Sunday, April 22, 2007

Barca v Getafe report (and that goal)

Why the lack of posts? Well, uni is rather trying to kill me even in the middle of holidays, and there hasn't been much to cheer about. Until this past week.

In football commentary there are two schools of thinking about goals scored. The first is something I rather dislike, and the awesome Michael Robinson puts it best:
[Alan] Hansen thinks every goal that's ever been scored is a defensive error, because when you don't understand football, you can stop a tape anywhere running up to a goal and find a rick. But everybody makes an error.
The other is best represented by those Spaniards or South Americans you hear on goal videos, shouting and screaming and going crazy with love for the game.

Sometimes, it's good to be critical. But occasionally if you are, you just sound like a spoilsport in the worst way, ruining the moment when everyone else is gawking like little kids and enjoying the hell out of it.

This goal (DailyMotion link) is one of those occasions. Watch, and gawk, and enjoy.

Copa del Rey semi-final first leg: Barca 5-2 Getafe


I've actually been sitting on a massive post about young Lionel Messi ever since El Clasico. Maybe I'll actually finish it soon. But anyway, he's getting lots of airtime and fair enough, after that goal and that performance. He's one of those players who can disappear for most of a game, but still end up dominating it because of his ability to pop up at critical moments and get in that pass, or score that goal. That's what Messi did in the first half of this game - he ran the Barca attack up front without ever actually imposing himself on the game.

(That's not a criticism, by the way, just an observation of his style.)

What can I say about that goal? There's no need to compare it to any other, really, because when something that good comes along, you owe it to yourself to just sit back and admire. The thing that impresses me most, even more than his absurdly good technique and insane pace, is the audacity of it. Messi has been kicked and hacked at so much since his professional career began, but he's still absolutely fearless on the pitch. You have to believe that you can do something like that first, before it becomes possible for you. (Check out the gobsmacked reactions of his team mates to the goal.) And Messi's got that.

Other than that, I also wanted to mention that he also did good work tracking back, as did all the others who inhabited the frontline, even if some of them aren't very good at defending (Sammy Eto'o, I'm looking at you).

general team play

I was actually pretty impressed by our performance overall, especially in the first half. That was pretty much how I want Barca to play, and it's reassuring to me that we did it without Ronaldinho. That said, I could have done without the defensive lapses, although by now I've long since resigned myself to Barca's inability to defend set pieces.

One thing that was especially good to see was everybody pressing the opponent early, in midfield or even in their own box. That's exactly how the 4-3-3 is supposed to work, and it's good to see it (finally) happening again. Maybe there is something to this new training regime (added irritated Frank Rijkaard optional).

Still, it ain't over until it's over, and I think we still have to go to Getafe with respect for the opponent. If we manage that, then it will be the first Copa del Rey final appearance by Barca for 9 years. For the team who have won the trophy the most times, that's quite a while.


I like them. If you read about Getafe, it's easy to get the impression that they just stifle and defend and are awful to watch. But really, they do get the ball moving and play the passing game a bit. And they're not the type of defensive, dirty team that makes me cringe just watching it. Schuster does good work. I totally understand his lack of enchantment with Messi's goal, by the way. He is the opposing coach.


I hate to say this, but Jorquera really does not inspire confidence in me. He's not bad as far as saves go, but he doesn't command the box as well as Valdes, and when we've got a defence as leaky as ours, having a keeper who doesn't come out to collect loose balls decisively is really bad. That said, Valdes is having such an impressive season that comparisons seem a bit unfair.

As for Marquez, well, what can I say? He's still not quite right in the head, and it shows. Puyol isn't completely on to it, either, but he's still doing the business for us, winning headers that look impossible, charging into every challenge and rushing up the field when the team needs a burst of energy. Irreplaceable, that man. Gio and Zambrotta are both on course to win the 'defender most likely to be caught offside' award jointly with Dani Alves, especially now that Roberto Carlos' age has caught up with him. While this makes sense for a team like Barca, it is a bit worrying for me how much time Zambrotta spends further upfield than Messi, which leaves Marquez as the sole defender on that side. Not good considering Marquez's form this season.


Great performance from all three pocket maestros. Deco was having a wobbly few...months, but thankfully seems to be getting back to his best. Great work rate, and some inspired touches as well, including a lovely pass for Messi's second goal. Iniesta was as brilliant as he has been all season, working tirelessly both in defence and in attack. Everything he does makes this team tick. If he keeps going like this, he's probably going to be my (and many others') Barca player of the season. It's also great to see Xavi in such blistering form. He had a very good game and scored a highlight-reel worthy goal, when not busy dictating the game from midfield and passing the opponent dizzy. More of the same from all three would be a great way to end the season.


Like I mentioned above, good work tracking back by all three. Nice to see Gudjohnsen get another goal, especially a crucial one, since he's probably not having the best time of it and could use the boost to his confidence. I still think he's not quite compatible with Barca's style, but no one can fault the effort. The same can be said of Eto'o, really. He was everywhere - never stopped running, looking for space, tracking back to defend and basically just working his socks off. And the goal was typical him - give him chances and I'm always confident of his ability to convert them. And damn, does that scare defenders or what? About as much as his sheer bat out of hell speed scares them, I'd say. Keep shining, you crazy diamond.

I've already written all that needs to be said about Messi. Long may he prosper.

Monday, April 09, 2007

State of the Primera and Spanish teams in Europe

It's another weird and wacky weekend in La Liga, leaving the title race hanging in the balance. Fortunately everyone's played the same number of matches, which makes analysis a bit easier.

Barca (1 - 0 loss to Zaragoza) showed once again just how vulnerable we are without Eto'o in attack. Hopefully he'll be back soon, and thankfully our next game is at home. The good thing is that our fate is still in our own hands, but I'm really worried about that trip to Atletico, who we're traditionally bad against. We can't slip up from now on.

Zaragoza did their own hopes of Champions League football good by moving into 4th place with this victory on the same points but with superior goal difference over Valencia. I would still bet on Valencia to get into the CL places ahead of them in the long run, but there aren't that many games to go. Both of these teams can be wobbly, so we'll see who blinks first. Still, Zaragoza are now only 6 points off Barca. Incredibly, they're in the title race, which I'm sure not many people anticipated at the beginning of the season. A CL place, maybe, yeah, but the title race? Good for them. (I can't help but like any team with such a talented group of Argentinean players. Not to mention old Barca boys Sergio Garcia and Gerard Pique.) Diego Milito for pichichi this season would be delightful.

Also good for Barca, but bad for their own title hopes, Sevilla drew yet again (0 - 0) against Racing at home. If they won they would have been lone leaders, so this was a really bad result especially since they still have trips to the Bernabeu and the Mestalla coming up. Can't really blame them, though, since they had such a mid-week workout against Spurs. Personally, I would like them to retain the UEFA Cup, but it's a crying shame they weren't in the CL this season instead of Osasuna. You never know, maybe Spain would have a few more representatives left in the CL at this point if that was the case.

Racing are doing their own hopes of European football no harm at all. They're only 3 points off sixth-placed Atletico, which is pretty incredible going for a club so used to being mired in mid-table mediocrity. It's going to be interesting to see if they can sustain that to the end of the season.

Real Madrid won (2 - 0 against Osasuna) and are back in the title race, within 2 points of leaders Barca. They still have some tough matches coming up at home against both Sevilla and Valencia, not to mention a visit to Zaragoza which is never fun for them. One advantage Real do possess is that they have a superior head-to-head result against Barca, unlike Sevilla. It remains to be seen if Capello's team has what it takes to grind out the final stretch. I think they're pretty tough, but just grit isn't going to work with the hard matches they have coming up. Still, they along with Zaragoza have the least distractions of any of the top 4 (and Valencia).

As for Osasuna, there's not much to say. They only need 5 more points to reach the magical survival barrier of 40, which I'm sure they'll manage if only by mugging teams at home. However, bravo for that mid-week European performance. You know what would be great? An all-Spanish UEFA Cup final - very possible at this point.

Valencia lost to Athletic away (1 - 0), which left them in 5th place. Not a good position in their push for the title, although they're still only 6 points off Barca. Remember when they were ahead of Real in the table? Can't really blame them though, after the mid-week adventure against Chelsea. On which I have to say, great work. If anyone can take Chelsea on at their own type of game, it's Valencia. I would really like them to win the CL this year - it's about time more than 2 Spanish clubs did. It would also heal some wounds from their two successive final appearances (and defeats) while under Cuper, which I'm sure still smarts.

Athletic helped their chances of survival a great deal by picking up 3 points, which let them climb out of the relegation zone. They're still not out of trouble - Celta are only 2 points off them, and they're only ahead of Levante by goal difference, but there are some rays of hope. Athletic might struggle to get 40 points, given that there are only 9 games left and some of those are against top teams, but if they keep battling they might just make it. A dramatic end of the season looks very possible with that last game against fellow relegation battlers Levante. I like Athletic and hope they do manage to survive, not least because having some representatives of Basque football in La Liga is nice (given the debate over whether Osasuna counts, I'll leave them out), since Real Sociedad look doomed.

Atletico had an impressive away victory against Villarreal (0 - 1). Well, I say that, but Atletico's away form this season has been better than their home form. They're still looking good to qualify for Europe, but CL may be a step too far. They're only 3 points of Zaragoza (and Valencia), but I'm not sure they're going to be anywhere near consistent enough to pull through in the end. My money's still on Valencia out of them, Zaragoza and Atletico, but it's going to be a frantic last few matchdays.

Villarreal are just depressing this season. I read an article saying that getting rid of Riquelme has revitalized them, but they still have the same problems. The team was built around Roman, and when he was brilliant that worked out just fine. But the rebuilding after him leaving is going to take a while. It looks like they're going for a change of guard at the end of this season, which is probably a good way to go. This season is a total write-off. They'll make 40 points, and then there will be nothing to play for - I don't think they have a shot at a European place.

Recreativo played out an exciting game against Celta which they ultimately won (4 - 2). They're still in the running for an UEFA Cup place (only 2 points off Atletico), which is incredible given that most people didn't even give them a chance for survival this season. Great stuff.

Celta on the other hand are in big trouble. The 2 teams below them probably won't catch them, but they still have to haul somebody down to be safe. They do have an easier fixture list than Athletic and probably Levante, but that doesn't really say much since the really key games will be against other relegation battlers. The way they're going, I'd be worried.

Espanyol beat strugglers Real Sociedad (1 - 0) at home. They've had their usual up and down season, but thankfully for the nerves of their fans they're doing much better than last season's frantic scramble to avoid relegation. They've already got 40 points, and although an UEFA Cup spot looks a bit far off they're going strong in the competition this season. Good win over a good team in Benfica (3 - 2), and although I'm a bit worried about their away form and those 2 away goals they conceded, they've still got a good chance of going through to the semi-finals.

As for La Real, I really don't think they're going to beat the drop this year. They've been struggling for a few seasons now, and it's a shame given how great they were not too many years ago, when they nearly won the league. 21 points with 9 games to go is simply not enough, especially given the fixture list they've got. A shame for Basque football in general, but it looks like there's no way back.

Getafe were beaten away by Mallorca (2 - 0). This result is a bit of a surprise. Getafe are strongest at home, but they're no mugs, and I didn't think Mallorca were capable of getting through their defence. This does seem to happen to them every season, though - when they're on the threshold of the 40 point barrier, those last few points take forever. They'll finish comfortably mid-table, which will be another season's good work from everybody involved given the budget of the club but they've got to be disappointed at letting a shot at an UEFA Cup place slip away.

Mallorca are (probably) safe for another season of mid-table mediocrity with short, intense periods of relegation-related terror. They've done the same thing for several seasons now, by being very very stingy at the back and squeezing out a few goals here and there. So no surprises there.

Deportivo beat bottom of the table Nastic at home (1 - 0). This season is a bit of a write-off for Depor, which is understandable given that they're bedding in so many new youngsters who've come in from other team's youth teams. It's just unfortunate that the club itself is run so badly in a way that actually affects the proper operation of the team. They've nearly gone bankrupt how many times now? They're the only club I can think of in the league who have problems paying players their salary. Sad, really, given their status just a few seasons ago.

Nastic are struggling valiantly against the drop, but they're pretty much doomed. Like I said about La Real, 21 points with 9 games to go isn't enough. Their run-in isn't that bad, but I'm afraid their season-ending game at the Camp Nou may be meaningless by the time they get there.

Betis drew (1 - 1) away to Levante, which is a result that doesn't really help either of them. Betis look alright for this season - they might even make 40 points before the last day, if they're really lucky. Still, this has not been a good season for a club with some pretty good players who beat Chelsea just last season in the CL. They should be doing much better.

Levante are still in trouble. They're not too far off the last 3 and even if they do ultimately survive it will probably be by the skin of their teeth. I don't think they were quite ready for the trials of the Primera, to be honest, although they have done well with their meager resources.