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...