Barca 3-2 Alaves
What would we do without Saviola? Funny thing to say, isn't it, after all the shenanigans during the summer, but seriously, what would this currently lost side do without the player who has scored all of Barca's goals in the last 3 games? Without whom we could have endured an embarrassment in our own stadium against fricking Alaves? Good for him, and a hat-trick is always nice. That's 6 goals in the span of a week, and I'll be very, very surprised if he doesn't play a big part in the next league game.
Even his old enemy, technical director Txiki Begiristain has indicated that the club has to think about possibly renewing his contract now, although he indicated that financial factors (like El Conejo's massive salary, perhaps?) may still be a stumbling block. The initial signs are if he is willing to bring his salary into the same range as the rest of the non-regulars (around 3 million euros, plus various performance and trophy related bonuses) that would be more acceptable for the club.
The media and the fans are certainly on his side. The latest poll by El Mundo Deportivo indicated that a whopping 94% of fans reckon that he should start the league game against 'Nastic, and 95% think the club should renew his contract. That's not even going into the banners in the Camp Nou urging the club to renew him. Poor Gudjohnsen must be feeling a little unpopular, although rumour has it that Giuly will be the one relegated to second-half substitute instead on account of both the rest he surely needs and his poor recent form.
From Saviola's point of view, no matter how much he likes living in Barcelona, surely if his stated ambition of starting for Argentina in the next World Cup is to be fulfilled, he needs to start for a club. That's not going to happen at Barca when Eto'o gets fit again. Maybe Espanyol is a good place for him. Maybe. I'm not convinced. In any case, he's keeping his options open for now.
On an amusing note, for those of you who don't know, the current president of Spain, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, is a Barcelona fan. Apparently when asked about Saviola's recent performances, Zapatero was of the opinion that the club should not let Saviola leave. So there you are, club suits.
As for the game itself, alright, we had to play Gio in midfield because both Deco and Iniesta are injured, but what the hell? It's funny, I wasn't nearly as annoyed about losing to Espanyol as I am about winning against Alaves (and going through 5-2 on aggregate).
Our defence is frighteningly bad right now. To leak two goals against a team who are fighting relegation from the second division is unacceptable. (Want to know who the only other team to score 2 at Camp Nou this season are? I'll give you one guess: they're owned by a really, really rich Russian guy.) Yeah, I know the tie was wrapped up in the first half, but it's still damn embarrassing.
Marquez has blundered far too much lately. Maybe give Oleguer a chance at center-back? We certainly don't lack right-backs, and he's been wobbly there this season, but Ole's not a bad center-back. Motta seems to be having one of those spells again. Thankfully Edmilson is back to full fitness.
40000 spectators, incidentally, which is interesting. It's an impressive number on its own, but given the capacity of the stadium and the fact that the club offered a 4 for the price of 1 deal from their ticketing office, turnout really should be higher. But at least they were nice, chanting Saviola's name and 'applauding everything', according to El Mundo Deportivo (and my trusty Google Translate), and were fairly forgiving of the team's blunders, although Ronaldinho didn't have the greatest time of it with some scattered noises of disapproval aimed in his general direction. I suspect that generosity towards the team's mistakes by the fans might not last for too long, given past record.
(Hilariously, the audience included on-loan striker Maxi Lopez and...wait for it...Peter Crouch!)
Interestingly, both fans (through polls) and club management (through Johan Cruyff) have conveyed that they think the players, not the manager, are to blame for the current slump. Incidentally, I feel the same way.
They also factor in injuries, which is fair enough - poor Rijkaard hasn't been able to field the same side, especially defensively, for a while because of various injuries. When the Zambrotta-Marquez-Puyol-Gio defensive line played together for a run of matches, they looked very good, but they all took turns to get injured, and a lack of consistency is a killer to defensive organization.
And then there's that energy-draining trip to Japan. Interestingly, Rijkaard seems to be implying that the team's recent performances are down to a lack of fitness. If so, they should probably get on to fixing that. Still, we should be doing better than we are.
However, I don't agree with people who are saying that Rijkaard needs to be harder on the players. Yeah, being hard on someone like Ronaldinho is really going to make him go for it. That really worked at PSG. Not. 'Frankie' has his own way of working, let's just leave him to it for now and see what happens.
By the way, I'm getting a bit worried (and annoyed - he has a contract, people) about those rumours of him leaving in the summer. For those of you going 'but we'll get Koeman in, and he's a Barca hero and everything', the man has a club job. Which means he's signed a contract. I don't think PSV would be impressed if we tapped up their coach. Also, if you've seen them play this season, it's really not a style the Camp Nou faithful would be impressed by.
On a positive note, we are getting players back from injury everyday, and evidence of the benefits were clear when Edmilson and Zambrotta came on in the Copa game. Our injury list has now shrunk from as many as 7 or 8 players to just 1 who isn't able to train - Messi, who's doing recovery work in Argentina. That means we'll finally fill the bench again, Rijkaard can play his first choice midfield and defence, and make some attacking substitutions.
The recovery of Samuel Eto'o is, of course, the big one. Even though he's already working with a ball, the doctors are being very, very careful about his comeback, since this is his first serious injury. (Surprising, isn't it? Sammy's 25 years old, this is his 8th season in La Liga, and he's never been injured this long before.)
The latest is that he may not play a full game until the 11th of February, which is slightly worrying. I would imagine that's the most conservative estimate, though. 4th of February looks more likely. Other than Saviola, he's the other player getting massive amounts of good press, with his hard working attitude and commitment a marked contrast to some other squad members I could name.
There's no need to panic yet, of course, but we can't afford to drop any more points in the league, so this current run of bad form has to stop soon. If it doesn't, then we can start worrying properly.
Copa del Rey round-up
The biggest shock of the round came from Villarreal, who put out their first team and were beaten at home (0-1) by second division team Valladolid, who now progress to the next round as the only non-first division team with a 3-1 aggregate scoreline. Good work from the minnows, terrible from Villarreal. Nothing's going right for them. From their present form, I would have said winning the Copa was their most realistic chance of a return to Europe, but now even that's out of reach.
I can never tell what Depor's first team consists of these days since they have so many young players, but congratulations to Barca cantera graduates Verdu and Rodri, amongst others, who as predicted secured entry into the next round with a 1-1 draw at home against battling (and improving) Mallorca. They go through 3-2 after winning away in the first leg.
The most impressive performance of the round probably has to be the one Getafe produced away at the Mestalla, beating a full-strength Valencia 2-4 to go through after a 1-1 draw in the first leg. In fact, the performance prompted Valencia coach Quique Sanchez Flores to compare Getafe to Barcelona (although persumably he did not mean Barca on current form).
A half-strength Sevilla side avoided what would have been another shock set-back, 2 late goals securing passage to the next round with a 3-1 victory over second division Madrid side Rayo Vallecano, having managed only a goalless draw in the first leg.
Zaragoza also rested half the squad and lost 0-1 to second division Malaga at home, not that it mattered as their 0-3 away victory in the first leg takes them through.
Osasuna, who are showing definite signs of improvement (although I shouldn't say that since the last time I said Betis were improving, they went and got thumped 5-1), also got a great result, dumping an almost full-strength Atletico side who are flying in the league out with a 2-0 home victory after a 1-1 draw in the first leg. Aguirre sent Antonio Lopez and Sergio Aguero on in the second half to try and salvage things, but by then they were 2 down and it was too late.
Real Madrid's newly youthful side drew 1-1 at the Bernabeu with Real Betis to go out of the Copa after a goalless draw away in the first leg. Quite a turnaround for Betis - but after all, they are cup specialists. If I recall correctly they are currently the club with the most Copa del Rey titles, jointly with Barca on 24. From what I've heard, Real were unlucky not to win the game. However, it may actually end up looking like a stoke of good fortune for them and Valencia if the title race continues to be so close - less fixture congestion is always handy.
Zaragoza - Barcelona: aww, crap, not Zaragoza again. For those who don't remember, Zaragoza were the losing finalists last year, but this came after a great run which included a quarter-final thrashing of Barca 4-2 (which ended Barca's 18-match winning streak) and then losing the return leg at Camp Nou 2-1 amidst Ronaldinho being given a dodgy red card to go through; and the unbelievable spanking of Real Madrid 6-1, losing the return leg at the Bernabeu 4-0 to go through. This year, they're even better, although their away form is still a bit dodgy. This fixture (again) is really not what Barca need right now.
Osasuna - Getafe: could go either way, really. Both have got some form going, and winning the Copa represents a really good chance to get into European competition for both teams that they shouldn't pass up by fielding weakened teams.
Depor - Valladolid: a bit of a dead rubber, unfortunately. Depor are inconsistent, but I doubt they're bad enough to get beaten by a second division side over 2 legs.
Sevilla - Betis: pick of the bunch, for me. The Seville derby is the craziest La Liga has to offer, and probably the only one in which you'd bet on mayhem both on the pitch and off every single time. Sure, Betis are not in a good place right now, but they'll be fired up to get one over their hated city rivals. Betis pushed Sevilla close when they played this season, despite the now obvious gap between the two clubs, at least in terms of the league table. Can't wait - this should be good.