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.