Monday, January 31, 2011

Times done changed

Hercules have scored just three gols away from home all season. Nelson Valdez has scored all three and two of them were at the Camp Nou. That was back in September, the second week of the season. A flat and limp performance where Barça never really threatened and were soundly beaten seems like a lifetime ago. Since then they have lost just 1nce, a fairly meaningless Copa del Rey 2nd leg game away to Betis (they were 5-0 up from the 1st leg). This Saturday they dispatched their only conquerors in La Liga 0-3 with what was a rather contained and measured showing. It would be the 15th victory in a row, equaling the Di Stefano lead Real Madrid of 1960/61. They scored their 401st gol of the Guardiola era (157 matches) and moved seven points clear of Real (and would stay there thanks to Los Blancos fall to earth in Pamplona, losing 1-0 to Osasuna and looking as disjointed and undone as they did at the tail end of the Pellegrini era).

It’ll be interesting to see if the knives start to come out for Jose Mourinho between now and the end of the season if they don’t get to at least the semi-finals of the Champions League. I’d expect them to open a can of whoop-ass on Sevilla on Wednesday in the Copa. Sevilla were all over the place in their 3-3 draw in Galicia away to Depor. They’ll be without (the increasingly erratic granted) Andres Palop, who was sent off for handling outside the area.

Palop, unflappable for years, has slipped into late career David Seaman form this season, making some incredibly costly mistakes (see the 2nd leg of the Champions League qualifier against Braga for compelling evidence of said decline). Sevilla will have a tough time replacing him come the summer mind, Javi Varas really isn’t up to the task. Added to the hole he’d leave in gol, I don’t see anyone else at the Sanchez Pizjuan ready to pull on the captain’s armband bar maybe Kanoute who’s on the decline too. They’re a team in need of major surgery, top to bottom. Having abandoned the policy of signing promising youngsters and selling them on for big money, they’re now chock full of players that just aren’t good enough. The only player who should be considered untouchable is Navas. Escude and Negredo are worth hanging on to but almost everyone else has underperformed massively in the past two years and the way they’re going this time out they won’t even make Europa League.

Back in Catalunya

Aside from being record equalling, Saturday’s game was noteworthy for one or two other things. Dani Alves, back from injury, played all ninety minutes. Andres Iniesta, an injury magnet last season, picked up his first of this campaign and won’t play in Andalucia against Almeria. He won’t be the only one I expect, given their 5-0 advantage from the first leg. One would hope that they’ve learned their lesson from the Betis game though, the losing of which was as much down to disinterest and lack of concentration as Betis playing brilliantly. That said, the focus is firmly on Atleti on Saturday. The last time Barça were on the cusp of equalling Real fifteen game winning streak they got schooled by Atleti at the Calderon (losing 3-1 I think in Frank RIjkaard’s second season in charge). How fitting that they should get in the way again.

Depending on Tottenham’s efforts tonight, it may be without Diego Forlan, who would be a huge loss to Atleti. His departure would guarantee that Kun Aguero would follow him out the door in the summer, new contract or not, and the big red and white striped reset button being pressed as there is no one in Atleti’s price range who could come remotely close to replacing either of those two. I really hope Forlan does it in England this time. Despite his being top scorer in Spain and Europe (with Villarreal and Atletico, not Real or Barça) he’s still regarded as something of a flop after his time at United in these parts and his performances at the World Cup were seen as some class of anomaly rather than something to be expected. I recall seeing Forlan at the Camp Nou, scoring a hat-trick against Barça for the yellow submarines in a 3-3 draw and in the process beating Eto’o to the Pichichi. He was outstanding, his movement and positioning incredible. He really is the complete centre forward.

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