Friday, November 23, 2007

Barca roundup: the 'I'm not dead!' edition

Exams are over (hooray!) and I'm back, although currently preoccupied with...well, life in general. To be honest, I've just been thinking a lot, and there's a couple of posts I want to make about coaching styles, quotas in European leagues, and all that. But it's Barca that's really been frustrating me. Anyway, news first.

international round-up

France, Italy, Spain and Portugal have all qualified for Euro 2008, meaning that there will potentially be 8 Barca players at the tournament.

Thierry Henry
scored in France's game with Ukraine (2-2), which was a bit of a formality given Italy's earlier victory over Scotland.

All three Barca players played in Spain's excellent 3-0 win over Sweden, with Xavi and Iniesta in particular praised for their great performances. Iniesta scored Spain's second and Xavi was once again applauded off the pitch at the Bernabeu. (By the way, though I still dislike Aragones, congratulations to Spain for qualifying in such style in the end. What a group of young talent.)

Iniesta and Xavi also started in Spain's 1-0 win over Northern Ireland, in which the entire first-string defence (including Puyol) was rested, with captain Xavi scoring the deflected winner.

Zambrotta played in Italy's crucial 1-2 victory against Scotland but was kindly rested in the last game against the Faroe Islands.

Eidur Gudjohnsen played in Iceland's 3-0 defeat at the hands of the footballing giants of Liechtenstein.

Bojan Krkic scored once again and played well in the Spanish U21 side's 3-0 victory over Poland. Remember, the kid's still only 17. Astonishing talent.

Speaking of which, Leo Messi and Gabi Milito both played the full 90 mintues in Argentina's 3-0 victory over Bolivia and 1-2 defeat against Columbia. Messi played well in both games, scoring a great opener against Columbia while the team were down to 10 men. Milito struggled in the Columbia game once Tevez was sent off, but played fairly well against Bolivia.

Ronaldinho played the full 90 minutes in Brazil's 1-1 draw with Peru but only 60 minutes of their 2-1 victory over Uruguay, in which both he and Robinho were apparently booed by the Brazilian fans when substituted. Geez, Ronnie really can't get a break anywhere.

injury update

Good news: Deco's back and running, but he still needs time to heal and get fit. Even better news: Samuel Eto'o has started training with a ball again.

other (mostly cheerful) news

Congratulations to Andres Iniesta, who recently celebrated his 5 year anniversary in the first team squad by telling the press that he'd like to retire at Barca. I believe you, Andres.

Congratulations also to Victor Valdes for now holding the record for the longest time a Barca goalie has gone without conceding in Europe at 466 minutes and counting. Barca have yet to concede in the Champions League this season, and this added to the clean sheet kept (fortuitously, it must be said) against Liverpool last season in the return leg means that Valdes has broke the previous record which was 406 minutes and has stood for more than 30 years. (It's a bit of a reflection on how leaky defences, especially in Europe, are a Barca tradition to be honest.)

Frank Rijkaard made some interesting observations regarding Leo Messi recently, the most interesting of which is this: he believes that Messi will move to an attacking midfield position in the future. Rijkaard also talked about the progress Messi has made in the past few seasons, mainly in tactical discipline and awareness.

Lilian Thuram
recently spoke to the 60 kids at La Masia on his experiences. He emphasised the importance of education, reminded the kids to always ask 'why', and urged them to focus on Iniesta as an example to be followed, both as as player and as a person.

less cheerful news aka perpetual state of 'crisis'

As much as I am angered by the attempts of the press - and I'm not even talking the Madrid press, just the Barca rags - to fan the flames of a supposed 'crisis' which leaves Barca a massive 4 points off the league leaders, at least some members are still trying to do their job. El Pais has a good summary of the latest goings on, which mostly concern the ever-honest Edmilson opening his big mouth once again and leading to the press going off on a merry round of speculation about who he meant by the 'black sheep' of the Barca family.

Out of the players who have come out and defended Rijkaard recently - Puyol, Messi, Eto'o to name a couple - Puyol was most scathing in his assessment of the players' own responsibility, and Messi was the most forthright in telling the press to back off in their attempts to bait Rijkaard.

Now, I'm very fond of Frank Rijkaard. I think he's a class act who has the rare poise needed to deal with the hysteria that often surrounds Barca, and someone who really understands players. For example, Bojan Krkic spoke a little while ago about how Rijkaard always knows what to say and when and how to say it.

One of the qualities I most admire in Rijkaard is his unflinching acceptance of blame for every setback and defeat. However, admiring it doesn't mean I agree with it. As Puyol said, it's wrong to blame the manager entirely given the culpability of the players in the performance.

(On the subject of away form, I'd like to note that Barca didn't win away for about 4 months last season, or in other words for most of the time that Samuel Eto'o was out injured. And I'd also like to note that Barca were level on points with Real Madrid, the champions, at the end of the season.)

As a Barca fan, I'm used to the hysteria that surrounds every defeat and every setback. But you know what made me really angry? The Barcelona media's Mourinho stunt. I find it really hard to believe that a large majority of Barca fans would want Mourinho to replace Rijkaard. Leaving aside the animosity, we all know that the Camp Nou is capable of turning its collective nose up at trophies if they're not won in sufficient style. (As if Mourinho hasn't had enough of that demand with Roman at Chelsea.) Also: how personally insulting is it to Rijkaard to suggest such a thing, given the evens of the past 3 seasons?

More on the away form issue later.

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