Monday, August 30, 2010
So Zlatan Ibrahimovic is back in Milan. Little over twelve months after his arrival from the Nerazzurri for €69 million, he's been loaned (!) out to the Rossoneri, who have the 'option' to buy him next summer for €24 million. Yes, you read that right. A player who cost €49 million in cash plus Samuel Eto'o has just walked for nothing with the prospect of clawing back just over a third of what they paid for him. Add in his wages (an astronomical €16 million per year) and you're up to €85 million. With this sort of business being the norm (see Chygrynskiy, Caceres, Hleb, Henrique and Kerrision for further examples of same), it's no wonder the club is almost half-a-billion Euro in the hole. Short of throwing the money into a skip it's hard to conceive of a way they could have burned through so much and gotten so little in return.
On the pitch, Zlatan, while staring like a freight train, struggled to adapt his style of play to that of Barcelona. Dropped in favour of Bojan down the home stretch, the team played far more fluid, incisive futbol without him and though he scored some very important gols (Real, Arsenal, Stuttgart and Mallorca all come to mind), he would finish with just sixteen in La Liga, having a particularly barren spell in the lead up to and after Christmas. Rather than going over old ground and talking about square pegs in round holes, I'll just say this...
He's a very good player and his move to AC Milan immediately turns them into contenders in Serie A, where he has really proved himself. But he was never right for Barça and once the signing of David Villa was completed he was always likely to leave if they could find someone to take him off their hands.
Sid Lowe has an excellent piece in The Guardian today about Zlatan's move. I recommend reading it.
The great destroyer
Andoni Zubizarreta's outbox was rather full these last few days. In addition to our number nine, disaster prone Uruguayan hot head Martin Caceres has been loaned out to Sevilla (with a Zlatan-style option to buy him at a knock down price of €4 million. He was bought for €15 million...) Victor Sanchez, who I like but who never quite made the grade in a Marc Crosas sort of way, has gone to Getafe. Passing that lot on the stairs going the other way is Javier Mascherano. Previously lonely in Liverpool, staring out at the rain, writing poetry and slamming doors while shouting "I hate you!" at Roy Hodgson, Masch essentially forced Liverpool's hand by refusing to play against City last Monday night.
He completed his medical today and will be presented at 6pm Barcelona time. I expect he'll get the number 14 jersey, the number 4 still pining for Cesc Fabregas. Mascherano is a fine player, if an argumentative, mouthy sort. I saw him in the flesh for the first time a playing for Argentina at Lansdowne and could really appreciate just how good he is at tackling and reading the game. That said, I'm not sure how much of an upgrade his (if any) on the recently departed Yaya Toure or indeed if he's any better than the constantly improving Sergio Busquets, who had a fantastic World Cup. I'm also curious to see how much he plays and if like Yaya, he gets fed up sitting on the bench because surely if Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta are all fit he won't start.
And so to a short preview of the 2010/11 season at the Camp Nou (written before and indeed during last night's 0-3 win at Santander) There are many reasons to approach this season with hope of continued success. Despite the club's precarious finances, the core of the team is the same as last year's record breaking ninety-nine point season. Those who have left (Yaya, Titi, Rafa Marquez and Chygy) didn't play that often and were very much on the periphery of the team. Zlatan has been effectively replaced with David Villa, how is the finest centre forward in La Liga. Guardiola is still in charge and I expect him to have a good relationship with Zubi and Amor. Barça B have been promoted to the Segunda (they started with a fine win on Saturday, 1-2 away to Celta Vigo) and there are quite a few of that team who would be looking to break into the senior side (Fontas and Thiago Alcantara would be my tips). Plus they have Leo Messi.
The only challenge to Barcelona in La Liga will come, as ever from Madrid. Real finally have the coach they want in Jose Mourinho and have once again added significantly to the playing staff (Ozil, Khedira and Sergio Canales are all brilliant signings) and they may still get Maicon, who's been left out of the Inter squad for their game against Bologna today. Real were just three points shy of Barça last time out and lost both classicos. Much depends on how hard they go after the European Cup. Being dumped out of the Copa Del Rey and the Champions League helped them push Barcelona as close as they did, having only one game per week from mid-March. I think Barça will win La Liga again, probably with about 90 points.
Outside of the top two, Valencia are certainly weaker than last year but they've held onto Mata, Banega and Pablo Hernandez and the arrivals of Aduriz and Soldado will, I feel, prove to be successful. Sevilla are still very strong though their failure to qualify for the Champions League leaves them looking to sell and Luis Fabiano is first in line to depart. They probably wouldn't replace him either leaving them pretty short up front. I can see Atleti, who have held onto their best players and added Filipe Luis from Depor and Godin from Villarreal, having a run at the top four, they're certainly good enough. After that though, there's a noticeable drop off in quality. Bilbao are a solid side but neither Mallorca, who are broke, or Villarreal, who's squad is very thin, are in a position to scale the heights of last season.
At the other end, Hercules, Levante, Racing Santander, Saragossa and Malaga will all struggle.
Finally, five players I reckon are worth watching and who may have break-out seasons. In no particular order:
Filipe Luis at Atleti
Jeffren at Barça
Michel at Depor (on loan from Valencia)
Jordi Alba at Valencia
Musacchio at Villarreal
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Wednesday, July 07, 2010
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Monday, June 14, 2010
Wednesday, June 02, 2010
Friday, May 28, 2010
Monday, May 24, 2010
Messi, Zlatan, Xavi and all that...
Considering all this free time I have on my hands, I thought it would be somewhat amiss for me not to write a review/ assessment of the team this season. So here it is.
Given they won everything bar the Super Bowl and the Stanley Cup last season, it was always going to be difficult for Barcelona to hit the same heights this time out. Though the only real change to the squad was exchanging Samuel Eto’o for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the team evolved quite a bit from the all conquering model of 2008/2009.
Golkeeping and defense
Victor Valdes had his finest season in a blaugrana jersey and was easily the best golkeeper in Spain. Upping his concentration levels, cutting out silly mistakes, improving his distribution (no more kick outs going straight to David Villa) and pulling off phenomenal saves (this one against Mallorca is some Matrix shit), he has rightly made the World Cup squad (though his chances of getting a run out are slim to none), he backstopped a defense that conceded just twenty-four gols in La Liga and took the Zamora trophy for a third time.
In front of Valdes, Gerard Pique and Ironman Carles Puyol were again outstanding and Maxwell really impressed at left back, benching the calamity-prone Eric Abidal (who, to be fair, had an excellent start to the season). His passing and incisive attacking play complemented the always brilliant Dani Alves on the right.
In midfield the dynamic shifted quite a bit with Sergio Busquets being preferred to Yaya Toure and Seydou Keita seeing a lot more playing time given Iniesta’s struggle with injuries. I’m no fan of Busquets, his constant diving around and his fondness for needlessly getting ‘involved’, coupled with a propensity to misplace passes, I think Toure is a much better player (zonalmarking.net would argue otherwise). Furthermore, Toure gives the team much more drive in midfield, he’s big and powerful and advances with the ball much more than Busquets (Messi’s first goal against Valladolid being a perfect example of this).
Xavi, rather incredibly, continues to improve. His range of passing, his ability to dictate the pace of a game with almost all of Barcelona’s play flowing through him is astounding. Messi has rightly attracted plaudits for his performances this season (his all round play in addition to his record-equaling 47 gols has been exceptional) but Xavi has been Barça’s stand out player. The team just doesn’t function the same way without him.
In contrast to Xavi’s growing dominance, Andreas Iniesta hasn’t really made an impact, having a very stop-start season on the back of a lot of injuries. Given the overall strength of the team, his absence wasn’t too keenly felt, though something like this was very much lacking from the second leg against Inter, I don’t recall a single shot from distance in that game bar Bojan’s disallowed gol (more of the Inter game later)
Up front was where the team changed almost completely. With Sammy gone to play right back for Inter and Titi Henry going into semi-retirement, there were two slots to fill alongside Leo Messi. One round hole would have the square peg that is Zlatan hammered into it. The other was filled by Pedro, who’s really stepped up, pushing Bojan out for most the season (Bojan, made of sterner stuff than one might think, had a barn-storming end to the season and starting most of the games going down the stretch ahead of Zlatan)
Ah Zlatan, a more polarising force one could not find. I think he did pretty well in his first season. He’s not Sammy and was never going to be part of a fluid front three in the same way. He scored 21 gols, including two against Arsenal, crucial gols away at Stuttgart and Mallorca and of course, rifling one past Casillas in the clasico. That said, he did play with all the effectiveness of a wardrobe or a dining room table between Christmas and mid-March and frequently looked out of sync with the rest of the team. The problem is, I think anyway, was that while he was brought in to give Barça a different way of playing, another option, they never ever used it. There were never balls over the top for him to run onto, early crosses for him to head down and there were never going to be, the team can’t just change it’s style of play like that. And moreover, they didn’t have to. Bar the Inter game, they haven’t had to come back or try something different. They lost one league game all season, 2-1 away to Atletico, four games in all, with only two being of any consequence, the Copa del Rey tie against Sevilla and the 3-1 disaster in Milan.
Where he fits in now with the signing of David Villa I really don’t know. Despite the ‘7’ on his shirt, Villa is a number 9 and it seems unlikely that they can both play together. I’m hoping this doesn’t result in another Henry - ’dinho - Eto’o - Messi type problem where the club just had too many players for the same positions. I wouldn’t like to see him sold, especially as it would likely be at a huge loss but it may come to that. He’s surely 4th in the queue behind Messi, Villa and Pedro.
And so to Leo, destroyer of worlds, slayer of demons and scorer a ridiculous forty-seven gols. Playing in any of the three forward positions and even as an attacking midfielder, there are scarcely words to describe his performances this season. Hat-tricks against Tenerife, Valencia, Saragossa and four against Arsenal, where does one begin? I am consistently impressed by Messi’s un-showy brilliance, he’s the very antithesis of the whinging, pouting CR9. His gol against Real was Leo in microcosm. Cleared out of it by Sergio Ramos, he got up, received the free kick himself from Maxwell, played a one-two with Xavi and scored. All very matter-of-factly and amazing just the same. I’m pretty much in love with Leo, Antonella Roccuzzo move over.
Taking this season as a whole, Barça have been otherworldly at times but were pushed all the way to the final day of the season by a rather pedestrian Real Madrid side who ground out results rather than blew teams away. Up until Madrid gave up playing against Malaga and settled for a draw there was just one point in it. I think it’ll be just as tight again next time out, especially with Jose Mourinho in charge at Madrid. The loss to Inter in the Champions League was disappointing but more for the flat performance in Milan than the inability to put more than one past them at the Camp Nou.
I’ll post something at the end of the week about David Villa, the upcoming presidential elections and the Fabregas situation. All that remains is...
Team of the season (4-3-3)
Victor Valdes (Barcelona)
Carles Puyol (all Barcelona)
Filipe (Deportivo la Coruna)
Javi Martinez (Athletic Bilbao)
Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
Player of the season: Xavi (Barcelona)
Coach of the season: Gregorio Manzano (Real Mallorca)