Friday, November 24, 2006

Barca round-up

I've been having a crazy time lately with my holiday job, hence the lack of posts. Some thoughts below on all matters Barca recently.

La Liga

Good to keep the winning form going, especially away to the most defensively solid team in the league in Mallorca - well, not anymore. It's still looking very tight in the top 8, so Barca are going to have to hang on through our injury problems and grind out results when necessary.

Having said that, I've already discarded the 3 points against Atletico Madrid. We almost never win against them. A club is only allowed one 'black beast' club in my book, and ours is Atletico - and, by implication, Torres. (He'd be a great buy if all that your club needed to do was beat Barcelona every week.) But that's okay, because a lot of the other top 8 teams are playing each other in the next few rounds, and will probably take points off each other in the process.

Champions League

I was so relieved we won in Sofia - 'without playing', as Sport claimed - which keeps the club's qualification chances in its own hands. By the way, I've been very impressed with the way Levski have approached the Champions League - with positive football and sensible responses to defeat. Fair play to them.

Chelsea of course lost to Bremen 0-1, a result which ensures that they will qualify and places Barca in the position of having to win against Bremen in the last game to get through. I'm not blaming Mourinho - he fielded a strong side and no doubt went out to at least get some sort of result. Hell, he even complained to the press later that Frings went down too easily in winning the freekick that led to the Bremen goal, so you know he took it seriously. In fact, I wouldn't have blamed him if he'd rested some players with the Manchester United match coming up, so his behaviour has been above what I expected.

As for Bremen, they need any result they can get. A good win for them, and they now have everything to play for - and pretty much nothing to lose, unlike Barca. Fair enough.

As both Motta and Deco have insisted - neither of them fans of Chelsea, kind of like yours truly - Barca should not hope for favours from Mourinho's team. It's their business what they do, after having gotten such good results from their first 4 games, and they have every right to do whatever makes them happy.

On the other hand, it's up to Barca to make sure that qualification does happen. A team with aspirations of defending their title shouldn't have to - or want to - rely on anyone else's sportsmanship or results. It's all down to a single game, at the Camp Nou, in which we have to win. There's nothing wrong with that.

Food for thought

Here's Bremen coach Thomas Schaaf on what his team is going to do at the Camp Nou:

"We set ourselves ambitious aims and so far we have reached them all in excellent fashion, but we shouldn’t travel to Barcelona thinking that all we have to do is defend.

"If you allow them to play their game, they’re going to hammer us. We have to take the game to them instead."

I don't know if we're in the kind of form (or have the kind of players fit) to 'hammer' a side like Bremen, but if they do take the game to Barca (and judging by past record, they will), with the way Barca almost always play at home it could make for a good encounter. Like against Chelsea, Barca cannot afford to give away cheap set pieces, since Bremen have some - to quote a Mourinhoism - 'giants' who are very good at capitalising.

Medical problems

Something's not right here. Poor Belletti keeps getting injured again right after 'recovering' from a short-term injury, and they keep screwing up the recovery times for other players. Please tell me Messi's not going to be out for double the time he's actually supposed to be (again). Or, God forbid, the same happening to Eto'o.

More immediately, Ronaldinho, Marquez and Motta all picked up knocks in the game against Levski. This is very, very bad. Marquez - who has admittedly been a bit out of sorts lately - can be replaced by either Oleguer (competent, but unable to make up for Puyol's lack of speed) or Thuram (again, same thing - awesomely skilled but not the fastest player around, and not quite on the same wavelength as Puyol a lot of the time). Hopefully Edmilson will be available in place of Motta if necessary. It's a shame since Motta's finally hit a good patch of form and to return to his eternal injury hell would set him back once again.

Ronaldinho, though. If Barca lose him, we're in deep trouble. That would be our 4th forward injured, not to mention our entire first choice forward line - enough to send any club into a deep spiral of despair. In this case, the prospect of Ezquerro-Gudjohnsen-Giuly taking on Bremen on the 5th does not fill me with confidence, even if the match is at home.

First impressions are that all three are just knocks, although knowing the Barca medical staff I'm waiting for them to be examined properly first - which will probably happen today.

Player status

To finish on a cheerful note, how good is Iniesta right now? And it's looking like a productive season in terms of goals for him too. Much as I like Xavi - and I like Xavi a lot - it's hard to see Iniesta not starting in this form. Not only that, but he has shown repeatedly that while quiet, he is a leadership figure on the pitch already at the tender age of 22. I was especially impressed when he was the one going around rallying the troops, calming people down and communicating with the referee when necessary against Depor, in a match where Barca desperately needed a leader after what happened against Chelsea and Puyol's tragic absence. He stepped up, even more so than our actual captain on the day - first vice-captain Ronaldinho.

While him and Xavi are both the quiet type, Iniesta seems to me to be even more of a leader figure. Xavi, bless him, is almost too easy-going. I've said this before, but Barca need to hold on to Iniesta. It's hard to see him not being pelted with offers for teams where he'll start every match, but it should be possible for the club to retain him as very possibly a future captain if they play their cards right. There the precedent of Xavi - who has turned down Chelsea, amongst others, to stay at Barca even through the bad old years - may come in useful.

Back to the selection headache, there's also the option of playing both Xavi and Iniesta, which has been used successfully before. The problem with that is that Deco is working his ass off right now, and getting a lot of constructive, if unglamorous work done. I don't think playing all 3 of them is a good idea unless we're at home and the opposition are playing with 10 men behind the ball - and that applies whether Xavi or Iniesta plays in the holding role. Then again, since Messi's out, all 3 might play with more regularity - with Iniesta in Giuly's usual position, instead of further back in midfield.

It's nice to see Gudjohnsen, Ezquerro and now Giuly getting on the scoresheet, when the team needed them to produce. Especially Guddy - I really like the attitude he has shown so far this season, despite all my criticisms of his technique. It's great that he's finally starting to answer back to all the naysayers. I'd gladly eat my words if he'd score more. As for poor Santi Ezquerro, the forgotten man now has a chance to get some games for Barca and prove his worth.

I've long admired Giuly's ability to suffer in silence given how frustrating it must be to be stuck behind a kid 10 years younger for a starting spot, especially given what he is capable of, and his glittering record so far. Much as I hate the fact that Messi is injured yet again, I like Giuly and would love for him to go on a run of form that will see him challenge Messi even when the Argentine is fit. More goals would also be nice.

Finally, as I mentioned before, congratulations are due to Motta, who is 'benefitting' from Edmilson's various injury problems and after a couple of games seems to be hitting some form. This is great news as he is Barca's best at linking attack and defence when his elusive good form comes about. Long may it continue.


Yrsa Roca Fannberg said...

I agree that Iniesta is in a magnificent form now, it must be hard for Xavi, who is also one of my favourites.
The Werder Bremen game will defenitely be one of the "magic nits " at Camp Nou, W B is a team that is in an incredibible form and I am worried about their physical strength, but I think Ronaldinho will have it it by then. At leat I hope so.

Lynda said...

Yeah, the Levski game was a huge relief. I felt kind of bad for the Bulgarians; if they hadn't been playing against Barca I'd have been rooting for them to do better in the group stages.

It was scary when Ronaldinho went down--suddenly I realized I think of him as invincible. Despite the loss of Eto'o, Messi, etc., it had never even occurred to me that the same thing could happen to him.

And yes, yes, absolutely agree with all your comments about Iniesta, Xavi, Gudjohnsen, Guily, et al. Months after the fact I'm still frustrated at Domenech's leaving Guily off France's World Cup squad. Presumably his astrological chart just didn't line up quite right.

linda said...

Yrsa: Yeah, I feel bad for Xavi. All 3 midfielders are so good that dropping one seems an outrage. I'm also worried about the Bremen game. They're very, very good, and probably won't be too intimidated by the Camp Nou atmosphere. Here's hoping for a magical night, a spectacular game, and us to go through!

Lynda: yeah, the Bulgarians seemed like the perfect underdogs. It's a pity.

If one of their players had actually injured Ronnie, I'd be less charitable. He's so important, and like you said, sometimes we forget he's human.

Poor Giuly. He's missed so many major tournaments through bad luck. Unlikely as it is, I hope he makes it to Euro 2008. It's probably his last chance.