Thursday, February 28, 2008

Frank out!

Well maybe. The Guardian had a story today about Rijkaard considering the Chelsea job in the summer. As with all of these stories it quotes "a source close to Rijkaard" which could, quite frankly, be anyone. What he says though is pretty common knowledge. Frank is sick of the flack he's catching at the Camp Nou and is likely to leave in the summer unless the blaugrana win either La Liga or the Champions League. That he would then consider an offer from Chelsea fits too with his friend Henk Ten Cate currently installed as assistant coach.

Or not. I can't see Rijkaard going anywhere for at least a year if he leaves. There was a lot of talk of him wanting to take a year out at the end of last season so I think that's the most likely. He'll sit around, do some punditry, be linked with every big job going (Milan, Chelsea, Inter etc) and then he'll end up somewhere no-one predicted. Sid Lowe wrote a good piece on the back of today's news, extolling Rijkaard's virtues as a coach without going over the top. I think he'd be a good fit at a team like Chelsea but not necessarily under Roman Abramovich's interfering ownership. We shall see.

For his part, the noises coming out of the Rijkaard camp, via his brother, as that the reports are nonsense and that he intends to see out his contract.


In other news, it's emerged today that David Trezeguet had decided to leave Juve in 2004 for Barcelona until Fabio Capello persuaded him to stay. Presumably Barça would have signed him instead of Eto'o. This came out during the trial of Gea Sports Management, run Luca Moggi's son Alessandro and Marcelo Lippi's son Davide. It's not really news I guess but an interesting aside none the less. I'm a big fan of Trezagol. Oh, in other bianconeri/ blaugrana news, Gianluca Zambrotta has a right go at this old club in the current issue of Italian GQ. Football Italia has details.

Meanwhile at the Calderon...

Atleti have Kun Aguero, former blaugrana Simao, Raul Garcia and Pablo Ibanez back for the game on Saturday. Last time around Barça pummeled Madrid and won 0-6 and despite the respective form of the two sides I wouldn't expect a repeat or anything like it. Honestly I'd be happy with a draw. Next to the Real game at the end of the season, this is probably Barça's toughest away fixture.


Sadly one player who won't be on the pitch is former Barcelona midfielder Thiago Motta, who's going to miss the rest of the season after surgery on his left knee. Despite being only 25 it's hard to see Motta ever stringing a consistent run of games together let alone a whole season (he's only made three starts for Atletico). While he's not quite made of glass, his knees are shot and he picks up injuries at the drop of a hat (sometimes as a result of the drop of a hat...) I've always liked him though and I wish him well. Bon nit.
Well I kind of asked for that now didn't I?

Given Barça's current form I can't see past a decent home win, 3-0 or 3-1 perhaps" - me, inviting disaster on Monday night.

If Barça win anything at all this season a huge part of it will be down to Xavi Hernandez Creus. I mean crikey, their current run of good form was born of his late late winner against Osasuna. His equaliser at Sevilla kept the ship steady, he opened the scoring against Levante on Sunday with an emphatic drive and tonight he ensured that Barça remain unbeaten in 2008 with last minute gol (and it really was, coming as it did in the fourth minute of added time) against Valencia to cancel out David Villa's sixty-seventh minute strike. I'm going to bed now but I just wanted to get this up before I do. Forward to the Calderon! Força Xavi!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Hay Liga

What a week. What a fucking week. Twice Barça came from behind to beat Celtic 2-3 at Parkhead. On Sunday night they hammered five past the frankly hopeless Levante (who are bottom of the La Liga, certain to go down and completely broke) and then watched as Madrid conceded a comical goal ("They have scored a goal against us like in a match for four-year-olds" commented Guti, not kissing his sister in this instance. He's not wrong) to lose to Getafe, leaving the blaugrana only two points off the top. Barcelona were absolutely incredible in their past two games, Henry scoring a sensational gol against Celtic and Eto'o, Messi and Xavi on fire at the Camp Nou last night. All this and Madrid losing for the fourth time in five games (that 7-0 hammering of Valladolid looking more like an anomaly than a statement of intent), Barcelona have come back from the brink (when Drenthe scored the opener against Betis the gap was looking like it was going to widen to a surely unassailable eleven points) and are pushing on with real verve.

Whether they can carry this through the weekend, away to Atletico Madrid, currently in something of a funk, having been dumped out of the UEFA Cup by Bolton and having just one win in their last six in la Liga. Aguero's initial gol glut at the beginning of the season has all but dried up and Forlan is now the only one hitting the back of the net with any kind of regularity. Early on they were winning games 4-3 and 3-2, now they can barely manage a single gol and are still just as leaky at the back. With Sevilla resurgent (and just two points back) they could easily see themselves drop out of the top four this weekend.

Between now and then there's the small matter of the Copa semi-final first leg against Valencia, still floundering under Ronald Koeman but not quite to the same degree as they were two months ago, at the Camp Nou on Wednesday night (9pm on Sky Sports 1). The squad has been announced and the main news is that 'dinho is left out in favour of Henry, who sat out the weekend game. Deco is back too. Given Barça's current form I can't see past a decent home win, 3-0 or 3-1 perhaps (despite their blowing past Levante the visiting side had one or two decent chances, not including the penalty which to be honest looked like a handball from both Zambrotta and Riga) Speaking of Zambrotta, and this is a brief aside I assure you, he seems to be the new Belletti when it comes to holding the line for offside. While the other three defenders are tight he drifted back more than 1nce on Sunday. And it's far from a new thing either. I'm much happier with Puyol out on the right. But then that leaves the problem of who to play in the centre alongside Milito, neither Marquez or old man Lillian Thuram look convincing. Hmmmm...

Cradle snatching

Finally, on a Cesc Fabregas, Gerard Pique, Fran Merida tip, young blaugrana central defender Marc Muniesa is apparently being tapped by Chelsea. Now in the story I read on Sky Sports his agent denies it but this doesn't come out of no-where and I wouldn't be surprised if the Stamford Bridge side made a play for him after his turns sixteen in March. I guess this is rather inevitable when your youth academy produces so many good players but that makes it none the less very troubling. We'll see how it plays out at the end of next month.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Hard to argue with JunaFran isn't it?

Well then. Just as Real could have disappeared off into the distance, a win at Betis would have left them a massive eleven points clear, they instead lose for the second time in three games (if you add in last night's defeat in Roma it's three losses in four) Barça, thanks to an incredibly fortuitous penalty award late on against Saragossa, are a mere five points back. So a week after the title race being done and dusted, it's back on again and with the blaugrana hosting the hopeless Levante at the weekend it's likely to stay on. I saw very little of the game as I was in work late late (I caught like twenty minutes of the second half) so...

Between now and Sunday there's the small matter of a visit to Parkhead and Celtic. Eto'o is back and will probably start with 'dinho yet again on the bench. Iniesta sat out the Saragossa game so he will be back in midfield with Deco and Toure with Xavi sitting this one out. With Zambrotta still out injured the back four is likely to be Puyol, Milito, Marquez and Abidal who I'd expect to cope with whatever aimless long balls that Celtic can throw at them. Doubt it'll be a great game so I'll be watching Milan. 0-0 or 0-2 Barça.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Getting to the heart of what's wrong

I was having dinner with a friend of mine yesterday evening and there was much talk of the current in the malaise in Irish Rugby and the real reason behind the failure of the team at the World Cup. Lack of professionalism, O'Sullivan's playing favourites and stubborn refusal to drop those underperforming, Ronan O'Gara's meltdown and the lack of any credible replacement, divisions in the camp... the whole sorry mess was raked over again.

We then moved onto another team who fell to earth, FC Barcelona.

Much of what was wrong last time out and continues to be a problem this season stems from the loss of Henk Ten Cate to Ajax and his replacement, Johan Neeskens, not being up to the task. Looking at the current coaching set-up, Barça sorely lack a real disciplinarian, a motivator who isn't afraid to fall out with the players, who doesn't want to be their mate but is solely concerned in getting the best out of them for the team. There's no bad cop anymore, it's all far to easy-going and lax.

That and they should have gotten shot of Ronaldinho in the summer. And probably not signed Henry. Or Thuram.

Conversation moved on to other things after that. Any comments? Oh Eto'o is out of the Saragossa game. And Oleguer will miss the next six weeks thanks to his broken hand.

Monday, February 11, 2008

A world of difference

It was always going to be tough. Barça were always going to be relying on Madrid slipping up. And not just once either. Checking the result of the Real game on Sunday, minutes after seeing Samuel Eto'o pull up with a hamstring injury in the final of the African Cup of Nations was like a slap in the face, the polar opposite of my feelings a week earlier when Xavi's late late winner against Osasuna rocketed into the net.

Missing their best forward in Van Nistelrooij and a host of other players, they put seven past Valladolid (five before half time). On the back of the blaugrana's draw away at Sevilla, there is now an eight point gap at the top. By all accounts Madrid were simply awesome (like duh) and baring a serious injury to Casillas or an enormous hole opening up during a game at the Bernabeu and swallowing the all players they have it locked up. The majority of their games between now and the end of the season are at home where they never lose and Sevilla and Barcelona are the only teams who look capable of beating them there. It's not that I'm giving up, not by a long shot but let's be realistic. Eight points is massive. And the way Barça are playing, narrow 1-0 wins and nervous 1-1 draws, it's just not dramatic fight-back form.

On top of all this is a growing injury list which includes, amongst others; Eto'o, Henry, Deco, Zambrotta, Oleguer (what rotten luck, making his first start in ages he breaks a bone in his hand), Puyol, Jorquera, Bojan and Sylvinho. You could add 'dinho to that list too in all honesty considering how poor he's been (I think selling him in the summer is going to prove a real challenge. He's having a dreadful season and is on huge wages) The injuries to Eto'o and Henry are the most worrying as it's getting awfully thin upfront. Barça are also currently without a right back and I have no idea who's going to play there against Saragossa.

Buy buy buy

On the transfer front it would seem that Barcelona have an agreement to sign Argentine central defender/ right back Ezequiel Garay from Santander. This would certainly fit with the stories linking Gianluca Zambrotta with a move back to Italia. Garay is just 21 and very, very good. I haven't caught him this season at all (he didn't play at the Camp Nou a few weeks back) but last season he was fantastic, making thirty starts and scoring nine gols (he takes penalties). A good addition to the side if the story is true.

Finally, to my great surprise, my blog has been nominated in the category of Best La Liga Blog on Click here to vote for me (although to be honest it's kinda a lost cause, fcbnews has it locked up :) Still, it's nice to be noticed. Bon nit.