Monday, April 28, 2008

All or nothing


It always seemed to be a matter of when not if Depor would score on Saturday. Barcelona were, to a man, absolute rubbish. Depor had twenty-something shots on gol and it's a minor miracle that they didn't put more past Pinto, making his debut for the blaugrana. Bojan is about the only player who didn't disgrace himself completely. It was clear from before the match, given the line-up and the squad from which it was selected that Rijkaard was putting all his eggs in the basket marked Champions League.

Barcelona are now four points back from Villarreal and playing like that they're certainly not going to catch them. So much will of course depend on Tuesday night's result. Win and it's onward to the final and the failings in La Liga, while they cannot be ignored will seem lessened somehow. Should they lose though the knives will be out for Rijkaard, who's gone in the summer no matter what, and the blame game will begin.

There's been good news of sorts from Manchester today regarding the fitness of Wayne Rooney and
Nemanja Vidic, neither of whom trained today. Vidic missed the first leg in the Camp Nou thanks to a stomach upset and he took a fierce blow to the head on Saturday when Didier Drogba accidently kneed him in the face. Rooney, who hasn't looked at one hundred percent for a while now, limped off with a shin injury against Chelsea. Both would be a big loss, especially Vidic, who's been a rock at the centre of United's defense all season long.


On the blaugrana front, the squad is pretty much as expected. All who sat out the debacle on Saturday are back in, with the addition of Puyol, who was suspended for the first leg. Marquez, who deputised well for the captain a week ago, is himself forced to sit out the game thanks to his yellow card. The only notable absentee is Gio Dos Santos, who was unlikely to feature anyway.

As to the result, I'm hopeful but not confident. Neither side is in good form at the moment but Barcelona can't buy a gol right now. I'll be watching the game in the Oval on Abbey Street with the Catalans a Dublin crew, screaming "puta!" a the television at every opportunity I imagine. I'll stick my neck out and say that the blaugrana will win on away gols.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Moscow or bust


Well it would seem that Barcelona hs completely written of La Liga. The squad that travels to La Coruna this evening is without Messi, Eto'o, Xavi, all rested, Iniesta and Gaby Milito, both suspended after picking up their fifth bookings against Espanyol last Saturday. Depor are in fine form at the moment, with four wins on the bounce. Having being down in a hole for much of the first half of the season, they've lost just once since late February (away to Mallorca). The blaugrana on the other hand...

I would expect Henry, Bojan and Gio to start up front, with Edmilson, Deco and Guddy in midfield. The defense will probably be Oleguer (providing he doesn't step on a rake between now and then) plus Marquez, Thuram (eek!) and Sylvinho, who looked very much like his ship had sailed against Espanyol, he was very poor, and at 34 with his contract expiring in the summer I can see him being let go.

Hard to say if the second string will make a go of this evening's game or not. I'm curious to see how Henry does. He looked very lively when he came on against United and if he puts in a shift then I can see him starting in place of Iniesta on Tuesday night. Deco too will benefit from another run out. Ideally, Barcelona will get a two or three gol win tonight. In addition to dominating games without winning them and failing to hold onto leads, they've had great difficulty scoring at all lately.

Well I guess that's why they call it the blues...


Vidic carried off. Rooney limping off. Anderson too. United losing. It was all good news from the Bridge this afternoon. Chelsea won 2-1 to draw level on points with Sir Alex Ferguson's side. Of course they'll probably still win the league, all they have to do is beat West Ham and Wigan but still, any blow to morale or indeed to Wayne Rooney's hip is a welcome one. Roll on Tuesday night.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Zero


Like LL said, don't call it a comeback. After my weekend in Barcelona, the Champions League semi-final, Sammy's apparent wish to leave, 'dinho's sky high price tag, Deco's return to the futbol pitch and a half decent fifteen minute cameo by one Thierry Henry, there is, as ever, much to write about.

Let's begin with the derby. While most of the Catalan press painted the draw against Espanyol as being fairly disastrous, in truth that ship had sailed a long time ago. La Liga is over, Madrid have won and they've not looked like relinquishing their grip on the lead since Barça fell apart in March, having gotten to within two points of the summit after going on something of a run in February, taking ten of a possible twelve on offer. No, Saturday night was always going to be preparation for Wednesday night's Sant Jordi's Day showdown. It was about Messi and Iniesta getting a run out. About Marquez seeing some playing time in defense. About at least starting to play like they can. And that's pretty much how it played out. The first half was fairy cagey, with Espanyol almost scoring from the jump-off but failing to threaten a whole lot afterward (they were bloody awful in fact, shocking) Gio dos Santos and Ice Ice Baby had a few cracks but neither looked particularly good and it was no surprise that they got hauled off at half time.


dos Santos, though I am fond of his unselfish style of play, he keeps his head up, is a long way from being the finished article. He frequently holds on to the ball too long and is easily dispossessed due to his lack of upper body strength. He reminds me of a young Dominico Morfeo, a very talented player who didn't quite get there, who didn't make the leap. I fear dos Santos may suffer a similar fate. Guddy on the other hand, was just rubbish.

Their replacements, Andres Iniesta and Messi Messi Messi made a huge difference to the blaugrana's play. Messi's first run took him past four Espanyol players only to have his shot saved by a sharp Kameni (puta!) Barcelona would go on to huff and puff but fail to blow down Kameni's house, Eto'o being guilty of a shocking miss midway through the second half. The game was a microcosm of Barça's season, completely dominating possession yet not really doing anything incisive with it. Bojan, lively in the first forty-five drifted completely out of the game with all the play going down the right side of the pitch once Messi came on, with Leo, Xavi and Zambrotta all tearing along the wing to little avail. It's worth mentioning also that the best player on the pitch was Toure Yaya, who was incredible, making forward runs, good passes, he was always in the right place to make an interception or head away a corner/ set piece. He would continue to be fabulous against Utd. on Wednesday. Let's move on to that lot then.

Ooh are ye?



The first leg of the CL semifinal was pretty much an action replay of the Espanyol game. Barcelona enjoying the lions share of the possession without ever doing anything with it. United were fucking dire and Ronaldo's crap penalty and Carrick's dink past Marquez (who'll miss the second leg thanks to a booking. Enter Carles Puyol) that went wide aside they didn't have a shot on gol let alone force Valdes into a save. Rooney spent much of the night a right back and Tevez was frequently lying deep in midfield or drifting out wide to no great effect. As for Ronaldo, holy fucking shit, what a petulant child, going over on a gust of wind and doing his best Gary Neville every time things didn't go his way. And like one might expect from a Premier League team they gave the ball away like it was going out of fashion, either hoofing it long to no-one in particular or just making stupid passes that were never going to find their intended target. Not that Barça could make anything of this of course, with Eto'o blasting wide when he ought to have slotted past Van der Saar and Henry forcing the Dutch 'keeper into good saves late on.

Ah yes, Henry. About as popular as Ronaldinho at the moment, he came on to fairly good effect in the seventy-seventh minute for Deco, who played brilliantly for a man who hasn't seen competitive action for months. It's hard to know what to make of the whining git at this late stage of the season. Will he turn it on just as the going is getting tough and he's within sight of another Champions League final or will he continue to play like a man with lead in his boots and go back to doing damn all. I'd be tempted to give him a run out from the start against Depor and see what he can do as a possible pre-amble to starting in place of Iniesta at Old Trafford. He didn't quite set the world alight but he showed signs.

So what will be the outcome in Manchester? Surely Utd. can't play that badly again. Can Barça, three nil-nils in the past four games score a gol? Will Utd. romp past them ala the Roma game last season, will Messi last the ninety? I don't know. Much will depend on the weekend's games with respect to injuries and results etc but I'm confident. Well maybe not confident but hopeful. It's there to be won.

Round-up aka I need to go to bed


A few brief stories before I fall asleep. Eto'o's comments. It would seem that he didn't quite say "I'm out the door yo", but instead he was just expressing the frustration we're all feeling at the prospect of a second season without winning anything. I have no doubt that if Barça go three years on the bounce without a trophy he'll of course consider his options. But I'll worry about that if and when...

Next up in the out tray is 'dinho, who will probably end up in Milan, despite their initial failure to agree a fee with Barcelona. I echo Sid Lowe's comments on the Guardian's Football Weekly Podcast, that the blaugrana are trying to negotiate with as many clubs as possible so as they can get a decent price from him. He's in no way worth £40 million and the final fee won't be anything like that but if it's closer to twenty five than twenty then this bluster will of course be worth it. And that's your lot. I'll get to posting a few pics from our trip (I didn't take all that many) on Flickr before the weekend is out and also coble something together about the Depor game (kick off is at seven and it's live on Sky Sports Xtra). I'm gone.

Friday, April 18, 2008

A preview of sorts


You'll have to excuse this briefest of brief posts but I have a plane to BCN to catch. Tomorrow night it's Barcelona (one win in seven) vs. Espanyol (one win in nine) in the Catalan derby. I'd expect Barça to win given their home advantage and the fact that I'm traveling all the way to see them. Messi, given only twenty five minutes against Recre may even start in preparation for Wednesday night's showdown/ game of futbol against Manchester United.

Deco too, back in training after a prolonged absence, may feature. His return would be a huge boost because my have they missed him.

One player who probably won't feature is Eric Abidal, who this week was speaking of his poor form and difficulty in adjusting to late late kick-offs in La Liga. While this didn't quite translate into "drop me" as many of the English papers thought it did he's still likely to sit it out with old warhorse Sylvinho coming in on the left.

One last thing, a curious note in The Guardian today about Thierry Henry's earnings in his last season at Arsenal. It would appear that they were in excess of £10 million. Crikey as James Richardson would say. And didn't he earn it eh folks with a total of seventeen starts in thirty-eight... I gots to go. Full match report etc when I return on Tuesday.

Monday, April 14, 2008

And like that he was gone


"Terms have been agreed" Code for he's out the door. The deal that looked on the cards last summer for about €30 million will finally come to pass this time around for about half that. The way things stand most at Barça will be delighted to see the back of him. He's been nothing short of a disaster this season. Slow, unfit, frequently injured, a shadow of the player he once was, robbed of all his urgency and drive.

It's such a shame that Ronaldinho's time at the Camp Nou had to end like this, a symbol of the malaise that has enveloped the club, a pariah.

I recall his signing from PSG (five years ago now) and wondering whether or not he was what the club needed. He had hardly set the world alight in Paris and though he'd had a good World Cup, stories of his drinking and late nights that became early mornings really troubled me. The last thing Barça needed was another Patrick Kluivert.


As it turns out, I was right to be concerned. He didn't train all that much and he was fond of a good time and ultimately his lifestyle would catch up with him. That said, in the in-between part, the first three seasons before both he and the Rijkaard/ Laporta revolution began to go off the rails, he was the one of the finest players ever to wear the blaugrana shirt, winning La Liga twice and the Champions League and playing teams off the pitch, destroying them, slicing defences open, hammering in freekicks, scoring from every possible angle, rising to every occasion, being the go-to guy, the one who made it all happen, linking seamlessly with Samuel Eto'o, Ludovic Giuly, Deco and Leo Messi.

At his peak he was the best player in the best team in the world. Hyperbole certainly but also true. I know I'm hardly an impartial observer but 'dinho was simply awesome. He was Rivaldo, Ronaldo, Romario, a stylish Brazilian forward who started like a freight train but would ultimately end up a train wreck. Barça, for all their pomp and Mes Que Un Club attitude have a history of falling out with some of their best, of not taking care of them when they should, of taking aim at them all too quickly and bundling them out the door with little regard for their contribution.


And that is I suppose why a move is best for all concerned. 'dinho needs to be loved, he needs support and perhaps Milan are the club to give it to him. Barça have already moved on. Messi, Gio, Bojan and Sammy are the future. Not even, they're the now. I'll sure as hell miss him though.

Charly says...

Aside from all this 'dinho news there was a match on Saturday night, away to Recre, which Barça predictably ballsed up (Valdes in particular...), twice taking the lead only to let it slip (though Recre's first didn't cross the line - 43 seconds in)

"We do need to think hard about this. We do the hard part, getting a lead, and then we stop creating chances. We have to get better in this respect because when we take the lead our opponents ought to open up.”

At least Charly is telling it like it is. The positives, and there weren't all that many, were that Sammy looked excellent doing what he ought be doing, playing through the middle and scoring gols (his second was sensational) Forgotten man Santi Ezquerro got a run out as did Leo Messi. Leo saw twenty-five minutes and while he looked understandably rusty and not quite match fit, he didn't re-injure himself and I'd expect to see him get a little more time against Espanyol, maybe a whole half before being thrown in from the start against Manchester United on Sant Jordi's Day.

Speaking of the Espanyol game, I'll be seeing Barça in all their faded glory this Saturday. The last time I was over at the Camp Nou was for the Betis game, which was fairly awful and only notable for the fact that it was to be Javier Saviola's last game for the club (poor Javier, things haven't improved for him any, being as he is a permanent fixture on the bench at Real) and that Rafael Sobis' late late gol knocked the collective stuffing out the blaugrana. Whether it'll be any different this time I don't know. Espanyol are on a pretty awful run themselves, having been up among the contenders for a Champions League place before Christmas, they've fallen to pieces on the back of the injury to Raul Tamudo and dropped down the table like a stone. It hardly promises to be an epic encounter but considering my expectations are so low it can't really disappoint...

Saturday, April 12, 2008

He's back yo


It's been thirty nine long days since Leo Messi limped off the Camp Nou pitch in tears. In that time Barça have gone from contenders to also-rans in La Liga, down to third place behind Villarreal, winning just one game in five (a laboured victory against Valladolid), getting knocked out of the Copa Del Rey and scraping past Schalke 04 to make the semi-finals of the Champions League. In Messi's absence Barcelona have been abject, throwing away leads and playing uninspired, flat, one-dimensional futbol. Their best player has been the seventeen year old Bojan, who's been outshining the listless Thierry Henry and the out-of-sorts Sammy. The midfield has lacked drive and any sort of incisiveness and the defense has been leaking gols in such an amateurish manner, poor marking from corners and freekicks, ballwatching etc that it's only down to the ineptitude of the other teams chasing the title, Real and the Yellow Submarines, that they're down by more than seven points.

Now of course Barcelona were in a state before Messi got injured. Their current problems are not as a result of his being out of the team but it hasn't helped. Deco's absence too has been keenly felt (there's still no return date from him though it's hoped he'll make the semis), putting a great deal of pressure on Xavi and Iniesta. Ala Milan with Pato there's been far too much talk of Messi as a fix all when he laces up his boots again. He'll certainly make a difference to the forward line, ideally seeing Henry drop to the bench and Sammy move back into the centre and Bojan out wide on the right but Barça's problems are as much off the field as they are on it. 'dinho is effectively out the door already with Galliani speaking openly of signing him and the Spanish papers reporting that he met with Txiki Begiristain on Thursday. The aforementioned Deco may be joining him, especially in light of comments made by Xavier Sala Martin on Wednesday, where he spoke of the club inventing injuries in order to sideline players from the squad. Barça have of course refuted the claims but we all know who he's talking about and that he's probably telling the truth. Why however, he chose to air this just hours before the Schalke game I don't know.


Ah yes, the Schalke game. Now I didn't see any of this but from what I can gather from Sid Lowe's match report, talking to my Da about it last night and the txt msgs I received during the game, I gather that the blaugrana were fairly crap but Schalke, who couldn't hit a donkey's arse with a banjo, were pretty hopeless too, so it evened out. Henry again played like he's forgotten how and was moaning again today about playing out on the left. He'd do well to shut up and start making an effort. One of his lines was the hilarious "I've never run so much in my whole career." This from a man who couldn't be more static if his feet were nailed to the pitch. His signing, galactico-like in it's stupidity, has been a disaster. He's out of the Recre game on the weekend and he really is no loss.


Speaking of which, it's a bit of a mixed bag on the injury front for Saturday's outing. Iniesta, Henry and Bojan all out, Messi and Santi back in. Marquez and Xavi have overcome knocks they sustained in midweek. It's hard to know who will start upfront alongside Samuel Eto'o and Giovani Dos Santos. I can't see Messi being risked from the jump off but if Guddy slots in then who takes Iniesta's place in the middle? Edmilson? Rafa Marquez? That's an incredibly defensive line-up alongside Yaya Toure. I really don't know and crikey it's late, so further musings are going to have to wait. More on Sunday folks, when I'll be sitting in front of the fire, MacBook in hand watching the Masters. Bona Nit.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Static


It's white hankey time at the Camp Nou and after last night's performance it's hardly surprising. Barcelona were simply awful against Getafe. Completely lacking in drive or any sort of off the ball movement, they played like they had lead in their boots. By far the best players on the pitch for the blaugrana were Victor Valdes, the imperious Carles Puyol and Gianluca Zambrotta, who ran the length of the Camp Nou pitch time and time again, only to find himself either the furthest player forward or to cross the ball into the box as the likes of Thierry Henry stood there looking at it, not making any effort to make contact or get on the end of anything.

It was painful to watch, no one showing for anything, the team completely static in attack save for the occasional run down the wing from Eto'o (what on earth is he doing out there to begin with?) and his replacement, the willing if ultimately ineffective Gio Dos Santos. As for the rest of 'em...

And despite this they had five or six chances to score, hitting the post three times and Pato making fantastic saves from Milto and Gudjohnsen (who at least looked like he cared when he came on) and given how negative Getafe were you imagine one would have done it.

[insert Champions League music here]

Having just railed on Barça I would of course take the same result as Sunday against Schalke on Wednesday evening. Schalke must be feeling pretty good about overturning their one gol deficit having watched the blaugrana huff and puff.


One man who won't be lining out the the sounds of "Die Meister, Die Besten, Les Grandes Equipes, The Champions!" anytime soon is Ronaldinho. The talk last week was that a deal taking him to AC Milan for around £16 million was in the offing. This time around the club being touted is Manchester City. Apparently his brother was at Eastlands on the weekend to watch City go down without a fight to Chelsea. Quite frankly I'm amazed at this. City are a very ordinary team and they need a lot more than 'dinho to turn them into contenders for anything. They're currently out of contention for a UEFA Cup spot and miles away from the top four. They certainly have some good players and are moving in the right direction but seriously, this reminds me of Ravanelli to 'boro back in the mid-nineties. Fantastic for the club, a disaster for the player and bound to end in tears.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Playing catch up


It's been a busy week yo. A Champions League away win, Rijkaard in still being the coach shocker, Deco limping out of training, Roberto Assis meeting with Adriano Galliani and not to talk about the nice weather we're having, 'dinho injuring himself (really this time) and probably out for the rest of the season and that Messi kid is back in town. So let's get to it shall we?

First up is the blaugrana's win away at Schalke 04. 0-1, thanks to Bojan and some "couldn't score in Coppers"-style finishing from the German side meant that Barça are looking good to make the semi-finals, wherein they'll get roundly beaten by Manchester United. I didn't see the game live (I was watching Roma-Utd, a game that had an all too predictable outcome) but I did get home in time for RTE's extended highlights. So what to make of this? Bojan was 1nce again fantastic, Xavi and Iniesta were solid in midfield and Valdes made two crucial saves. On the other side, Schalke huffed and puffed but couldn't blow Barcelona's house down. Chances-a-plenty were created and missed. They had twenty-four shots (though only four or five on target) in total and looked like they could have played until midnight without scoring. A draw would have been a fair result but what care we for fair eh? Back in the blaugrana, Henry again looked rather hopeless, marooned on the wing and there was more than one "argh!" moment in defense where disaster looked imminent. But given what came before, a wretched rolling-over in Sevilla, this result, and the manner in which it was achieved (no small amount of backs-to-the-wall defending) was very welcome indeed. It may have saved Rijkaard's job, if not the season (things are a bit far gone at this stage...)


Speaking of Rijkaard's job, there was a very strange post on fcbarcelona.cat on Wednesday. Given that there has been much speculation about when rather than if Rijkaard goes, the club took the unusual step of releasing an official statement backing the coach for the remainder of the season and next time out. This is of course only the sort of thing that you have to do if it's all gone to shit and replacing the coach looks like the only option in order to try to fix it.

I have absolutely no doubt that Frank will walk away in the summer, mostly because he's got family matters to attend to, he needs a break and he's sick of the criticism being leveled at him. And quite honestly, time has come yo. I'm not going to weight in on who should or might succeed him, that's not for now but I think it would be best for all concerned if there was a new man in charge come the start of next season.

Play on playa


Moving on to the playing staff and someone else who's almost certainly on their way out, Ronaldinho. It was reported on Thursday that his agent, Roberto Assis, had met with Adriano Galliani, vice-president of AC Milan. 'dinho, who was back in training on Wednesday only to actually injure himself (he's strained his hamstring) and leave him on the sidelines for at least six weeks, effectively the rest of the season. Ala much of the news concerning 'dinho, it was written up very dispassionately on the Barça website. At this stage it would seem they just can't wait to get rid of him and this injury gives them the perfect opportunity to ignore him completely until the summer and deal with the specifics of a transfer to Milan come June.

It's a very sad end for a player who wasn't only the best at Barcelona but the best in the world. 'dinho is an incredible player, I've seen him score gols, make passes that were out of this world but crikey, he's the man who fell to earth this season. Frequently injured, over-weight and downright unfit, he's lurched from the treatment room to the stands and back again. It's been depressing to watch his decline, his lack of motivation to do anything about it, the club's lack of support and the general souring of relations, the seeds of which were sown long ago (during the meltdown that was the last campaign). Whether a move will revitalise his career I don't know. He doesn't look remotely bothered anymore and he may just wind down ungracefully and find himself back at Gremio, doing an Adriano as it were.

Also on the injury front, Deco, who looked to be on his way back, possibly as early as this weekend against Getafe, limped out of training on Thursday. According to fcbarcelona.cat, "(Deco) had been working with the first team since Sunday, despite doctors having not yet said he was fully fit." Well what on earth was he doing then? Jesus H. Christ but if he's not fit... No word on when he'll be back, though I'm hoping he'll make the CL semis.

Another man who maybe, just maybe, will be giving Patrice Evra the run-around is Leo Messi. Back in the Catalan capital after about a month in Argentina he's sounding upbeat but cautious. More news in the next few days about when he'll be available.

Finally a word about ex-blaugrana youth-teamer, Fran Merida. Merida, currently on-loan at Segunda side Real Sociedad, has signed a new long term deal at Arsenal and should be ready to make an impact at Ashburton Grove next season. Good for him. And with that folks, the clock has struck one and I've to be up in a few hours. More on Sunday, either before or after the Getafe game. Bona Nit.