Monday, March 31, 2008

"You almost can't believe how the game changed and the way we reacted to it." - Rijkaard


I hate being right about shit like this... From Sunday March 23rd:

"
I have complete confidence in the blaugrana fucking it up though, no doubt by losing away at Betis next week or something equally ridiculous."

And so it came to pass. I saw the first half of this debacle in work on Saturday and like AC Milan at halftime in Istanbul, thought that it was all done and dusted. Barça were playing well, moving the ball around quickly, creating chances and restricting Betis to long range efforts. Edu and Pavone, their two most dangerous players hardly had a sniff. It was to my great surprise to get in and see that that it was now 2-2 and that Betis had missed a penalty. There was of course, much worse to come.

Like the game at Valencia, it's very difficult to know where to start. The quotes after the match from the blaugrana players and staff were not encouraging, lots of "I don't know what the fuck happened". Even worse is today, Victor Valdes saying that "We have to completely forget the second half in the Ruiz de Lopera." No Victor, you need to remember it. You need to analyse it, figure out what went wrong, why your lot couldn't cope with their lot's swift counter attacking and pace. And ask why Edu scored the same gol he's been scoring all season against you. And why once Betis had equalised there was only ever going to be one winner, and it wasn't Barcelona. Too often this season the "we have to put this behind us" line has been trotted out after a defeat or scrappy draw. That's all well and good if you learn something from it but Barça have clearly learned nothing, nothing from last season's collapse, nothing from consistently snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. They just blunder forward, making the same mistakes over and over again.

So what's next? La Liga is gone. Second spot may be beyond the blaugrana if the Yellow Submarines keep up their current form (though they've been so up and down all season I doubt it) and tomorrow the team play German side Schalke, who must be feeling quite good about themselves right now. The Barça squad is still Deco-less and Brazilian waster Ronaldinho is out with some phantom injury or other. Otherwise the squad is as expected. Milito is back (for all the difference that will make), as is Rafa Marquez.


I have no idea how the game will go down. Schalke aren't a great side but they have fantastic home support in the Veltins-Arena and players like Ernst, Rafinha and Varela are excellent. Their young 'keeper, Michael Neuer, had a fabulous game against Porto in the last round too. Realistically a narrow defeat would be alright, 2-1 to Schalke maybe. Anymore and I'd almost write Barça off. They just look broken right now and I don't think that Frank Rijkaard is the man to fix them. I recall when his tactics, his substitutions used to change games and see his side pull games out of the fire. Now it's the opposite. I fear for Rijkaard should they get a kicking on Tuesday. There is much talk of Guardiola coming in to steady the ship. I would see that as a gross over-reaction but plenty of managers at the Camp Nou have gone for less.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Un-fucking-believable

Words fail me. They really do. 0-2 up after an hour against one of the worst teams in La Liga. By some sort of miracle the blaugrana have conspired to lose 3-2 against a Betis side a mere three points off the relegation zone before the start of play. If Villarreal win tonight Barça will find themselves third. I have to go out now. More on this capitulation of Newcastle standards tomorrow. Jesus Christ...

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Argh!

Charly came off injured after sixteen minutes in Spain's 1-0 victory over Italia tonight. El Mundo Deportivo is reporting it's a problem with his tibia. No word as to how serious it is yet. Hopefully he'll be alright for the game against Betis otherwise it's Thuram who'll be letting Edu ghost past him to nod one home. More on this in the morning.

Update (or sorts)

It looks like man of steel Carles Puyol will be okay to face Betis. There's less encouraging news for Gabi Milito though, who's suffering a groin strain. He's to undergo tests today but I'd expect him to sit out the game in Sevilla.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Hold me now


So it turns out that 'dinho just needs a hug. Or maybe a arm around him telling him what a good guy he is and how it's all going to work out. So says Sylvinho.

"Ronnie needs our support and affection. He needs us to feel that we are with him and for us to give him a hug. We need him to come back as soon as possible as he is a very important player for us."

I think he needs to get over himself, lose some weight, regain his fitness and drive and stop sulking. But what do I know...

Speaking of sulking, the new kid on the block who isn't Bojan, Gio Dos Santos, looks ever like he's ever closer to the door. His father said today that Manchester City were interested in whisking him to the midlands. Expect there to be a great deal more of this between now and May.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Just lose it...

I started to write this post at half time in the Barcelona-Valladolid match, ready to tear into the team but given the rest of todays events I decided to bin it and write a new one. The blaugrana, ala their previous outing on Thursday they made a bright start (Bojan had two excellent opportunities in the first few minutes) only to fade badly after Eto'o had given the team the lead. The penalty given to Valladolid was incredibly soft, it was never a foul by Thuram, Llorente just fell over, but what came afterward, the nerves, the shoddy passing, the lack of incisiveness was just shocking. Even after half time, even after going ahead again through Iniesta, after Bojan finally got on the scoresheet, even at 3-1, the Pucela had a gol ruled offside, they hit the post, the bar... it was all the blaugrana could do not to throw it away against a team that are only outside the relegation zone on gol difference and who lost 7-0 to Real. The FCB website screams "Thrilling rout" this evening but crikey it was far from it.

Henry was, yet again, bloody awful, looking slow and unfit. Perhaps he's been hanging out with Ronaldinho. Eto'o, despite his gol and fantastic, unselfish pass for Bojan's second lacked confidence in possession and was either over-playing the ball and losing it or unloading it far too quickly, knocking a succession of poor crosses into no-one in particular. The defense was 1nce again all over the bloody place and it was the 2005 Victor Valdes model on show today, with poor throw-outs and some very ropey play late on. On the plus side, Bojan was quite brilliant, scoring his sixth and seventh La Liga gols today. Iniesta and Xavi were their usual steady selves (a few wayward passes accepted).

Still, they needed to win to put some pressure on Madrid, who played straight afterward and they did. They needed to win to get over the disaster that was Thursday night (I could scarcely believe what I was seeing when Mata scored his second less than a minute after Bar
ça had gotten themselves back into it through Henry's header, it was farcical stuff) and they did. Somewhat incredibly, Madrid contrived to lose to Valencia, so the gap is down to four points and nine games to go. I have complete confidence in the blaugrana fucking it up though, no doubt by losing away at Betis next week or something equally ridiculous.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Random crap (and no, I don't mean the team)


A couple of things to report on before the Copa game tomorrow evening. First some good news. Ruud Van Nistlerooij is potentially out for the rest of the season after undergoing surgery on his ankle. This is a huge blow for Real who, despite an abundance of attacking talent, have been finding it incredibly difficult to score in his absence. Now they're far from a one-man team but ala Eto'o at Barça, he's very much the focal point of the attack and they really lack penetration without him. Top scorer in la Liga last time out he already had twelve thus far this season. Now all the blaugrana need is for Iker to fall down a well...

Back in Catalunya, the squad for the Copa game on Thursday (10pm on Sky Sports 1 though kick off is 7:45pm) has been announced and it's rather all over the place. Toure and Zambrotta are back but there's no sign of Oleguer (who has injured his hand yet again...) Milito is included despite his red card on Sunday. He'll miss the Liga game on the weekend though. Also out is one Ronaldinho (who was given a right going over by Graham Hunter in Revista) While not having any specific injury and being back in training, he is still has some 'medical problems' according to the club [read mental ones] and is unlikely make the squad against Valladolid, let alone play. There's not a great deal to say about this, but I'm pretty much writing 'dinho off for the rest of the season unless he comes out of this funk he's in right now. And I don't have high hopes of that happening.

Finally some transfer news. As mentioned by Sid Lowe on Football Weekly and posted by Mal, Gio Dos Santos looks to be out the door come the summer thanks to everyone's favourite agent Pini Zahavi agitating for a move. €10 million is the price being mentioned and Chelsea are naturally in the mix. If he wants to leave then there's not much that can be done.

Straight out of the lazy ass school of journalism, Club X draws Club Y in Champions League. Club X immediately linked with buying Club Y's best player. Player denies story. Two days worth of copy for minimal effort. In this case it's Michael Neuer, the Schalke 'keeper who played like God himself against Porto in the last round. There is of course no truth whatsoever in this. Bloody journos.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

False hope pt. 2


I just don't know anymore. I really don't. How many chances do they need? Despite the fact that Madrid have lost four of their last seven in La Liga, Barcelona are still somehow seven points back, closer to Villarreal in third than they are to the leaders. Tonights game away to Almeria was nothing short of a disaster. To twice take the lead only to throw it away, to concede two such sloppy, lazy gols, the second a mere five minutes from time was shocking. The blaugrana are seemingly incapable of closing out games or defending a narrow lead. The difference last season between Real and Barcelona was that while Capello's side won games in the last ten minutes, Rijkaard's team blew them. And so it continues.

With just ten games remaining I can't see how this can have a happy ending. With a laundry list of players out injured (Messi, Marquez, Toure, Ronaldinho, Ezquerro, Deco, Jorquera, Giovani and now Gudjohnsen), with Milito now suspended for the Copa game on Thursday (don't get me started on the idiotic challenge that earned him a second yellow card), they're going to struggle to put eleven fit players out in the next two games let alone win either of them (there were three Bar
ça B players on the bench tonight).

There were some positives from this evening's debacle, Bojan's gol, Rijkaard's attacking substitution of Henry for Edmilson turned the game in Barcelona's favour (before Uche turned it back again) and erm, that's it really. It was grim viewing.

Before I close the mac, a quick word about the blaugrana's opponents in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, German bottlers Schalke 04. Nine points off leaders Bayern and languishing in fifth place, the Gelsenkirchen side are, along with Fener, the weakest side left in the last eight and considering Barcelona's current run of form, the best possible draw they could have gotten. My sole experience of Schalke this year was the half-hour of extra time they played against FC Porto and their golkeeper, Michael Neuer aside, I can't say I was all that impressed. Now of course this thirty minutes of futbol is hardly a basis for judging them but it's all I've got so bear with me, I'll post something more comprehensive later in the week. For now I'll say this, Barcelona will probably squeak through only to get turned over by Utd. in the semis. And that sadly is about the best we can hope for.

Anyway... it's over yo.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

And that's the ball game


Two weeks Barça were but two points behind the fascistas of Real Madrid, playing something like their best and looking like a team that might win La Liga. Now, after two losses on the bounce (to the teams in fourth and third), the loss of their best player (that's Messi folks, not Xavi) for at least six-weeks, we're ever closer to the finish line and it's just not gonna happen. Not without Leo, not with Thuram in defense (the loss of Puyol to suspension against Villarreal was probably a bigger factor than that of Messi's injury), not with Sammy missing more than he scores, not without the ability to put games away, to sweep past weaker teams and to step up against the tougher ones.

It's taken me all week to write this post, having started on Monday evening. I've been pretty busy with work, with other stuff but really I've just got nothing more to say. Barça simply aren't good enough. They've been on the slide since midway through last season and despite occasional blips where they play some out of this world futbol and remind you what it was like a few years back it's been a hard slog and that ain't gonna change between now and early May. Injuries, the age of some of the players (too old and slow in Thuram's case, Bojan and Giovani Dos Santos
too young and inexperienced), poor fitness and poor tactical decisions on the part of Frank Rijkaard keep happening, will keep happening. Henry is no addition, he's crocked and ala Viera, Arsene Wenger let him go at the right time. Xavi, Puyol, Iniesta, Messi and Valdes, all from la Masia, have kept this particular rudderless ship from hitting the rocks. Deco and Guddy have made contributions, as have Bojan and Milito but everyone else needs to take a long hard look at themselves.

Onward and downward

Sunday night will see me in front of the television for the Almeria game. The squad has been announced and Deco and Toure are both out. Oleguer, currently suffering from a broken spirit, is back. Almeria are decent and I can see Barça fucking this up in ridiculous fashion.

Anyway, enough gloom and doom for now. The Champions League draw is on tomorrow at noon and I'll have my fingers crossed for either Schalke or Fener. Should Barcelona draw Liverpool, Utd or Arsenal then I think it'll be time to put all the blaugrana eggs into the Copa Del Rey basket. More on that early pm. Bona nit for now.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Every silver lining has a cloud


This isn't so much a coherent post as a riot of thoughts on this weeks action. First up, Messi. Out for six weeks with a torn bicep in this left thigh. This is nothing short of disastrous for the blaugrana who face third placed Villarreal at home on Sunday evening. Given that he sat out most to the game at the Calderon at the weekend, one has to question the decision to start him against Celtic, a match that was over before a ball was kicked (and should there have been any doubt, 120 seconds in, Xavi put any such notions to bed with yet another fabulous gol). Despite Madrid's recent stumbles (more on their loss to Roma later), they're still five points ahead and without Champions League or Copa Del Rey games, will surely give it their all in la Liga. That said, and while they may have a reasonably straight run-in, it's Espanyol who visit the Bernabeu on Saturday evening and Madrid are still without Sergio Ramos (suspended), Ruud, Salgado and Robben (injured). Ex-blaugrana Javier Saviola and hot-and-cold Dutch midfielder Sneijder are back in the squad which also includes a half crocked Canna. Espanyol are well capable of beating them, especially with Ramos out and the midfield so lacking.

Anyway, more of Madrid later. I only watched the first half of the Barça Celtic game given that Milan and Arsenal was 0-0 after 45 minutes and promised a little more in the way of a contest. While I'm not about to get all Kevin McCarra and eulogise the Gunners, they looked as good as they did at the beginning of the season. They were simply quicker, fitter and younger than Milan, who looked totally bereft of ideas in the second half, endlessly punting the ball up the middle to no-one in particular. This is the sort of result that's been coming a long time now for the Milanese, who may not even make fourth this season given their poor form and the resurgence of Fiorentina. They could easily take seven or eight of their players to the glue factory, many of whom, Serginho, Cafu, Kalac, Favalli, Emerson to mention just a few are well past their best. Maldini too, at 39 needs to call it a day. While he's easily one of the best players ever to kick a football he's just too old.


On Wednesday I suffered through the Real-Roma game, watching pointless foul after pointless foul, Roma's defense constantly giving the ball away, Real completely lacking in midfield and upfront, Aquilani playing like a man possessed, Vucinic completely changing the game when he came on and leading from the front, Pepe being sent off for an unbelievably stupid second yellow card and Real only starting to play when they went 0-1 behind. It was a pretty awful game (don't believe about the hype about Roma, Madrid were rubbish), very stop-start and littered with mistakes. A clever side like Liverpool would have taken Roma to school and punished their pratting around. As it was, Madrid just fell on their ass and never looked like winning.

I rounded off my futbol-tastic week with about fifty minutes of Spurs-PSV. Tottenham have improved a great deal under Ramos but wow they have a long way to go. Far too many long balls, Lennon is still selfish and incapable of delivering a good cross and PSV ought to have won about 0-3. I wouldn't fancy Spurs chances in Eindhoven.

And that's about your lot folks. Expect team news about the Villarreal game sometime on Saturday.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

This is happening just a little too often


I'm kinda tired so I'll post a full match report tomorrow but suffice to say the story of the evening isn't Barça beating Celtic. Leo Messi, with what looks like a hamstring injury, came off late in the first half in floods of tears. This is bad, bad news folks.

Monday, March 03, 2008

"This is science fiction" or Sergio Aguero takes Barcelona to school *


Watching Sergio Aguero tear Barcelona apart on Saturday night was both depressing and humbling. Two gols, one assist, the second gol nothing short of incredible, el Kun tore through the blaugrana defense, leaving both Charly Puyol and Gaby Milto on their backsides and hammered past Victor Valdes (more on him later). Despite taking the lead through a fabulous overhead kick from 'dinho, Barcelona quickly found themselves 2-1 down thanks to a deflected shot from Aguero and dreadful gol keeping error from Valdes who collapsed like a sack of potatoes at the near post as Maxi's low shot flew past him and into the bottom corner. Things would go from bad to worse mid way through the second half when Aguero went down under pressure from Puyol and Diego Forlan smashed home the penalty. And that was it really as far as the result was concerned. Eto'o would pull one back late on but not before el Kun had beaten four blaugrana defenders and left Valdes picking the ball out of the net for the fourth time. 4-2. Shocking stuff.

So Madrid, who won 2-3 thanks to a brace from Robinho, are five points ahead again and there's lots of head-shaking and staring at the ground going on at the Camp Nou. It's almost three years since Barcelona conceded four gols in a Liga game, they lost 4-2 to the other Madrid with Zizou, Ronaldo and a certain Michael Owen among the scorers for Real. That was in April '05 and ultimately it would count for nothing as they wrapped up the league a few games later, a nervy 1-1 draw away to Levante.

Where Barcelona go from here will define the rest of their season. After Celtic at home tomorrow night (Sky Sports 2, kick off at 7:45pm) they have two tough fixtures. Villarreal, currently third, at home on Sunday night followed by Almeria away. Rijkaard's side need to leave last night behind them, thump Celtic and get back on track. Messi, in great form and inexplicably left out of the starting eleven on Saturday, will presumably be back as will Yaya Toure, who didn't even make the squad against Atleti, also back in the frame.

Round-up

Reserve gol keeper, Albert Jorquera, currently out with a knee injury what will keep him sidelined until the end of the season, has signed a new contract. His current deal expires at the end of this season and there was talk that he might be let go but the blaugrana have decided to stick with him until 2010 at least. A good shot-stopper, Jorquera is fairly ropey at pretty much everything else but as a reserve 'keeper he's decent enough. On the back of this I'd expect Jose Pinto to go back to Celta when his loan finishes in June.

* Mal, this headline is for you :)