Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Gonna. Get it. Together. Watch it!



I know just how Xavi feels. Barcelona have two away wins thus far this season (1-4 at the worst side in La Liga, Levante, and 2-0 at Stuttgart) They ought get their third tonight in the Copa del Rey at CD Alcoyano, a Valencia based side who play in the Segunda B.

The squad for tonights kick about is as expected. 'dinho, Messi and Milito are away for World Cup qualifiers, Zambrotta is suspended and Santi "I can't catch a break" Ezquerro has a groin injury. Marquez is back, having recovered from brain freeze or a mild form of amnesia or whatever he's been suffering of late. He'll likely start in the centre of defence. Number two golkeeper Jorquera, Marc Crosas, Bojan and Gio Dos Santos should be in from the jump off too. I don't think the game is on tv here to I'll post up a link to highlights later on.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

It's like deja vu all over again...



"Those responsible are the players as we are the ones who have to fight. I am worried. After every game we say the same things but another two weeks go by and the same thing happens again."

"We try to play our football but our rivals put more into it than us and if we don't put more in we don't win. They played more as a team. You have to look at the way you lost and this is what worries me. We are not playing as a team and everyone can see that."

"We need to speak among ourselves but it is clear that we cannot continue like this. We are the first ones who want to forget about last season but what we are doing reminds us of last year."

Carles Puyol after Saturday night's defeat away to Getafe. He is of course right.

Having defeated Rangers 2-0 during the week without really having to try (both iron man Puyol and Iniesta were fantastic against Gers, who were incredibly poor) it was back to earth with a bang in Madrid. It was the same old story. The blaugrana dominated possession but could do nothing with it. Getafe, a limited but disciplined team, had a few chances and put them away. Barcelona on the other hand, failing to get the first gol, became more and more frustrated and until the wheels completely came off with Zambrotta's sending off on eighty-five minutes.

One really has to wonder when Barcelona are going to get over this hump. After the meltdown that was last season it was all going to be different. The defense was re-enforced with Milito and Abidal, and Toure added some more steel to the midfield. They were no longer going to be the soft pushovers they were last time out when they came up against strong, physical sides. How little has changed. Now third behind Real and Villarreal, the blaugrana look to have learned nothing from the fiasco that was the second half of the 06/07 season.

Watching Puyol on Wednesday night was inspiring stuff, he was everywhere. His teammates would do well to watch and listen to Carles. Otherwise there'll be a whole lot more wailing and gnashing of teeth come May.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Seven of Nine



So what have we learned from the past three games? Barça still can't win away from home. Thierry Henry is ever so slowly adapting to the blaugrana's style of play (witness his gol against Betis). 'dinho, three gols in two games, still isn't right but that overhead kick did show that he's making progress. Deco is sorely missed, he won't be back for at least another three weeks. Yaya Toure adds the bite to the midfield that they've been missing. Rafa Marquez seems to have hit his head and forgotten how to play futbol. Charly Puyol is a fantastic attacking right back. And despite their not playing all that well Barcelona are but a point off the top.

It's Gers at the Camp Nou tonight. Zambrotta is out thanks to an ankle ligament injury and is replaced by Milito. Gaby will probably start in the centre of defence with Thuram with Charly powering forward down the right (he's probably a good bet for a gol tonight). The full squad is:

Valdés, Jorquera

Márquez, Puyol, Oleguer, Sylvinho, Milito, Abidal, Thuram

Xavi, Iniesta, Toure (rather thin in midfield isn't it?)

Henry, Bojan, Giovani, Messi, Ronaldinho, Gudjohnsen

This will be the first game since the Almeria match which featured a whole lot of huffing and puffing but little else. My Dad tells me that they were much improved against Betis after a woeful performance against Valladolid ("Marquez is absolutely rubbish"). I'd expect the game to go much like the last time out against Gers 'cept with Barça putting away three or four gols.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Hack and slash futbol



Tuesday seems like an awfully long time ago. The game at Ibrox is one I'd rather forget. Rangers, who beat Lyon 3-0 away and did a similar number on Celtic the previous weekend were awful. Masters of the long aimless punt, the needless foul and putting it out for a corner, they ofered little or nothing going forward and played, in the words of Leo Messi, "anti-football". That said, Barcelona hardly lit it up either. Plenty of possession, over 70% but absolutely no penetration, few genuine chances (a 'dinho free kick tipped over the bar, a Puyol header also saved and an Henry header that went over the bar were about the best) and a general lack of verve about their play.

That said, despite being so poor Barça still drew and one would imagine that they'll lay waste to Gers at the Camp Nou. A win would give them 10 points. Before I move onto La Liga, a word about Ronaldinho. Slow, ponderous, laboured, Robbie Keane-ing it when a simple pass would have done, he had one decent free kick, a good cross that Puyol got on the end of (Puyol was frequently Barça's most attack minded player, which says it all) and that was it. After missing the Villarreal game he needed to be showing more than this. No doubt he'll turn it on against Almeria on Sunday, doing some pointlessly showy step-over or flick and El Mundo Deportivo will be extolling his virtues again. *sigh*

Speaking of Almeria, they've done pretty well thus far. Mid-table after eight games, Cobeno is solid in gol (he did well at Sevilla when Palop was out last season) , they're unspectacular but look good to avoid relegation. I still don't give them a chance on Sunday evening. The Barça squad features Toure, Zambrotta and Rafa Marquez, all back from injury. Crosas, Thuram and poor old Santi miss out. Leo Messi, training by himself these last few days may be rested, with either Bojan or Gio stepping up. The game kicks off at 6.

Monday, October 22, 2007

We all lose to the yellow submarines

After a two weeks absence due to internationals Barcelona fell to earth with a bang (and without Ronaldinho) this weekend, losing 3-1 away to Villarreal and Deco for at least five weeks. At least Madrid lost too. The blaugrana are now forth, still two points behind leaders Real.
Villarreal were spectacular against Barça, completely dominating play, with old duffers Robert Pires and Marcos Senna controlling the game with ease. Even the introduction of Gio Dos Santos at the beginning of the second half for Oleguer didn't shift the balance and the yellow submarines stood firm. Deco hobbling off

Conspicuous by his absence was 'dinho, no doubt still drunk from his all-nighter with Robinho in Rio after the Brasil beat Ecuador. The story in O Globo puts him in the boot of a car at 11am the next morning to avoid being photographed leaving the club. Whether this is true I don't know but he certainly has previous and one must being to wonder if he's worth the bother. Hopelessly off the pace thus far this season and completely eclipsed by the explosive form of Leo Messi, 'dinho seems to be going down the same road Adriano, a road littered with night clubs, magnums of Cristal and XL jerseys to hide the flab.



There were few positives for Rijkaard's side but one was undoubtedly Bojan Krkic's gol, a fine finish from a deft Leo Messi pass. His first senior gol for the team, he became the youngest player ever to score for Barça. Bojan had a fabulous U-17 tournament for Espana during the summer and has looked very sharp in his first team appearances (typically limited to the last ten to fifteen minutes before Saturday's start).

The Old Firm

After their 3-0 victory over Celtic at the wknd, Gers are understandably in bullish about their chances at Ibrox. Barcelona's injury list is lengthy (Deco, Marquez, Edmilson, Toure, Eto'o, Zambrotta) and of particular concern is midfield, where either Marc Crosas or Ice Ice Baby will make their first start. Crosas is very raw and Guddy incredibly rusty given his lack of minutes. Crosas is also pretty lightweight. I think a draw would be a decent result for the blaugrana given how thin midfield is, an area that Gers, who like Barça have won their first two group games, will look to control. The game is live on Sky Sports 2 from 7:30 tomorrow evening.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The best of the best



The elite. The shortlist for FIFA World Player of the year was published today and it's a farce. The full list is here. It's hard to know where to begin so let's start at the Camp Nou. There are seven blaugrana on the list; Messi, 'dinho, Eto'o, Deco, Thuram, Marquez and Henry. Now Barcelona's season was far from disastrous but of the seven, Thuram and Marquez were among the worst players to wear the shirt, Thuram in particular has been very poor at times. Deco has been up and down too and far from the player he was in the European Cup winning season (though he's very much on point again right now). Of the others Eto'o spent the majority of the year out injured and again wasn't the best when he did return.

But that's not the half of it. Among those listed are: Canna, who's been rubbish at Madrid, Lahm, Nesta, Torres, Viera and Lampard. There is no place for any Sevilla player (that's right, no Dani Alves), no Iker Casillas, no Zlatan, no Totti (again, ala Sevilla not a single AS Roma player), no Sergio Ramos, no David Villa, no Jamie Carragher (who's picking this, Steve McLaren?)... it goes on.

Obviously this is a load of bollocks and who's to say who the best player in the World is but still, this is just a random list of famous players. Anyway, rant over. Kaka will win in any case and he deserves it. 100% Jesus. Good night.

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Big Easy



It wasn't the 6-0 hammering they dished out last time but Sunday's 3-0 win over Atletico Madrid was about as comprehensive as they come. Aided and abetted in no small part by Abbiati's dropping of Messi's cross at Deco's feet after only fifteen minutes for the Portuguese to score the opener, Atletico were torn apart by Messi, Iniesta and the afore mentioned Deco, who had a fabulous game. Valdes was again in fine form and made a few sharp saves when the defense had their requisite wobble followed by a mild panic. That said, for the most part the back four were solid, Puyol and Milito look a good pairing at the centre of defense.

Considering there was so much talk before the game of Aguero vs. Messi, El Kun was pretty disappointing, not registering a single shot on target and failing to ignite. But he was far from alone, Forlan, Simao, Reyes, all were fairly poor though ex-blaugrana Luis Garcia looked sharp when he came on.

With Madrid winning 2-0, Barcelona are still two points back with Villarreal away coming up next weekend.

One last thing worth pointing out is that Barcelona finished the game with eight players who've come through the ranks at La Masia, which is pretty incredible. Dos Santos put in a super cross for Xavi's gol late on and both he and Bojan look like stepping up to the first team ala Messi and Iniesta in the past three years.

The ArenA to the Bridge

Former Barcelona assistant coach Henk Ten Cate has left Ajax to become assistant to Avram Grant at Chelsea. After his incredible success alongside Frank Rijkaard, Ten Cate's reign at the ArenA was somewhat up and down, being dumped out of Europe at the first hurdle two years running (they lost both Champions League and UEFA Cup qualifiers) and while they did lose out to PSV only on gol difference last season in the
Eredivisie, the lack of European futbol hasn't done him any favours. Still he leaves Ajax just one point behind PSV and having won the Dutch Cup last season so his time as coach was far from a disastrous one. Daan Schippers from The Guardian wrote a good article about Ten Cate to Chelsea. Have a read of it here.

What he'll make of the mess at Chelsea remains to be seen. I'd be quite surprised to see Grant survive past Christmas should the Blues drop out of contention for the Premier League.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Rock on 'til the break of dawn



Update: Marquez is out for a month with a torn muscle in his right leg but ironman Puyol is fit and will play against Atletico

Last night's game against Stuttgart was the first ninety minutes of Barcelona that I've seen this season. Baring half an hour of the Sevilla game it's all I've seen. Which goes a long way to explaining my complete lack of blogging. That and a bunch of other stuff.

Anyway, Stuttgart. Puyol, Messi, Marquez, 'dinho and most importantly, Victor Valdes.

I've dished out some fairly harsh criticism of Valdes (most of it deserved) but I'm always quick to hoist him up on my shoulders whenever he has a good game. And crikey did he have a good game last night. After Barça's early dominance yielded nothing, Stuttgart came at the blaugrana late in the first and early in the second, and only for Valdes' Casillas-esque golkeeping, a double save, first onto the bar and then getting down to palm away the follow-up header was nothing short of incredible, they easily could have been 2-0 down despite looking far and away the better team.

Indeed it took a half-crocked Carles Puyol to stab home the first gol after Schafer flapped at 'dinho's long range header. Thierry Henry, who would later do well for Messi's gol, stood rooted to the spot as the ball dropped infront of him only for Puyol, the only player alive to the loose ball, to react. It was an ugly gol but a top finish from the blaugrana captain.

Puyol was only on due to Rafa Marquez departing after seven minutes. Puyol would later come off with what looked like a strain when he over stretched but the club have said that he just took a knock. Whether he's fit to face Atletico Madrid on Saturday remains to be seen but I doubt he'll play. With Marquez, Milito, Edmilson, Toure and Zambrotta already out the defense is likely to be Oleguer, Thuram, Abidal (at centreback) and Sylvinho, which doesn't bode well against Forlan and the in-form Aguero

Another issue will be whether 'dinho, who started well, threading through two superb passes to Messi and Henry early on, faded badly in the second half and looked hopelessly unfit, getting himself into a pickle more than once, despite some neat touches, will start. He doesn't seem up to lasting a full game so Bojan, who almost scored last night, or Dos Santos will probably get a run out after about an hour or so.

Barça of course don't even need 'dinho at the moment, such is the form of Leo Messi. His gol last night brought his tally to seven thus far and he has quite simply been on fire, tearing it up against Sevilla, Saragossa and Levante in La Liga. There has been plenty of talk of him being World Player of the Year but I think that has to go to Kaka, who has been sensational in the last twelve months, sometimes singlehandedly winning games for Milan.

I know there's been all sorts of Barça news that's come and gone since I was last posting; Maxi to FC Moskva, Giuly to AS Roma, Belletti to the sinking ship that is Chelsea, Motta to Atletico (where he has yet to start), the death of Antonio Puerta at Sevilla, the nou Camp Nou, the Eto'o injury, out for at least two months and Bojan and Gio Dos Santos' first team blooding. There is much to talk about. But for now, I'm off into the rain to grab some nude fude.

Friday, July 13, 2007

White Noise


It's been all Argentina, all the time this week. Messi, Gabriel Milito, Maxi Lopez and Saviola.

First off goooooooooooooooooool Messi (about two minutes in, it's a highlight reel of all the gols, Heinze's is worth watching too for Riquelme's great free kick) against Mexico in the semi-final of the Copa America. Being as it was on at like two in the morning I didn't catch it live (in fact the only Copa game I've seen thus far was Argentina-Peru last Sunday night) but saw it on Sky News first thing and was suitably awestruck. The more I see of Messi; his touch, his dribbling, his speed and his determination (he made a wonderful sliding tackle on Pizarro on the halfway line that exemplified his style of play) the more I think he's the best player the blaugrana have produced since Carles Rexach or even Josep Fusté. The last time I was this excited about a futbol player was watching a young Roberto Baggio at Italia '90 when I was eleven.

Altas y bajas

After much ado about Christian Chivu, (who has decided to stay at AS Roma for the final year of his contract) Barça signed Gaby Milito from Saragossa for around €20 million. He's signed a four year deal with the blaugrana and will wear the number 3 shirt recently vacated by the still homeless Thiago Motta (who no-one seems interested in, Saragossa refusing to make him part of the Milito deal). Milito is a fantastic defender (though he did make one appalling slip against Peru that suggests he'll be right at home alongside Marquez and Thuram) and a real addition to the club, especially with Carles Puyol injured. Milito has played over 130 games for Saragossa since he failed a medical for Real Madrid in 2003 (indeed their failure to sign him coupled with Fernando Hierro being shoved out the door left a massive hole in their defense that went unfilled until the signing of Fabio Cannavaro last season).

In the out tray are Maxi (set to join Sporting Lisbon on loan) and Saviola, who today signed for Real Madrid.

Let's get Maxi out of the way first because I have a lot to say about Javier. Looking at the ins-and-outs at Sporting thus far this summer they seem to have lost half their team, principally Ricardo to Betis and Nani to Manchester United plus a host of others. João Moutinho is about the only top class player left at the club and while they are in the Champions League it's hard to see them making it out of the group stages. How Maxi will do is difficult to say, he hardly set La Liga alight at Mallorca last season and his blaugrana career went downhill after he scored that gol against Chelsea on his debut. I can't see him wearing the blaugrana shirt again though. Either he does well at Sporting and they buy him or he'll be loaned out ala Saviola until his contract expires and they can get shot of him. Which brings us nicely on to...

I have to say I felt more than a little sad today seeing Saviola as a madridista. Shortly after watching his presentation this was replaced with anger when I read Barça vice-president Ferran Soriano's comments (en espanyol) about The Rabbit. His remark that the two most successful years of the Rijkaard era came when Saviola was out on loan were quite unbelievable. Where the fuck does he get off bad mouthing Javier, a player who never once moaned or complained in his six years at the Camp Nou and who, in his first three years, gave his all for Mes Que un Club while most of the team had their feet up and couldn't be bothered. Barcelona are frequently given to a holier-than-thou attitude and shit like this galls me. How dare Soriano say that about Saviola, taking a dig at both his character and ability. Fuck him and fuck FCB. Força Saviola. I wish him all the best at Real (where he'll have a fight on his hands to line-up alongside Ruud, having to get past Robinho and Raul, though he's much better than anyone else they have; Higuain, Soldado (who had a good season on loan at Osasuna and only last week signed a new contract) and Baptista, plus he seems to have to full confidence of the new coach Bernd Schuster, something he never had at Barça.

And on that bitter note I'm out. Copa America final on Sunday. I can't wait.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Anyone buyin' or sellin' players?



It's as if Barry Fry or 'arry Redknapp have come to Barcelona. With Henry and Toure already signed, today saw the arrival of Eric Abidal from Lyon in a deal worth £10 million. He replaces Gio Van Bronckhorst who rejoined Feyenoord on a free transfer on Wednesday. I've only seen Abidal a few times, Champions League and the World Cup and I can't say I was wildly impressed by him. He is more defensive than Gio and seems less interested in bombing forward and being caught out of position, which is a plus. An interesting aside to Abidal's signing is that his agent is Marco Simone, the former Milan, PSG and Monaco forward.

Joining Gio in the out tray could be Edmilson and Gudjohnsen, both of whom have been linked with a move to Newcastle, a deal with the former seemingly close to being signed. Frankly I'm amazed. Edmilson is a very good player, certainly much better than Newcastle, where good players go to die. As for Gudjohnsen, I'm no fan but Owen aside he's much better than the other scrubber forwards they have on Tyneside (I don't rate Viduka or Martins at all. Viduka is a decent finisher but he's slow, overweight and never seems that bothered. Martins is just useless, he scores the odd spectacular gol but most of the time he runs around like he's on fire but with little effect) I would have thought that both Edmilson and Vanilla Ice would have more ambition and would look to sign for a better club (Edmilson was linked with Milan in January).

I wouldn't see the loss of either as being a big deal. I have ill-concealed contempt for Gudjohnsen and Edmilson has been injured an awful lot since he joined the blaugrana in 2004 and is currently out with a knee injury that could see him sidelined for up to six months.

Nxt

Giuly out, to either Monaco or Marseille? Plus there's still no deal for Chivu. When I hear more dear readers, so will you. Off the record, on the QT and very hush hush.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Hey Bobby, what's the Catalan for va-va-voom?


It's been almost two months since I've fallen off the blog. For a few reasons really. I've had a lot of stuff going on and I've not had the time. That and I've just gotten lazy.

In my absence Barça have thrown away La Liga, signed Thierry Henry, Yaya Toure and Rodrigo Palacio. Carles Puyol, injured in some post-season exhibition match against the Mets or the Dolphins or some shit, will be out for at least three months. Both Eto'o and Ronaldinho say that they're staying (along with coach Frank Rijkaard) and the blaugrana now have enough forwards to make up and entire team. Edmilson is crocked too.

Re-rewind

Where to begin? Let's back up and talk Betis. Let's talk Espanyol. Let's talk about the game lasting ninety minutes and not eighty-nine. Where as Madrid were pulling it out of the fire right up until the final whistle (Recre, Espanyol and Saragossa), Barcelona were turning their backs, losing concentration and shooting themselves in the foot like Cheddar Bob in 8 Mile. There was a picture in El Mundo Deportivo the day following the Betis game that showed seven Barça players with their backs turned to Assuncao's free kick. Sorbis had slotted the ball under Valdes before most of them even realised that play had restarted.

The blaugrana played incredibly poorly that evening (I was right thurr, watching things fall apart before my very eyes) and were only one-nil thanks to an early 'dinho penalty. He would of course be withdrawn, as would Leo Messi, as Rijkaard got all catenaccio and decided that 1-0 would do nicely, forgetting of course that if there's one thing Barça like as much as scoring gols, it's conceding them. It was the same against Espanyol. Vanilla Ice off to be replaced by defensive midfielder Thiago Motta. 2-1, ten odd minutes to go, time to shut up shop. Or maybe concede a late equaliser and blow La Liga. Again. Whichever works best for you.

In this respect one has to have a grudging respect for Real Madrid. As much as Barça lost it, between Iker keeping them out and one end and Ruud putting them away at the other, they stepped up and won it. Becks roared back to remind everyone he's actually still quite brilliant and what a shame it will be to lose his talent to the Lakers. Guti, when not diving or moaning played some incredible stuff; his performance against Sevilla was as good a forty-five minutes I've seen anyone play all season.

Fwd



So what now? On the back of such a pathetic capitulation changes needed to be made. A new centre back, a left back, a defensive midfielder who's knees aren't made of glass and maybe even a golkeeper (though to be fair to Victor Valdes he's been excellent this season past, it's the clowns in front of him that have been to blame). Thus it came as no surprise when on Friday last news leaked out that Thierry Henry had agreed a four year deal and would officially be presented at the Camp Nou on Monday. This of course in addition to Palacio from Boca Boca Boca. And Yaya Toure, who, and surely there's been some mistake here, isn't a forward.

With Saviola the only player who has left thus far (Javier was shockingly treated by Mes Que Un Club, not even in the squad against Espanyol for what would have been his final home game after five years at Barcelona. How it galls me to see that waster Gudjohnsen wearing Javier's number seven shirt...) and both 'dinho and Eto'o stating that they're going to stay, it's difficult to see where exactly Henry will fit in. As for Palacio, I mean honestly. What. The. Fuck? Is Maxi Lopez lonely or something? He doesn't stand a chance and if he has any sense will reconsider (the deal has yet to be officially confirmed but it's been an open secret for about a month now). Toure's arrival I assume will see the end of Motta (Txiki said as much today) I like Motta a lot but he's just not good enough.




Continuing the buy, buy, buy theme is Christian Chivu, again surprisingly not a forward, who looks to be on his way form AS Roma. Chivu is awesome and if La Liga is to be won next season I fancy it'll be on the back of his defending and not Henry's va-va-voom.

To balance this huge outlay (£16 million for Henry and £8 million for Toure thus far). I'd expect to see at least six of the current squad take a walk. The aforementioned Motta, Gudjohnsen, Maxi Lopez, the criminally underused Santi Ezquerro, Giuly, who has been heavily linked with a move back to Monaco and Gio, who looks like signing for Feyenoord in the next few days if Sport is to be believed (and yes I know, typically it's not)

Injury Time

Before I go there are a few things worthy of mention. My favourite blaugrana is back at the club. Pep Guardiola, the best midfielder the club have ever produced (well that I've seen anyway) is the new coach of Barça B.

Secondly, catalansadublin.com now have forums in English, great for the likes of me who don't speak a word of catalan beyond bona nit and asking for la nota.

Finally, a good article written by Jonathan Wilson about young Bojan that is worth a read. And that's how the game be played yo. I'll hit you up later in the week when there's more transfer news. It feels to be back. Peace out.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Staring into the abyss

It wasn't like they didn't have chances. As Barça trudged forlornly off the pitch at El Madrigal having suffered a 2-0 defeat, they had only themselves to blame. 'dinho, Eto'o and Gudjohnsen all had opportunities but none of them were converted. Saves were made, the cross bar rattled and the ball was booted into the stand.

Utterly dominant in the first half yet abjectly failing to put the ball in the net, Barcelona were overwhelmed by a resurgent Villarreal in the second. Robert Pires, in what was his first start of the season, was fantastic, and his gol, reminiscent of his Arsenal days, was well taken. After they fell behind the blaugrana looked like the stuffing had been knocked out of them and the yellow submarine's second had a certain inevitability about it.

There was more drugery this week against Levante, a side who've been knocking around the lower reaches of La Liga all season and who ought not have presented such a stiff challange. Barça scraped past them thanks to a first half gol from Samuel Eto'o, who was horribly out of sorts against Villarreal. They're still a point clear of Sevilla, who thumped Espanyol 3-1 and two of Madrid, 4-1 winners away to Bilbao but looking at their past few performances, limping over the finishline seems about all we can hope for.

Away to Sociedad on Saturday ahead of the Real-Sevilla game Sunday, every match now seems cause for trepidation, for worry and concern. Where 1nce there was confidence and swagger there are now nerves and a lack of cohesion. Sociedad ought to be a breeze, second for bottom, they've been bloody useless all season despite their recent run of good results (up until this weekend anyway), but the certainty is gone. Barcelona can't win away and can barely manage it at home of late. You feel that one good win would be enough to right the ship because with so few games left it's still their Liga to lose.

Friday, April 20, 2007

El Diego

So, that gol. Mexico '86 and all that. Coming as it did in a Copa Del Rey game against a Getafe team who are no world beaters it's really nothing to get carried away about... Like, yeah, as if. Let's get carried away, let's go off the deep end. I've watched the gol about fifty times now (and that is sadly, no exaggeration) and it doesn't get any less amazing. I didn't catch the game as it was screened at 11:00 on Wednesday night and as I'm suffering with the flu at the mo' I was tucked up in my bed at that stage but by the morning youtube was brimming with clips of the gol, the Spanish press were dubbing young Leo 'Diego Messi' and were running out of superlatives to describe it. Watch the El Diego side-by-side with Messi! Messi! Messi! here.

A few years ago when 'dinho won World Player of the Year he commented to FourFourTwo "People say I am the best in the world, but I am not even the best at Barcelona." in reference to Messi. At the time it seemed incredibly high praise indeed. Now it seems about right.

Taxi for a Javier Saviola

As Messi goes into the stratosphere, Javier Saviola is on his way out. Having received no offer from the blaugrana, he will leave when his contract expires at the end of the season. This is probably best for all concerned. Despite his talent and work rate, Javier has been unwanted at the Camp Nou for three successive seasons now, with loan moves to Monaco and Sevilla not yielding permanent deals, he was back in Barcelona to see out the final year. Whoever signs Javier will be getting a top quality forward. I hope he goes to a big club. Word is that Didier Deschamps, coach at Monaco during Saviola's time there, wants to bring him to Juve. He'd do well there and I wish him all the best. I'll be gushing more about number twenty two in coming weeks.

We all live in a Yellow Submarine

Barcelona play Villarreal this weekend so it's lazy headline time. One time bright young things of La Liga and the Champions League, a last minute missed penalty away from the final you'll recall, have fallen from grace this season. Blighted by injuries (Nihat and Pires), internal strife (Riquelme going back to Boca) and a distinct lack of gols (top scored Forlan has just ten) in addition to a leaky defense marshaled by Arsenal reject and all round useless sort Pascal Cygan, the sun hasn't shone quite so brightly El Madrigal. Currently twelfth, they look a shadow of their former selves and have been scrapping draws with La Liga's worst sides (Sociedad and Betis) and losing to Levante in recent games. They certainly won't get relegated but this season has been a complete write off.

All of which is good news for Barcelona, who, despite their high scoring Copa win on Wednesday, have been coughing and spluttering their way through games of late. Rijkaard has named a full squad, baring Motta, Edmilson and Belletti (all injured) and Marquez (a man who can lose games all by himself these days). 'dinho is back and will start alongside Eto'o and El Diego.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Original Gangster

An own gol. In the 89th minute. A saved penalty. Loose pass after loose pass. Zambrotta and Thuram looking like they left their footballing brains in Turin. Messi with his head down. Eto'o off the pace. It was not a good time at the Camp Nou on Sunday night. Mallorca are a very limited side, they packed the defense and pressured the blaugrana but penalty notwithstanding, they offered next to nothing going forward. Much like Barça, who time and time again gave away posession in midfield or lashed a cross out for a throw. They had chances, Saviola drawing a good double save from Moya and a Marquez header that came off the post, but they were more anomaly than the norm.

Barça dominated the game without ever looking like winning it until Xavi's freekick bounced around the six yard box, off Marquez, Saviola and finally former blaugrana Fernando Navarro and into the net. Outpourings of relief all around and a 1-0 victory, combined with Sevilla's defeat at the Mestalla and Madrid being mugged in Santander (I think both penalties were legit, certainly the second one and Reals only gol did come from a farcical mistake from the Santander defense) leaves Barça four points clear of the chasing pack with eight games remaining.

Of the many negatives that came out of the Mallorca game was an injury to Belletti that will see him out for the next four weeks. He'll be joined by Edmilson, who's out for two weeks. Thus neither is in the squad for the Copa game tonight against Getafe. Also out are Motta and 'dinho, plus Sylvinho and Giuly are not included. If he's good, Santi Ezquerro might get a run out.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Maxi

Sunday night sees the return of one of Barça's prodigal sons, Argentine striker Maxi Lopez, with his current team Real Mallorca. Pushed out of the Camp Nou in the summer, Maxi has had a reasonable run of it at the San Moix, playing twenty four games and scoring two gols (twice as many as he got for the blaugrana). In a brief interview on Thursday, Maxi was his typical humble self, saying his heart is with Barça, so hopefully he won't try too hard come seven o'clock tomorrow night.

The Eto'o is back in the squad but both Motta and 'dinho miss out through injury. Oleguer and poor Santi Ezquerro are left out just because. The team will likely line up with Messi, Giuly and Eto'o upfront and Deco, Xavi and Iniesta behind them. Only a fool would speculate as to the defense, which changes more often than the wind.

I'll be checking out the Santander Real game tonight, know your enemy and all that. Finally, an interview with Lillian Thuram I saw on the wires where he rails against Nicolas Sarkozy. Bravo Lillian!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Why watching Barcelona is like watching Leinster

You have to wonder if Sevilla really want to win La Liga. At home to Santander on Sunday they could only manage a 0-0 draw that saw them remain one point behind Barcelona, who lost 1-0 to Saragossa on Saturday night. With their draw and FCB's loss, the real *groan* winners this weekend are Madrid, who won 2-0 at home against Osasuna. They've won three on the bounce and despite being absolutely awful for much of the season they're right there, only two points off the top.

Suffering the blaugrana's limp performance at the Romareda had much in common with my Friday night, spent watching Leinster make a balls of it in Glasgow, losing 26-20 yet still managing to stay top of the Magners League. Frustrating, depressing, a sinking feeling that 1nce they went behind that was pretty much it. Utterly battered in the first half, Barcelona, playing their "it worked that one time in the Copa" 3-4-3 formation, could have been at least three down, catching it from every angle yet somehow managing to go in all-square. After the break it was more of the same until Diego Milito bundled in the winner on fifty-seven, D'Alessandro somehow managing to fire a cross in past both Oleguer and Thuram and Diego getting in between Valdes and Puyol to nudge it over the line. It was a comedic gol to conceed but certainly no more than Saragossa deserved. Barça were well beaten and bar a few wild lashes in the direction of gol, they never looked like scoring.

Atletico Madrid aside, Barcelona have now played every one of the top six sides twice and have won all of two games, 3-1 against Sevilla and 2-1 against Saragossa, both at home. Nine games and two wins. Hardly the form of Champions.

Before I go, I did a little youtubing on Rodrigo Palacio and found this. Some cracking gols but most of them are against woeful opposition so it's very hard to judge.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Saragossa, Depor and YouTube

"Santiago Ezquerro is also set to miss the game as he his rested." Rested. Maybe Santi has been doing the garden all week or building a wall and he's knackered from all the manual labour. Or maybe he has a new baby who's keeping him up all night and he'd give anything for a good night's sleep. Rested. Come. Off. It.

In addition to Santi, Barça will be without Eto'o (tendonitis), Motta (insert random injury here) and Belletti (groin strain) for what will be a tough game. Saragossa are a good side, only three points behind Valencia in fifth. Diego Milito has notched up 18 gols in La Liga and they're unbeaten in their last six games in the League. Interupting that run of form is their 1-2 loss to Barcelona in the Copa at the tail end of February. The blaugrana were exceptional that night, really digging out a result. They'll need to show the same steal and resolve if they're to remain two points ahead of Sevilla come Sunday evening. Deco returns with two of his fingers strapped up, as does Marquez, who has been out in the cold for the last few games on the back of some very poor displays.

A Messi!

A quick word on last weekend's 2-1 victory over Depor. I had a whole post on this written but then Safari crashed out and I lost it. Essentially it was about how pre-Hector Cuper and Rafa Benitez Valencia, before Sevilla stopped selling all their best players, that Deportivo were the only team challenging the Real-Barça hegemony (Sociedad were a splash in the pan). It was long and involved and it's time has passed so don't expect to see it any time soon. Instead, what about Messi's gol? Excellent control from 'dinho to jink past Coloccini, a pinpoint pass and a get-in! finish. Sensational.

You Tube and Palacio

Following Chelsea's opening of an official YouTube channel about a month ago, Barça have one of their own. Currently the most interesting thing up there is Ludovic Giuly sticking out his tongue while tying his bootlaces but it's only been up a few days so I'm willing to believe it'll get better. In tamdem with the new website FCB are going all web 2.0 on our asses. More of this I say. Finally, it seems fairly certain that Barcelona will sign Rodrigo Palacio in the summer from Boca Juniors. Palacio's name has come up a lot in the past few months and reportedly the club made a bid for him in the transfer window that was rejected.

But with Saviola on his way, Mallorca likely to make Maxi Lopez' loan permanent and increasing murmurs of Guddy being shipped back to blighty, the deal is back on. I haven't seen anything of the Boca number 14 bar his brief cameo against the Ivory Coast in the World Cup but I hear good things. Right, it's game time. A full report tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Slow news day

As all attention is focused on Euro 2008 qualifiers, Barcelona news is very thin on the ground. The major news is that fcbarcelona.cat has undergone a complete and long overdue redesign. Considering the squad list on the old site included Patrick Kluivert and Marc Overmars and that you were as likely to seem some asp or sql error as a news story it was about bloody time. The new site is very good, lots of flash and video, more info on Barça B and the youth teams, ticketing, club history etc. A marked step up.

So what else? Barcelona have drawn Getafe in the Copa Del Rey. The first leg is mid-April at the Camp Nou. What else? Some movement on the Saviola front. After Javier's comments about not having recieved any offer of a contract from the club, Txiki Begiristain yesterday evening said that the club will put an offer on the table and seemed to indicate that the blaugrana wanted Saviola to stay. I still reckon it's all bluster and that they'll low-ball him and that he'll leave in the summer. We shall see. And that folks, is that. More later in the week as the Depor game (9:00pm on Saturday night) approaches.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Recreativo Takedown

That's more like it. Barcelona's first away victory in La Liga since mid-November, a comprehensive 0-4 win, with gols from Eto'o (x2), Zambrotta, a fine gol born out of about fifteen passes and fantastic movement and finally Leo Messi with a low drive late on. A fine performance all round. Valdes solid in gol, making three good stops when Barça were only 0-1 up. The defense looking far better without Marquez (his dropping from the squad resulting in a clean sheet, coincidence? I think not) and ditching 3-4-3 for the less crazy and more traditional 4-3-3, with Sylvinho and Zambrotta coming in. The blaugrana completely controlled the game against a side that are seventh, just two points behind Athletico Madrid and who are most definitely in contention for a UEFA Cup spot.

Barça now have a two week break before they're at home to Mini-Depor at the end of the month. Deco is out, suspended after picking up a yellow card on Saturday night. He also injured his hand and will require an operation that will keep him out of the Portugal game in the week too.

What's eating Thiago Motta?

Poor old Thiago. If it's not some freak injury keeping him out of the Barça squad it's a crisis of confidence. Though he apologised on Tuesday and returned to training he's yet to be restored to the squad and hopefully will use these next few weeks to get his head together.

I quite like Motta, he gives Barça a different dimension in the holding midfield role from either Edmilson or Marquez. A good passer and strong plus he's a good taker of a free kick. He can certainly be sloppy at times and ala Patrick Viera seems to attract the refs attention no matter what he does. That said, he's no Guardiola and isn't really up to the standard of those around him (Deco, Iniesta and Xavi). How he recovers from this bout of self doubt will probably determine his future at the Camp Nou. He's certainly expendable and if he doesn't turn in a few commanding turns in the anchor role he could find himself pulling on a Getafe or Osasuna shirt next season wondering what the hell happened. I hope he gets back on the horse.

Belletti signs a new deal

Ropey right back Julio Belletti has signed a new deal which will keep him at Barcelona until mid-2009. Playing second fiddle to Zambrotta these days, Belletti is a decent player who doesn't much care for defending. We can look forward to his blazing attacking runs and hopeless lunges for a few seasons to come.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Over and over


Gol! Gol! Gol! Messi! Messi! Messi! (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

A week that began with a whimper and ended with a bang. Knocked out of Europe on Tuesday night despite a 0-1 win at Anfield and staring down the barrel of a 2-3 home defeat on Saturday to a functional but rather unspectacular Real Madrid side, Leo Messi's late late show, securing a draw and his hat-trick may just have saved Barcelona's season. After eighty-nine minutes at the Camp Nou things were looking pretty grim. Down to ten men for all of the second half thanks to Oleguer's gross stupidity (giving away a penalty before a needless foul on Gago that earned him a second yellow and an early bath) and trailing to a Sergio Ramos header, with Sevilla playing lowly 'nastic the next day, the wheels had well and truly come off.

Never have I seen Frank Rijkaard so agitated, pacing up and down the touchline, his face a picture of despair. Rijkaard's 3-4-3 formation, the new black in Barcelona these days, with Oleguer, Thuram and Puyol at the back and everyone else powering forward was ruthlessly exposed by Liverpool on Tuesday, a game they ought to have put beyond the blaugrana well before half-time, and again against Real, with Ruud van Nistelrooy, Guti and Robinho all exploiting the space out wide against a hopelessly narrow Barcelona.

As the seconds ticked down toward a defeat Messi ran onto a Ronaldinho pass (just about his only contribution of the evening), beat two Real defenders and smashed the ball past Casillas. 3-3.

A Frank assessment

Taking a step back from the heroics of Victor Valdes in gol and Leo Messi up front, there was much to lament about the blaugrana on Saturday night. 'dinho was off the pace, Marquez sloppy, Thuram played like he'd suffered a blow to the head and the midfield got bossed out it by Guti and Gago (just quickly a mention of Diarra, who is a load of bollocks, doing little bar fouling and getting in the way. I've seen him play about ten times this season and he's been dire every time) Eto'o, taken off at half time in order to bring on Sylvinho, was decent but he's still not sharp enough. 3-4-3 will surely be given the heave-ho on the back of this, with the team looking totally unbalanced and wide open at the back.

Still, there was much to be positive about, especially after Tuesday night's limp performance, the team only coming back into the game when Liverpool took their foot off their throats, having been besieged by the Reds in the first half. Messi was amazing, Valdes, despite conceding three gols, made crucial stops from Ruud and Higuain. Belletti and Sylvinho shored up the defense when they came on and Iniesta was positive throughout.

Barcelona now have a week off to get their shit together before a trip to the oldest club in Spain, Recreativo Huelva on Saturday night. I'll post up a short postmortem of the Champions League debacle in the next few days, I really didn't feel like it at the time.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Critical beatdown

How did they lose this? 0-1 up thanks to 'dinho getting a head a Zambrotta cross after fourteen minutes. On twenty eight minutes Aitor Ocio was sent off for a professional foul on 'dinho and the blaugrana were awarded a penalty. Stepping up to take the kick himself, 'dinho's shot was saved by the legs of Andres Palop and the chance to bury Sevilla was gone. For the majority of the first half Sevilla were useless, offering absolutely nothing going forward, Kanoute (the new Diego Forlan - Brian Scanlan © 2007) fouling everyone in sight and looking more like West Ham Freddie than the new Andalucian model and lacking bite in midfield. Dani Alves was the only player who looked like doing anything. And yet again Barcelona failed to convert their complete dominance into a second gol, and ala the Liverpool game they let Sevilla in, with Kerzhakov turning Marquez and shooting past Valdes to tie the match just before half time. Despite their numerical advantage, 1-1 was hardly a disaster. Sevilla were sluggish and rarely threatened. It merely seemed that Barcelona would have to bide their time, continue to punt the diagonal ball down the right for Giuly and Zambrotta to run on to, keep control of midfield and boot Alves up in the air. How things done changed in the second half.

Without Eto'o the attack again lacked a focal point and Sevilla were happy for the blaugrana to pass the ball around amongst themselves only to balls it up 1nce they got close to the eighteen yard box. Sevilla's second gol was a thanks to some bloody awful golkeeping from Valdes. Alves freekick was dead centre and Victor just flapped at it was it went in. About a minute later Barça had the stuffing knocked out of them completely when Giuly was sent off for pretty much no reason at all. He and Alves (gets around doesn't he?) had a very slight tussle off the ball, there were no arms raised, no shoving, they were just standing beside each other. Alves got a yellow for his part in the non-incident (no I don't know why either) and Giuly walked off looking utterly bemused. The club will surely appeal.

After that it all fell apart. Eto'o and Saviola came on to little effect, Zambrotta was sent off for collecting two yellows in the space of a minute (the first one was justified, the second was a joke, but he should know better). Despite all the sendings off it was a dirty game at all. Kanoute ought to have been booked for persistent fouling but he played rubbish so we'll let him off. Barcelona didn't roll over but they didn't create any guilt edged chances either while Sevilla missed two sitters at the other end. It finished 2-1. Sevilla are now top by a point.

Down the straight

So where to from here? Looking the run ins (linked) for Sevilla, Barcelona and Valencia (I'm leaving Madrid out of this because I really can't see them winning the title, they're just not good enough), none of them have it particularly tough. FCB hardest games are against Madrid next Saturday, away to Saragossa in mid-April and away to Atletico in May. The rest are all against teams outside the top six. Sevilla are much the same, away to Real and Valencia and at home to Saragossa. Aside from that it's pretty straight forward. The question is of course whether they have the bottle. It's hard to say on last night's evidence, they didn't look great at all but they got it done. Valencia have Sevilla, Saragossa at home and are away to Real (any of this sound familiar?). Valencia though are more likely to drop points against the weaker sides, they laboured to a 1-0 win over Celta last night and needed Santi to make a great save in the final minute to get the three points.

I'm still very optimistic but Barcelona have faced two of the top four sides in the last two weeks and lost to both of them. Hardly the form of champions. El Classico on Saturday will be crucial. Not to sound defeatist but there's a fair chance that Liverpool will have dumped them out of the European Cup at that stage so they'll need to get their heads straight. Sevilla have 'nastic, the worst team in the league at home next weekend so failure to win would see them open up a three or four point gap. Los Che are in Navarra to play Osasuna. Between now and then there's the small matter of pulling it out of the fire at Anfield. This is a big week and it's gotten off the worse possible start.

Before I go a quick mention of the Lillian Thuram interview in today's Observer Sport Monthly. Worth a look.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Get out the way

The next seven days will pretty much define Barcelona's season. Tomorrow night they play second placed Sevilla, fresh from beating Saragossa 1-2 away in the Copa del Rey, eeking through on away gols and with their name in the hat for the semi-final draw, along with Villarreal, Osasuna and either Betis or Sevilla (more on that later). Tuesday they travel to Anfield, looking to overturn the 1-2 defeat in the Camp Nou which was unquestionably one of the lower ebbs of the campaign. Then it's the small matter of El Classico. Win all three of these games (even a draw in Sevilla and wins in the other two) and the bandwagon can get rolling again. Lose 'em, especially the game tomorrow night and they're looking at being in second or third place going into a European Cup tie few expect them to pull out of the fire.

Up until this week I would have been one of the naysayers. Barça had lost two important games on the bounce, were playing poorly and airing their dirty laundry in public. Things were falling apart. Then they played Bilbao off the pitch, beating them 3-0, Sammy came back, scored and looked sharp and Saragossa, a team that has knocked the blaugrana out of the Copa three times in the last four years, were dispatched with a cracking away performance. From being a shambles, lurching from draw to defeat to narrow unconvincing win they've turned it around and are starting to look like the team that beat all comers last time around on their way to a Liga and European Cup double.

The squad for tomorrow's game is as expected, Eto'o is back after sitting out the Copa but Deco, Thuram, Motta and Belletti don't make the trip, with an eye to all four starting on Tuesday I would imagine. Sevilla are missing Fabiano, who's suspended and combatative midfielder Enzo Maresca. Otherwise they're at full strength. Their coach, Juande Ramos, should have recovered from being knocked unconscious after being hit by a bottle thrown from the crowd at the Lopera on Wednesday night. Betis, who had the sheer audacity to claim it was an "isolated incident" have been hit with a three-match stadium ban, which they are of course appealing. They have some neck.

Crowd violence and racist chanting to beat the band seems par for the course in both Spain and Italia. Anytime efforts are made to stop it, the clubs, always so vocal in deploring such actions, are quick to call any measures to increase security or dole out some form of punishment "knee-jerk" and "reactionary". The gall of Betis to appeal their stadium ban, of Madrid to appeal (successfully) their fine for racist chanting, of Presidents up and down Iberia to spout shite about the problems being the actions of the few or isolated angers me greatly. Real Betis should be turfed out of the Copa and ordered to play all their remaining home games behind closed doors. Then they might do something about it as opposed to huff and puff. Clubs who allow racists to wave their banners and make their monkey noises like it's the 1800s should be docked points. There's no other way. Racism and violence is a problem that clubs in La Liga can ignore because there's no incentive not to (hi there double-negative!). The Spanish FA is spineless. This is a matter UEFA should be dealing with. It's a Europe-wide problem that requires a Europe-wide solution. Rant over, views aired. I'll be back on Sunday.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Crikey Bilbao are rubbish

So Eto'o's back. No big deal really. He scored one and set up another. Gave Barça an focal-point to their attack for the first time in months, was quick and incisive, sharp and generally brilliant. As were the rest of 'em, beating Bilbao 3-0 and looking somewhat like a professional football team again after the debacle that was the second half against Liverpool. Without Deco and Zambrotta through suspension and Belletti due to injury, Oleguer, Thuram, Giuly (in place of the still rusty Leo Messi) and Gio returned to the side. Marquez, farcically bad against the Reds, sat this one out, not even making the bench.

It's hard to talk about how well Barcelona played without first pointing out that Bilbao were dreadful. Completely toothless upfront, their only chance falling to lumbering old man Urzaiz, 83, and a mess in defense, time and again they were carved open only to be saved by poor finishing from the blaugrana or some heroic golkeeping from Daniel Aranzubia. With both 'Nastic and Sociedad all but certain to be relegated, it's one team from a group of about six who could be joining them and on the evidence of Sunday night's capitulation Athletic are going to be down there until the bitter end.

While they're not going to be playing sides of Barça's quality every week it's easy to see them being turned over more often than not. They badly miss Carlos Gurpegi (currently serving a two year suspension for doping), Iraola has gone backwards, Etxeberria aside they have no good forwards (Llorente is absolutely hopeless and the aforementioned Urzaiz is surely close to retirement) and their back line leaks gols like it's going out of fashion.

Bearing all of this in mind rather takes the shine off Barcelona's win. That said they needed both a victory and to play well after Wednesday night and those boxes were ticked. It was fantastic so see Sammy back. They're a different team with him leading the line. It was also nice to keep a clean sheet though their were a few hairy moments with the ball bouncing every which way but Thuram was steady and Oleguer pretty solid too. I'd expect both to play in the Copa game against Saragossa in two days time. I'm off to bed now with the sound of the rain pattering on the window. Bon nit.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Things fall apart

What the hell? Like really... A 1-2 home defeat to follow the meltdown at Valencia. Completely dominating possession, wasted chances (looking at you Javier Saviola and Leo Messi), farcical defending, comical golkeeping, where to begin? It's very easy to see Barça falling into the abyss should they lose to either Sevilla or Real later in the month and fail to turn this tie around at Anfield (which on tonights evidence looks unlikely) From being unbeatable and completely unfazable the blaugrana looked well beaten tonight 1nce Riise struck Liverpool's second gol, like they've lost all self belief.

After a solid first half, an excellent gol from Deco (what a cross from Zambrotta!) that finished by conceding a very soft equaliser, Barcelona were pretty hopeless in the second half, lacking penetration, a midfield (after Rijkaard's substitutions) and any sort of direction. Late on Belletti did in his knee and will surely miss the Bilbao game on Sunday evening. What else? Saviola was okay but should have buried at least one of the chances that came his way. Marquez will have to take the blame for the second gol, what he was doing I don't know apart from playing the ball to Bellamy.

It was a bad night on a lot of fronts but it was tempered by the good humour and singing of the crowd of Catalans I watched the game with in Keatings. Força Catalunya and finally an apology to Mal for my railing on Sissoko. It would appear he actually is injured. With any luck he'll miss the second leg, he was outstanding tonight.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Fore!

Samuel Eto'o may have mouthed off about Ronaldinho, Frank Rijkaard and Joan Laporta last week he didn't attack any of them with a golf club. Nor were any of the Barcelona players out getting beer lary. Craig Bellamy's rather incredible behaviour, taking umbrage at John-Arne Riise's refusal to sing karaoke and deciding to sort him out with a five iron could see him fined £80,000 (so what, that's like a weeks wages maybe?) but more importantly he could be left out of the squad on Wednesday. I think Bellamy is a complete tramp and Rafa Benitez only has himself to blame by buying him in the first place. Bellamy has plenty of previous and is a generally objectionable and obnoxious sort. On the pitch he's very quick but he's not the best of finishers and is incredibly selfish. Sammy may be a bit of a prick but he's absolutely brilliant, which makes up for a lot.

Squad news, putting tips and details on what song it was that Riise wouldn't sing if and when I get 'em.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Kah-boom!

Deco off, Albelda off and Barcelona completely off. Blunt up front and lacking any focus to their attack, finishing the game with Messi, Giuly, 'dinho (who was bloody awful, despite scoring a freekick right at the death) and Iniesta. No strikers, Saviola left on the bench, Gudjohnsen brutal, frequently offside and offering little or nothing until he was hauled off. Despite completely dominating possession (68%), Butelle barely had a save to make. Most of the blaugrana's forward play was over-elaborate and flat. Defensively they were a mess in the second half, both of Valencia's gols were as much down to complete lack of concentration as they were to quick and incisive play from David Villa and Angulo.

The first half was a complete non-event bar Valdes save from Villa. Barcelona looked comfortable without ever threatening. Too many loose passes when it mattered and solid defending from Valencia, Ayala was fantastic. The second forty five were another matter however, as Barcelona plodded along, keeping possession but doing nothing what-so-ever with it. Either play broke down through the middle or it went out wide only to be crossed in to er, no-one in the centre.

The sendings off of Deco and David Albelda for two wild and reckless tackles were completely justified and coming as they did five minutes or so after the second gol really knocked the stuffing out of FCB, though they didn't change the pattern of the game a whole lot. Deco will now miss the Athletic Bilbao match next Sunday, the fool.

Tonight was quite the disaster. The team were all hat and no cattle and with Liverpool coming up so soon (Wednesday night) they have little time to put it right. Sammy is still not fit and Guddy *sigh* Guddy is a load of bollocks. Messi looks alright again but he's only played about fifty minutes. Edmilson was poor again in the centre of defense alongside Puyol... the list goes on. Meanwhile Sevilla are already 2-0 up on Atletico. Oh dear.
Los Che

Only twenty minutes to go until the game at the Mestalla. Eto'o doesn't make the trip, in addition to Sylvinho, Ezquerro and the still injured Lillian Thuram. With the FA Cup tie between Fulham and Spurs winding up (two gols each for Robbie Keane and Berbatov) I'm settling down for a good evenings futbol, with Sevilla hosting Atletico at eight. Quickly before kick off, Amy Lawrence has a good article in today's Observer about the 'crisis' at the Camp Nou ahead of the Liverpool game on Wednesday. Also, Frank Rijkaard has responded to increasing speculation about his jumping ship and insisted that he's staying at the club. Whether things change in the summer will depend a great deal on their retaining either La Liga or the European Cup. Rijkaard may well decide that his work at Barcelona is done should they do either.

Right, more later after it all goes down.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Take a bow, Sandro Rosell

Update!!

Looks like it may all be okay after all.


'dinho and Eto'o at training this morning. Picture: Guido Manuilo for AP

A good article on the current situation at Barcelona by Sid Lowe in today's Irish Times:

Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard and the club's sporting director, Txiki Begiristain, will today decide what action to take against Samuel Eto'o after the striker sparked a crisis at the Nou Camp a week before the crucial Champions League tie against Liverpool.

Eto'o last night followed up his refusal to go on as a late substitute against Racing Santander on Sunday by launching an astonishing and thinly-veiled attack on Rijkaard and his team-mate Ronaldinho. He also blew the lid on the profound divisions within the squad when he claimed that Barcelona was a club where there are "two sides at war". It is a war in which Eto'o and Ronaldinho, Barca's biggest stars, find themselves on opposing sides.

The Cameroonian striker, who has been out of action with a knee-ligament injury since September, was due to make a substitute appearance against Racing as he continues his rehabilitation. But, having warmed up for over 15 minutes, he returned to the bench with seven minutes left, furious that he had been offered so little time on the pitch. Asked during the post-match press conference why Eto'o did not make an appearance, Rijkaard answered simply: "He decided not to play." Ronaldinho, meanwhile, implored the Cameroonian to "think of the team".

The following day, Eto'o avoided both men when he decided to train alone in the gym and last night he hit back with a vengeance. "Anyone who comes out in the press room and says that I refused to play is a bad person," Eto'o snapped, clearly referring to Rijkaard, with whom his relationship has long been strained. "I have always fulfilled my obligations with my team-mates. They can say whatever they want, but I can hold my head up high. "Rijkaard said what he said. It's up to him to explain that. I don't have to give any explanations to anyone except the club - if they ask for them," he added. "He should think about the fact that I always go out and train with my team-mates, even if I have injuries and knocks."

The "unlike Ronaldinho", whose absenteeism is legendary, went unsaid as Eto'o also responded to the Brazilian's post-match comments. "If a team-mate says I should be thinking about the group, he's the one that should think about the group," said Eto'o. "That's the only thing that annoyed me." Eto'o also accused the former vice-president, Sandro Rosell, of fostering a civil war at the club which has divided the dressingroom. Rosell was forced to leave Barcelona after his relationship with the president, Joan Laporta, collapsed, but he maintains a close relationship with a number of players, especially the Brazilians.

"(There is) a war with two sides," said Eto'o. "It is not my war but I am the one taking all the hits. (If Rosell has anything to say to me) he should have the balls to say so to my face; he never said anything to me when he was my boss. "He didn't even say hello to me and now he is attacking me from behind my back. That's the behaviour of a bad person." And if Barcelona were already reeling last night, the threat of even more serious revelations hung heavy in the air.

"If I come out and talk, you'll see what happens," Eto'o warned. © 2007 The Irish Times


There was more on this last night from Eto'o, saying he had more of a problem with his team-mates (read Ronaldinho) having a go at him as opposed to Frank Rijkaard. "I'm not criticising Rijkaard, him and me aren't going to have any problems," he said. "But what I am not going to accept is that someone comes out and says that everyone knows what they should do for the team."

Where this goes I don't know. Firstly 'dinho needs to keep his opinions to himself. Secondly Rosell, a man who was agitating for Rijkaard's removal while he was on the board really needs to get over himself and start to act in the interests of the club. Sammy could do with shutting up too.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Frank and Sammy Smackdown

Oh dear. It's like the bad old days under Nunez and Gaspart with everyone airing their dirty laundry in public and stabbing each other in the back. From today's Fiver:

The Cameroonian's return from injury was supposed to spur the team to new heights ahead of their elimination of Liverpool, but instead it has triggered a ruckus, with the player reacting furiously to Rijkaard's claim that he refused to come on as a substitute towards the end of Sunday's 2-0 win over Santander. "You're a bad person if you go to a press conference and claim Samuel Eto'o didn't want to play," fumed Eto'o, joining legends like Pele, Ray Barneveld and George Costanza in referring to himself in the third person.

Eto'o, a known favourite of Laporta, then hinted that Rijkaard dissed him solely to score points against the president. "In Barcelona, there are two groups: one of the president and one of the other person," he explained, seemingly unable to bring to utter Rijkaard's name. "It's a war between two people and has nothing to do with me. If anyone has the balls to say something to my face, then let them spit it out."

To add to this debacle Ronaldinho has weighed in (the stupid headline blows his comments all out proportion though) when he would really have been better keeping his mouth shut. A post on the Barça website quotes Eto'o further without actually clarifying who said what.

With the blaugrana finally back to something like their old selves against Santander and with such a tough run of games coming up, this kind of internal bickering played out in the media is the last thing they need. I would doubt that Eto'o will travel to Valencia with the squad this wknd which will of course start the entire news cycle over again. This is no good folks, no good. More news from the front when I get it.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Leave of absence


Like Sammy and Leo, I'm back. Well sort of...

It's been nigh on a month since I've posted. Nigh on a month since I huffed and puffed about Javier Saviola, about Eto'o's impending return, Messi's metatarsal (that's his foot folks), about Barcelona's dreadful run of form, about 'dinho looking off the pace, about Marquez playing like he's got lead in his boots. Nigh on a month since Becks announced his transfer to Los Angeles, only to see Fabio Capello immediately drop him from the Real squad and vow that he would never again pull on a Madrid shirt. How satisfying it was then to see Becks start and score against Sociedad on Saturday night in Real's 1-2 win. Don Fabio will probably last until the summer simply but it wouldn't surprise me to see him out the door before Becks. Poetic justice.

So why the leave of absence? A few reasons but principally I'm a bit sick of football. The merry-go-round that was the transfer window ("Of course it is very flattering to be linked with Club X, but I have a contract with Club Y. But in football you never know..." and other such shite), FCB's hopeless showing in January and early February, the farce that was Ireland's performance in San Marino, the violence in Catania, I've just had enough. Watching the blaugrana against Osasuna last week, drawing 0-0 and never looking like scoring, the last thing I felt like doing was writing about another lackluster game, another give-it-away-give-it-away-give-it-away-now from Deco and Xavi in midfield, misplacing passes left, right and mostly down the centre. It's not the sort of thing that makes for exciting reading either.

But I'm going to get back on the horse again. Barcelona have a series defining season of games in the next month, Valencia (away), Liverpool in the European Cup, Real Madrid and Sevilla (away) and last night against an admittedly weak Santander side, they looked like they'd turned a corner. A 2-0 win, both gols from 'dinho, Messi back, Deco and Xavi playing much better, Puyol and Zambrotta solid in defence and Victor Valdes, the blaugrana's best player this season, saved a penalty and looked confident on crosses. His distribution was excellent, punting the ball up to Saviola and Giuly on several occasions to hit Racing on the break. Indeed the only cloud on last night's sliver lining was Eto'o apparent refusal to come on as substitute. He was incredibly reluctant to make an appearance against Osasuna and despite warming up for a good half hour, sat back down on the bench rather than get a run out. It'll be interesting to see how this plays out, if Eto'o has rushed his comeback and is feeling strain of excessive training on his knee.

And that's your lot for now. I'll be back with an update on Sammy as soon as...

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Letter writing campaign

Dear Mr. Rijkaard,

it has come to my attention that Javier Saviola, the Argentine striker currently at Barcelona, has scored six gols in the past three games, including a hat-trick tonight against Alaves in the Copa Del Rey. Please start him at the weekend ahead of that waster from Iceland who has stolen his number seven shirt.

Regards,

Thomas Kelly

Concerned Cule

Barça also conceded two tonight against a team in the Segunda Liga, twelfth in the Segunda, and were generally rubbish aside from Javier. Thankfully their next game is against 'nastic, a team who ought be in the Segunda.

In other news, Real Madrid president Ramon Calderon railed on just about everyone today; the players, the fans, former club president Florentino Perez and Real punching bag de jour, David Beckham. And the club fined coach Fabio Capello for giving the finger to fans at the Saragossa game on Sunday. It's always nice to know that however bad things are at Barça right now they're so much worse in Madrid. Good night.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Royalist Rumble

One gol against Chelsea. That was about the sum total of Maxi Lopez contribution while he was at Barcelona. Most of the time he didn't even make the squad let alone start a game so it was no surprise when he was loaned out to island side RCD Mallorca in the summer. Since joining the Balearic side he's scored two gols in nine starts in La Liga. One of those was last night, against Sevilla, to win the match 1-2 and end the league leaders unbeaten run at the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan and get his former side out of the massive hole they left themselves in having lost to Espanyol 3-1, giving the other side from Barcelona their first derby victory in twenty five years.

Barcelona were dreadful on Saturday night (suffer if you must the 'highlights') With Saviola again dropped to the bench despite his two gols against Alaves in midweek, Gudjohnsen toiled upfront in that aimless, useless way of his. 'dinho was again out of sorts and the blaugrana's best player by a mile was Victor Valdes, who kept the score somewhat respectable. Bar
ça haven't won a league match since they squeezed past Sociedad in early December. With FCB looking tired and flat, Espanyol positively blew them away with swift and incisive counter-attacking. Defensively Barcelona were a shambles (again) and Valdes had shots flying at him from all angles. It was real horror show.

The result leaves Barcelona level on points with Real Madrid and two behind Sevilla. Quite how Real, playing like a pub team at times this season are still within shouting distance of the top I don't know. They beat Saragossa 1-0 last night in what was a very poor match indeed.

About the only good news is that Samuel Eto'o will return to training today. He won't be starting a match anytime soon but my it's good to have him back.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

City of Angels: Beckham, LA and the New Football

This weekend Barcelona take on Espanyol in the derby. After an exceptionaly poor performance against Getafe last Sunday and markedly improved one against Alaves in the Copa Del Rey on Wednesday, thanks chiefly to the fabulous Javier Saviola who scored both gols, the blaugrana will still be missing Deco (he picked up a knock in training) but will have 'dinho back against their royalist neighbours, having been suspended for the trip to Madrid. Ah Madrid.

With Zizou retired, Figo pensioned off to Inter and Ronaldo seemingly content to sit on the bench and gain weight, all eyes were on David Beckham when the January transfer window opened. The last galactico, frozen out of the team by a hard-nosed Fabio Capello was certain to get the heave-ho with his contract expiring in the summer. Having toiled at the Bernabeu for three-and-a-half years to little effect, watching the club implode on all fronts, seeing coach after coach getting the sack, dispairing as his team listed on the pitch; Beckham's time at Real will be judged by many as a failure. As news of Becks move to Los Angeles broke on Thursday it was hard not to feel like he'd given up. Given up on being a serious footballer, given up on a recall to the England squad, given up on winning anything. For such a proud man who always gives his all, this is quite a climb down.

The super human Iker Casillas aside, Beckham has easily been Real's best player in the past three seasons. While Raul laboured, Cassano bitched and moaned, Ronaldo got fatter and Roberto Carlos ballooned free kicks into the stratosphere, Becks never coasted, never let games pass him by, he always made the effort. Which makes his semi-retirement to Los Galactios do Los Angeles more than a little sad.

I've always liked Becks, despite his becoming a Madridista. He's a good footballer rather than a great one but he's made the most of his talents, his looks and his brand and turned himself into a superstar. Victoria had her part to play of course but if Golden Balls hadn't scored 'that' gol against Wimbledon, nailed 'that' freekick against Greece, taking England to the World Cup, played for the best and most popular team in the world, well, she'd be an ex-Spice Girl and we certainly wouldn't be talking about $250 million over five years.

I wish him well in LA. He will of course do very well, be seen at all the right parties, tear it up on Rodeo Drive, live in a great house, be followed everywhere he goes by Splash News and Big Pictures, win the SuperBowl, run for President, save the whales, win the war in Iraq and look great doing it.

Normal blaugrana service will return tomorrow with a match report on the derby.