Sunday, August 26, 2007

Barca news: inconveniently timed international dates edition

Excitingly enough, competitive football is back in La Liga. Here's what's been going on ahead of Barca's opener away against Racing Santander.

squad news

The international break came and went with the fans holding their breath for no further injuries, and thankfully that's exactly what happened.

Unfortunately, Gabi Milito will not be available for selection for the first game against Racing Santander, since he has a suspension from last season which will be carried over, thanks to a yellow card in his last game for Zaragoza which carried him to the five-card threshold. It's a pity for Gabi, who received fairly good reviews for his 30-minute cameo in Germany, but it's just as well, as he's only played those 30 minutes of pre-season action, and the minutes he played for Argentina against Norway were at left-back (criminal misuse, surely).

So given the injury to Puyol, Rijkaard's options are Marquez, Thuram and Oleguer. Marquez is 1) not fully up to competitive level, having played only 45 minutes of the pre-season due to his extended holidays (like Milito and Messi) and 2) crucial backup for Yaya Toure in midfield, so you'd think that he'd be unlikely to start. Thuram is carrying a knock from the Bayern game and was excused from playing for France. It looks like he'll be fit in time to start, from what I've been hearing alongside Marquez instead of Oleguer, which is a bit strange. Thuram himself has been in great form in preseason, and he should get his opportunities before Puyol makes his comeback.

Other absentees include Edmilson with his long-term injury, and Gudjohnsen who is still struggling to get fit. Bojan Krkic is busy taking the U17 World Cup by storm, and Gio Dos Santos doesn't get his Spanish citizenship papers until the 28th of August, so he can't play until then. And then there's Deco, who was not quite fit but came through 90 minutes for Portugal fine, so it looks like he might actually start alongside Iniesta. Seems kind of insane given Xavi's excellent preseason form, but I guess psychologically it's good for Deco to see that he hasn't been left out of the team's plans for the season.

Speaking of injuries and Barca's absent captain, Puyol did turn up to get his photo taken for UEFA the other day along with Edmilson. This was not in fact the first time Puyol met the new arrivals, as he has been diligent as ever and hobbled in on his crutches (hopefully having taken the journey by car first, although with him you never know) to come and greet the new guys on the first day of training with the full squad before the tour.

There's some news on his recovery as well, featuring hilarious quotes from the poor club doctors trying to stop Puyol from overworking himself. Even given what they're saying though, I doubt he'll try to make one of his early comebacks, since the knee is a delicate area when it comes to recovery. It's probably better to play it safe for the sake of his career, since he's already increasingly injury-prone.

It looks like Henry will start on the bench in favour of the old school trident, which is a move I'd entirely approve of except for one thing: Eto'o had to fly to Japan for Cameroon's game against the host nation, and he looked really tired during the game. Then he had to fly back, and he hasn't looked fully sharp in preseason anyway, so I'm a bit worried. Having Sammy back to full fitness would beat signing anybody, but it's been a year since he got that horrible injury and I suppose we just have to be patient with these things.

Projected starting line-up: Valdes; Zambrotta, Thuram, Marquez, Abidal; Toure, Deco, Iniesta; Ronaldinho, Eto'o, Messi


I've already paid tribute to the departing Belletti, but I didn't mention that Maxi Lopez has also left, for FC Moscow in a deal worth 2 million dollars. I think his entire transfer was a bit of a mistake by Barca, and the player himself desperately needed more time in the Argentinian league before moving abroad, let alone to a club like Barcelona where he was expected to step for Henrik Larsson. This is a good move for him to develop as a player, as he was never going to do that sitting on the bench, and I'm glad to see him going out on a good note. He'll join 3 other Argentinian players at the Russian club, including rising star Maxi Moralez, who had such a great U20 World Cup just a few months ago to help Argentina bring the title home for a record 6th time.

But back to Mr Lopez. I will always treasure the memory of his one great game for us: 04-05, Champions League round of 16, Barca v Chelsea, scored one and set one up to win the game: the definition of an impact substitute. Thanks, Maxi, and good luck.

It was good to see an article in Sport (and you won't read that phrase very often) defending the possibility of Deco fighting his way back into the starting 11, after all the negative press he's gotten for stating that he'd leave if the club didn't require him anymore. Yes, he sometimes says stupid things, and his behaviour last season hasn't always been exemplary, but I've been over why Deco must not be sold so many times on this blog, I'm starting to sound like a broken record.

More than the positive reasons I've stated before, there's the fact that if he does go, Xavi and Iniesta will have no cover, and that's a recipe for disaster if I've ever seen one. Even with Deco there, I think we could still do with another midfielder to fully cover those 2 positions. (At this point, I kind of miss Mark van Bommel. He was never that great for us, and his playing style is not always pleasant, but he's a true Barca supporter, and at least he added some steel in midfield that we badly missed last season.)

other news

I'd like to note that Ronaldinho, Eto'o, Messi and Henry have now all come out and more or less said that they'd accept being benched for some games, if not happily, then out of respect for the decision-making powers of the coach. Let's see how well this goes. Personally, and I'll elaborate on the reasons for this in a later post, I'm part of the growing group who want to stick by R-E-M up front, at least at first.

Congratulations to Frank Rijkaard for being the second longest serving coach of Barcelona, at least in terms of consecutive years, just after a certain legendary Dutchman by the name of Johan Cruyff. Couldn't happen to a nicer man, and I mean that in terms of both the honour and the baggage that goes with it. Speaking of which, the official web site has a nice interview with him.

The Joan Gamper trophy is going to be as fun-packed as ever. My only concern: did the management not think about the possible consequences of inviting Inter to our annual warm-and-fuzzy fest? The team itself is fine and fits the bill, considering the invitees of recent years (AC Milan, Juventus and Bayern respectively), but a certain Mr Luis Figo is still playing for them. I'm just worried about the friendly match which is supposed to welcome the new arrivals to the squad turning less than friendly. But hey, hopefully I'm just being paranoid, and that unpleasant business is long forgotten.

(My favourite Figo quote - other than the tragicomic irony of 'white babies, salute the champions', of course - is his comment after his first acrimonious return to the Camp Nou in a white shirt. Describing the fun-packed experience of being pelted with all sorts of objects and an atmosphere which was said by Roberto Carlos to be the most intense he had ever played in, he said sarcastically that it was: " of the richest experiences of my life.")

former Barca players section

Congratulations are due to Ludovic Giuly, who won the Italian Super Cup with Roma by beating Inter 1-0 off a De Rossi penalty.

Congratulations are also due to Henrik Larsson's Helsingborg, who got a fairly good result by drawing their UEFA Cup qualifier 1-1 away to Irish club Drogheda United. I don't even need to tell you who scored (again) to put the Swedish club in the lead before their opponents clawed one back, do I? The second leg is being played on the 30th of August.

By the way, there's a great new interview with Henke in the Times. I'm honestly so pleased that he's enjoying the twilight of his career so much and indeed still making a valuable contribution to his team. It will be interesting to see what kind of player his son Jordan makes.


Lynda said...

Poor old Maxi Lopez. I, too, felt he lacked the developmental opportunities he needed, and his heart-on-the-sleeve affection for Barca endeared him to me. Watching him on the open air bus season before last next to Ronaldinho I just kept imagining him thinking something like, "I can't believe I'm here! I can't believe I'm hanging out with Ronaldinho!" I'm glad to hear that his transfer to FC Moscow is likely to be positive for him.

Linda said...

Yeah, I couldn't help but like him, even though he clearly didn't fit into the first line, because of that attitude you described so aptly.