No one kicking a ball around the playground dreams of playing for Real Betis or sports a Stuttgart shirt. Ireland may have been independent since the twenties but when it comes to football, as with so many other things, we're very much little Britain.

Until the summer of 2004 Ian Harte had played professional football for only one team; Leeds United. He'd been there for nine seasons, experiencing the dizzy heights of the Ridsdale era, when Leeds spent it like Posh and Becks and powered their way to the semi-final of the European Cup; and the desperate lows that followed their defeat to Valencia, the subsequent disintegration of the club, lurching from one crisis to the next; the trial of Jon Woodgate and Lee Bowyer, O'Leary's book, bankruptcy, the loss of all of their decent players (and their ground) and subsequent relegation to the tin pot Championship. Harte, a fairly limited defender who was a good passer of the ball and could really hit a freekick, was linked with the usual suspects and a move to somewhere like Blackburn or Everton, middle of the road Premiership sides, looked to be on the cards. Instead he packed his bags for Valencia and signed a four year deal with newly promoted Levante. He played twenty odd games for the team that, after such a promising start, would get well relegated (the game that sealed their fate was a 1-1 draw with Barcelona, four matches from the end of the season, a result that saw FCB crowned Champions, like you didn't know). 1nce again there was talk of Harte being transfered to some mid-table outfit back in Blighty. And again it didn't happen. Harte stuck it out, played almost every game and helped his side out of the Segunda Liga and back into the big time.

Due to injury he has yet to play this season and has been boring viewers of Sky Sports Liga coverage with his Shearer-like analysis from time to time. I have no doubt he'll make an appearance tonight. I'm no great fan of Harte, he's dog slow and his positioning is at best very poor. That said, I admire his resilience. La Segunda Liga is every bit as bad as Serie B when it comes to shit teams and dire, hack and slash football. Like Serie B there are few foreign players and you're unlikely to have heard of the ones that are knocking around Xerez or Gijon. It takes character not to cut and run so good on Harte for staying the course (my thanks to the GOP for these particular turns of phrase :). I wish him a speedy recovery.

The squad for tonight's game is a bit thin. No 'dinho, he's rested for the Bremen game on Tuesday and Rafa Marquez is out too. Motta comes back though and will probably line out ahead of Edmilson. Santi will get a rare, rare start on the left of the attack. It'll be interesting to see if Thuram starts after his interview with L'Equipe this week.

(Very quick) Round up: Gio, Sylvinho and the World Club Superbowl Stanley Cup

New deals this week for Barça left backs Gio and Sylvinho, both until June 2008. It seems that Belletti will sign a new contract too, despite interest from Milan, who have a penchant for aging defenders.

The squad for the World Club Waste of Time has been announced and the good news is that Saviola is included. The "tournament" takes place in mid-December so it's positive to see that his recovery is ahead of schedule. Also on the plane to Disneyland or wherever this farce is being played out are Gio Dos Santos, Marc Crosas and young Ruben in gol. Hopefully they'll get a run out against erm, eh, whoever the fuck they're playing. Can you sense my complete disinterest in this colossal waste of time. Thought so.

Finally, as I'm sure you've heard, ex-blaugrana striker Henrik Larsson has signed a three-month loan deal with Manchester United. He may be thirty five but Larsson is a fantastic player and I have no doubt he'll be brilliant in his short time at United. That's your lot for the time being. More tomorrow on the match. Let's go Ezquerro!