Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Quick comments on Barca v Recre

That was 2 days ago, you say? Through an unfortunate set of circumstances I only saw the match today, so a late report as well as some comments about the Chelsea game to come.

The match

Match reports I'd read prior to seeing the game made it sound like a very difficult win indeed, but in my opinion we played quite well in the second half. Not so much for the first 20 minutes or so, but neither were we disastrously bad.

As for the penalty call, there are two things that need clarifying. One, Gudjohnsen's shirt was pulled in the penalty area. Sometimes that's given, sometimes not. But the action was there. Two, Guddy decided in his infinite wisdom to dive after the shirt-pull. There's no question about that. The shirt-pulling may have been a factor in him going down, but it was a very small one. If there was any force, he still exaggerated contact. A lot. So that's enough of that, Guddy. We've already got one former Mourinho apprentice as our resident Chief Diver (Deco for the uninitiated), it would suck to have another.

The other two goals were great, though. What are the chances of Ronaldinho scoring a header? What are the chances of Xavi scoring 2 in official games so far this season? (His first was in the return leg of the Spanish Super Cup vs Espanyol.)

The defence

Great work over all. They started out shaky, but quickly improved. Valdes was immense. Great opening save, and even some good tackling (!) outside the box. The full-backs were brilliant. Belletti and Sylvinho got an assist each, and both were richly deserved. Sylvinho still has trouble defensively, but his attacking work is as great as ever. Belletti had a good game both going forward and defending. Well done.

Marquez was great. Seemingly everywhere the team needed him, insane precision with his long-range passing, and many crucial clearances. His free-kicks are as good as ever. I'd like to see him take the long range ones on a regular basis from now. Not all the time, but at least give him some chances. Wonderful game by him. Puyol was just as good. After a bit of bother with injuries, he seems to be getting back to his best. The spirit he showed out there was as great as ever. You know what Barca need? A team of Puyols. If everyone worked like him, we'd beat anybody.

The midfield

Much improved over the somewhat chaotic performance in Madrid. Defensively, there was a lot more pressing of the opposition and tracking back, which is always good to see. Deco still isn't back to his best, but he's looking better. Before this he was getting worse with every game, which was very alarming for those of us who love the little schemer despite his antics. Good work in defense, and not too bad going forward either.

Xavi had a brilliant game, also a nice contrast to his somewhat indifferent form as of late. He pulled the strings in midfield and provided a string of great passes forward. Edmilson also followed the theme of improvement, with more intelligent efforts this time around, especially where positioning is concerned. Shielded the back four well, and also contributed going forward.

Iniesta made his customary substitute appearance and was brilliant. As soon as he came on, Barca's game sped up. At that point he was one of the few guys willing to have a run at and try to beat opposing players. Great work tracking back, too.

The forwards

With everyone else improving, this is the one area that we're still having problems that don't look like resolving themselves yet. Let's start with the good...and go on from there.

Giuly looks like he's hitting a spot of form again. The wonderful but inconsistent Frenchman has had some good games this season (Racing, Levski) and some indifferent ones (Celta, Real). In this game he was very good indeed, and probably the most threatening forward for most of the game, always looking to beat his marker, put dangerous balls into the box and help out the team. Long may it continue.

Ronaldinho still looks a bit lacking in fitness. He's running again, which is good, and increasingly tried to beat his marker as the match went on, which is also good, but he didn't having that much success with it. Scoring from open play will have helped his confidence. By the way he played after scoring, it really gave him a boost. He was much more active, even in defense. His set pieces are also looking much better. Baby steps, Ronnie.

Gudjohnsen worked hard. There's no doubting that. His willingness to work for the team does him great credit. Being compared incessantly with Eto'o is not easy, but that's the position he's in, and he still doesn't look quite integrated into the system - or able to finish enough chances. However, he did exchange positions with Ronnie a bit in this game, so maybe they're getting used to each other.

(I'm hoping for him to score against Chelsea so damn much. If only to get back at Mourinho, who seems to have the personal loyalty of...well, something unpleasant. Nice work throwing poor Guddy to the wolves just to perpetuate his line about diving.

By the way, I don't have anything against Chelsea. Their players are great. I saw Ricardo Carvolho speaking on Champions League Weekly and he was very nice about the whole Barca thing. Lampard is pretty sensible too. Drogba, Joe Cole and Robben are very talented. Boulahrouz is a wonderful defender. I'm just not fond of Mourinho.)

Saviola came on and looked useful, as ever, if in need of more playing time to click better with the rest of the team. He did some good work going forward and tracked back eagerly. Also good for winning free-kicks, I notice. Defenders love having a go at him.

Poor Ezquerro made his first appearance in La Liga this season to play out time. He did look fit and eager, which is nice, and it's good to know that we have him as an option. What a guy, though - he never complains about being on the bench all the time. Although, if you're benched for 85% of a season and end up winning the League and CL double at the end of it, I guess that's not so bad.


They looked good. Well-organised, but they didn't come to Camp Nou to park the bus, which is refreshing. I think they'll definitely stay up if they can keep this form going. A mid-table finish looks very possible.

the Chelsea game

I'm unspeakably nervous. My only consolations are 1) our great home record and 2) majority of the team getting some kind of form back. But from the first game it was clear just how tough and well-organised this Chelsea side is, and how hard they are to break down. And they have the winning mentality that makes a team difficult to beat, the kind that Barca usually wear on their sleeves.

Sylvinho, Oleguer, and Ezquerro are the ones left out of the squad, along with the injured Eto'o (insert wailing sound here). That means Rijkaard probably won't get the full-backs to fly forward at every opportunity (since Sylvinho is the more attacking left full-back), which is a shame, because I think with the way Chelsea are playing this season, their lack of width means attacking down the wings would work.

For that reason, I kind of hope Belletti plays, even though we all know what happened last time Belletti faced Chelsea (conceding 3 goals in 20 minutes, anyone?) A Barca fan remarked that his game against Recreativo was better than anything Zambrotta has produced so far for us, and as much as I love Zambro, I have to agree. Belletti has improved a lot.

Anyway, Messi will start, and I'll be hoping for the same kind of display as the one he gave at Stamford Bridge last season, and against Real Madrid (both this year and last). If Ronnie doesn't fire on all cylinders, then we really need Messi to have a big game. It's a lot to ask of a 19 year old, but as he has shown before, he has got what it takes.

In midfield, I'm hoping Rijkaard will have learned from the last game and actually use some physical defensive midfielders this time round. At least one of Edmilson, Motta or even Marquez will need to play in the holding role to counter the physical Chelsea midfield. Maybe even two - playing both Edmilson and Motta worked last season.

Lastly, let's hope for a better game than the last one. Don't get me wrong, Drogba's goal was great, but the rest of it wasn't champagne fare. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't want Barca to win above all else.

So allow me a moment of complete partisanship: Visca el Barca!

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