Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A few quick notes on Rangers v Barcelona, and Guardiola is innocent!

  • Dare I say it - this was our best away performance so far this season. I was happy with what I saw, bar the last few minutes.
  • That handball was a penalty. Not complaining, but in some ways this game reminded me of Arsenal's games against CSKA Moscow last season: one side dominated completely, had a lot of shots and yet were unable to score (although Arsenal were even more unlucky). Fair enough, sometimes that happens, and we can't whine when we don't take our chances. A point is not a bad result for Barca in Scotland, where we are traditionally very bad.
  • Carles Puyol was just incredible at rightback, especially in the first half. I'd forgotten how good he was at getting forward. Immense performance from the captain. I'm so glad he's back. The entire defence did well, in fact.
  • Rangers may not play the kind of football I like to watch, but they're excellent at what they do, and may they go far in this competition.
  • Lord have mercy and save me from the idiocy of Tommy Smyth.

Smyth: it's a strange game to give Gudjohnsen his first start of the season.
Derek Rae: [has to remind him that maybe, just maybe, the reason for Gudjohnsen getting a start is Barca's current injury crisis in midfield]

Smyth: Barcelona haven't created many chances.
[Barcelona have just had 12 shots in the first half.]

If I were a fan of Scottish football, I'd also find his patronising tone offensive. Oh, look, they can play an offside trap. Well, Tommy, Rangers beat Lyon 3-0 away - I think they know how to play football pretty well.

It's enough to make one really miss Ray Hudson.

In other Barca news, Pep Guardiola has finally been cleared of his 2001 doping charge. Good for him. I always believed he was innocent, and not just because I like him so much.

Now, can we have some fit players please?


Television pictures showed that a Ronaldinho effort came off the hand of Alan Hutton but the incident was missed by referee Konrad Plautz.

But, even though a spot-kick could have made all the difference to the final outcome, Rijkaard refused to criticise the Austrian official.

"I don't think you don't win because of one decision," he pointed out. "You don't win because sometimes you make the wrong decisions instead of making a goal. But that's football, it's the wonderful world of football. I think it was a good game, it's just a shame that there weren't any goals to see on the pitch."

Ah, Frankie. Never stop being so awesome.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Barca news ahead of the Villarreal game

Club football is back with a bang with some interesting games in Spain this weekend and the return of the Champions League midweek, amidst the sound of club coaches grumbling about their charges returning injured (poor Arjen Robben) or tired.


Gabi Milito
and Leo Messi scored the goals for Argentina as they beat Venezuela away to top the qualifying table with 6 points. Hasta El Gol Siempre has a match report, and I definitely recommend checking out Messi's goal.

Congratulations to Thierry Henry who broke Michel Platini's record to become the leading scorer in France's history. He scored both goals as France made hard work out of beating Lithuania by dominating but not breaking the deadlock until late on. The second in particular was very nice. Eric Abidal and Lilian Thuram also played.

Spain played a (brilliantly timed) friendly against Finland which was described by the press as a training match. (It was a 0-0 draw, naturally.) Puyol, Iniesta and Xavi all played 45 minutes.

Deco played 90 minutes yet again for Portugal as they beat Kazakhstan 2-1 in a victory which was reportedly more laboured than the 2-0 win over Azerbaijan. (If Portugal somehow contrive to miss out from a group featuring such luminaries, then there should be an inquest. Happily, they appear to now be on course.)

Eidur Gudjohnsen played for Iceland as they went down 3-0 (!) to Liechtenstein. Oh dear.

Ronaldinho played and scored in Brazil's 5-0 victory over Ecuador in the Maracana stadium. This was a much needed result for them after the way they played against Columbia, and apparently Ronnie is starting to look a bit better.

Giovani Dos Santos played the first 45 minutes for Mexico as they went down 2-3 to Guatemala. To be fair to him, Mexico only began to collapse in the second half, although I've heard conflicting things about his performance.

Villarreal v Barca

The big story of this game is the reunion of old Arsenal and France pals Robert Pires and Thierry Henry. So we've got Pires being encouraging and positive about Henry, as he's been since the beginning, while warning team mates to watch out for that Messi guy too. The official site has an article detailing the past history between the two, and's preview also focuses on them.

Problem: Ronaldinho didn't even make the Friday training sesson, so he's obviously in no condition to play 90 minutes on Saturday. Worryingly, his natural substitute Giovani doesn't get back until Friday either, although he did make training. If Yaya Toure were fit, the easy solution would be to play Iniesta in Ronnie's left-wing position, but he's not, so that won't work either. Ronnie has been left out of the squad, which is probably a wise decision, given that it will keep him fresh for the Rangers game, but I'm not sure what the alternatives are going to be in this game.

Villarreal were the last side to defeat Barca, the 2-0 result in El Madrigal perfectly summing up the malaise of last season. Ironically, that game sent Villarreal on their amazing winning run which lasted for 8 matches - straight to the end of the season. To be fair, Frank Rijkaard's Barca has often found Villarreal away a difficult game to deal with. I have painfully vivid memories of the 3-0 thrashing in the 04-05 season orchestrated by one Juan Roman Riquelme.

Other news

Barcelona have drawn CD Alcoyano of the Spanish third division in the Copa del Rey. The official website also has this great story about a Barca B game against Alcoyano: In the 2005/06 season, Alcoyano and Barça B took part in a bizarre match that saw Barça B travel to Alcoy on no less than three occasions to complete the 90 minutes. First the Barça B party had to return from Alcoy after the match was suspended due to heavy snowfall. At the second attempt the match was once again suspended in the 50th minute after a technical fault left the El Collao stadium without electricity. It was a case of third time lucky for Alcoyano, who finally won the match 2-0.

Samuel Eto'o is now a Spanish citizen, which means that the only non-EU player on the roster is Yaya Toure.

There's an interesting interview with Thierry Henry from the New York Times, where he talks about his charity work, the differences between Spain and England, and his love for Basketball amongst other things.

Update on Giovani's contract situation: the boy himself says that negotiations will probably be completed in November or December, if things go according to plan.

Txiki gave a recent interview in which he said that the club were looking to give Messi and probably Iniesta a better contract. Messi's dad and agent Jorge has come out and said that they're not actually too bothered about a new, better contract, which is about the first time I've heard that from an agent.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Barca round-up: internationals, Villarreal, and other news

I've got exams coming up yet again, so expect less posting for the next 3 weeks or so. Pity, it's such an exciting time.

Internationals round-up

Att Luis Aragones: if you're going to fly Puyol out to Denmark and then say he's not fit when he patently is, then just leave him in Spain next time and save him the travelling. No need to take him along if he's not fit as you claim, after all.

Good to see the Barca duo of Iniesta and Xavi both playing well and contributing in Spain's 1-3 victory over the Danes.

Actually, let me just detour for a moment:

I don't like Luis Aragones. I think his decisions are often boneheaded and that he needs to never open his mouth in public. However, I personally feel that the way the media have talk about the absences from the squad have been very disrespectful to the excellent players who were selected and deserved their shot. Case in point, Raul Tamudo, who had a great season last time around and has started brightly after coming back from injury this time. Just because he doesn't play for one of the big two doesn't mean he's not good enough for Spain. Espanyol have been playing well anyway, and credit to Aragones for reflecting that in calling up 3 of their players. While I'm at it, credit also for finally playing Cesc, Xavi and Iniesta together.

(Or you could go and read Sid Lowe's new column, which makes the same points I did, except in a better, actually amusing way.)

Thierry Henry got his 41st goal for France in their 0-6 win over the Faeroe Islands, thus equalling the record set by the great Michel Platini and becoming his country's leading goalscorer. Abidal and Thuram also played the entire game, Abidal - rather unusually - as a centerback.

Congratulations to Deco, who got his 50th cap for Portugal and had a hand in the first goal to set them on their way to a vital victory over, er, Azerbaijan. Seriously, though, Portugal needed those points.

Eidur Gudjohnsen scored a brace but couldn't prevent Iceland from going down to a 2-4 defeat against Latvia. Good to see him fit and firing again. In fact, congratulations are due because his goals have made him Iceland's leading scorer with 19.

Bojan scored his first goal for the U21s as they beat Poland 2-0 in a European Championship qualifier.

Leo Messi and Gabi Milito helped Argentina to a 2-0 home victory against Chile in their opening World Cup qualifier. (For more on the Argentines, my ramblings on them are now located at the Argentina World Cup Blog.)

Brazil - featuring our very own Ronaldinho for the first time in a while - were by all reports unimpressive as they drew 0-0 against Columbia away. Admittedly, not an easy fixture, so it's not a bad result at all, but the performance certainly raised a few eyebrows.

Mexico also drew their friendly against Nigeria 2-2, with Giovani Dos Santos winning the penalty which Cacho converted into their second.

Villarreal matters

Our first game back is a difficult one, against high-flying Villarreal, who only slipped up last week because they were visiting Osasuna, where Barca couldn't score. We have had problems with this game before, especially in El Madrigal, with last season's defeat there a particularly traumatic result given the situation at the time. The fixture list after that is a pretty gruelling one, especially since the game after this one is in Glasgow against Rangers, but we'll get to that later.

Robert Pires, for one, cannot wait for face his old friend Thierry Henry for the first time in a decade. A wonderful player who is in great form, and a bit of a Madridista himself, so he'll be extra motivated.

Speaking of Thierry, there's a new great, lengthy interview with him - especially recommended for Arsenal fans, actually, even if you were stung by his departure. As for this Barca supporter, I found it quite endearing, even if I'm never going to agree with him about his version of events in that Paris final.

Other club news

Fortunately for Frank Rijkaard, Bojan only had one game to play, and he's back in Barcelona, giving the coach a whopping 4 players to work with. A bit threadbare, I think you'll agree. Those four: Valdes, Ezquerro, Sylvinho, and the returning Bojan. Oh yeah, there's also A team part-timer Marc Crosas, who was actually injured for a couple of days, which temporarily left Barca in the ridiculous position of having no fit holding midfielders at all, despite having four of them on the books. In any case, he's now fit, but we currently have no rightbacks, since Oleguer's not been feeling well lately either. He's still working on a specific recovery program, alongside backup keeper Jorquera, who I assume picked up a knock in training. No wonder Rijkaard let B team coach Guardiola take combined training for a couple of days.

I'm getting a little antsy about Giovani's contract situation. The rules state that players can't sign a professional contract until they're 18 years old, and until then they can be bought for very little (I believe the extra sum is 20 million euros in this case), hence the quick action being taken to offer Giovani a contract as soon as he turned 18 and joined the first team. The boy himself says that negotiations are on-going, which is good to hear, but my worries won't be appeased until he puts pen to paper. (And no, AS, this does not mean he's going to Real Madrid. The boy himself says it would be wrong for him as a Barca-developed player, and I believe him.)

Speaking of young talent, October 16 was the day Leo Messi made his offical debut for Barcelona 3 years ago, in the last 10 minutes of the Barcelona derby at Espanyol, and since then, Barca fans have been lucky enough to witness the development of a very special player. In that time, he has played 78 games for Barca (including quite a few substitute appearances), scoring 34 goals and giving the fans plenty to shout about. Still only 20 years of age, so hopefully we will get to enjoy his skills for years to come. Congratulations to him.

There were 7 Barca players on the FIFA World Player of the Year list. This award, I should point out, is largely being given for performance during last season, which makes it hard to crow about the number of nominees when I can remember how some of them played back then.

Apparently Samuel Eto'o has been coming down to the changing room before games to see the players, according to Victor Valdes. By the way, it's nice to see him actually attend games, which is something that I feel injured players who are in the city and mobile enough to get around should try to do. But that's just a personal preference.

Lastly, Gonzalo, I think it's gotten to the point where Laporta has usurped Calderon's lovingly granted title of President Tourettes. Lord.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Barca 3 - 0 Atletico, presswatch and other news

(I've recently taken over the Argentina World Cup Blog, so that's where all Argentina-related posts will go in the future.)

Atletico were the last team to beat Barca at Camp Nou in the league back in February of 2006. Since then, Barca have gone 30 games undefeated at home, of which 22 were victories. So you could say that this was a bit of a test.

  • The midfield, especially Deco, who has regained the form of his first season and is once again the complete player, and Iniesta, who has really taken to the holding midfield role with intelligence and aplomb.
  • Messi's amazing run continues. It's worth pointing out that he has now scored 20 goals in his last 23 games for Barca, starting with that hat-trick against Real Madrid in March, but the biggest difference between the Messi of this season and, say, two years ago is that he can now take on the responsibility of carrying the team forward.
  • Whisper it, but Ronaldinho is starting to look fitter. I don't want to tempt fate, because we've had so many false dawns before, but maybe, just maybe, he is going to be fully fit soon.
  • Puyol looks great after his comeback from injury, and the much-anticipated partnership with Milito seemed to work like a charm.
  • Oleguer has played well since Zambrotta got injured. Shocking, I know. But since we went through the double-winning season with him playing rightback in almost all the big games, you'd think more people would remember that he is a decent player - not great, certainly not as good as Zambrotta, but not that bad either.
  • Glad as I am that the '3 little ones' midfield is working, we've got a problem coming up quite soon: Deco is on 4 yellows. What are we going to do when he gets suspended?
  • took our foot off the pedal when 2-0 up: dangerous hint of complacency?
Barca now have their 6th consecutive victory and are unbeaten so far this season, which sounds pretty impressive but as Frank Rijkaard would no doubt point out it wasn't easy.

It is interesting that, as usual, he has been keen to criticise the players for their lapses in victory, this time about losing concentration in the second half. This is part of what I like about him - when we lose or draw, he doesn't get overly negative, and when we win, he never gets carried away.

Javier Aguirre
was classy as always in defeat, crediting Barca while refusing to blame poor old goalkeeper Christian Abbiati for his blunder.

Lastly, this match was notable because it finished with 8 home-grown Barca players on the pitch, and that was just on our side. (Atletico's Luis Garcia being yet another Barca youth product.) Given that those 8 players were Valdes, Oleguer, Puyol, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Giovani and Bojan, the cantera certainly looks to be in good health.

other news

Puyol, Messi and Ronaldinho have been named in the FIFPro World XI for the 06/07 season, which makes Barca the best represented team in the XI and tells us that these guys are very popular, if nothing else, since the vote is taken amongst their peers. I say that because neither Ronaldinho nor Puyol (much as I love him) were at their best last season, both for fitness reasons. Messi, well, I think there's little question that he is deserving.

13 players have been called away on international duty. Unlike Laporta, I will not say that player should take it easy, but here's hoping that everyone returns fit and ready to play. Here are the call-ups:
  • France (Euro qualifiers against the Faroe Islands and Lithuania): Thuram, Henry and Abidal
  • Spain (Euro qualifier against Denmark and friendly against Finland): Puyol, Xavi, Iniesta
  • Portugal (Euro qualifiers against Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan): Deco
  • Iceland (Euro qualifiers against Latvia and Liechtenstein): Gudjohnsen (who is apparently fit again)
  • Spain U21 (Euro qualifier against Poland): Bojan
  • Argentina (World Cup qualifiers against Chile and Venezuela): Messi and Milito
  • Brazil (World Cup qualifiers against Colombia and Ecuador): Ronaldinho
  • Mexico (friendlies against Nigeria and Guatemala): Giovani
I previously mentioned Cesc Fabregas' comments about how Henry intimidated the other players at Arsenal. (I should probably make it clear that the comments were made in a friendly spirit and that Henry himself agreed with Cesc.) It is funny how his role has changed at Barca, though, because while still playing a guardian role to the youngsters, he's no longer the one great star. This has been echoed in his latest comments, which I found interesting:

"I learn so much every day playing and training alongside people like Lionel Messl, Samuel Eto'o or Ronaldinho," he said."But Thuram is also still doing it and I use that to gain inspiration too."

He also made a good point about the work put in by the squad, which is not always recognised when people talk about stylish victories:

"It is a great team when you win. We have extraordinary players and everyone is talking about us," he continued."But even with all those great players it is not always easy."

Lastly: scoring poll, anyone? Who's going to score first, Giovani or Bojan?


Phil Ball on fine form about Valencia's problems and a history lesson on Levante; the ever-amusing Sid Lowe on Barca-Atletico; Tim Stannard of La Liga Loca with a great rant about the current Spanish TV dispute that is depriving audiences all over the world of some fine football; and a nice article on the FIFA website about the Messi-Aguero rivalry and friendship and their respective rises to fame and fortune.

non-Barca news

This is actually kind of Barca related - club legend Hristo Stoichkov has left second divison club Celta Vigo for 'personal reasons'. The press says he was sacked, but the club president maintains that is not the case.

The UEFA Cup draws are out. Atletico have a reasonable draw in Group B, with Panathinaikos, Lokomotiv Moscow, Copenhagen and Aberdeen. Villarreal have AEK Athens, Fiorentina, Mlada Boleslav and Elfsborg in Group C. Finally, Getafe rounds out the Spanish teams in Group G, where they will face Anderlecht, Tottenham Hotspur, Hapoel Tel Aviv and Aalborg.

Monday, October 08, 2007

La Liga: state of affairs in Europe

My take on Barca's win over Atletico will come later. For now, an update on how the Spanish teams are doing in European competition.

Champions League

The official UEFA website has the group standings after two games.

Sevilla 4-2 Slavia (Sevilla goals by Kanoute, Fabiano, Escude, and Kone)

I'm sure this victory came as a great relief to Juande Ramos, as it arrested a 4-game losing streak and gave them something to build on in the group. Fortunately for them, they have one of the easier groups, and should eventually progress - fingers crossed - despite their current dodgy form. For now, Sevilla sit second in the group with 3 points, level with Slavia.

Lazio 2-2 Real (Real goals by van Nistelrooy (2))

Not the result Schuster would have wanted, given Lazio's troubles in Serie A this season, but it was never going to an easy ground to go to, and a point is certainly good enough keep Real on track to progress. They have the advantage of two of Europe's greatest goalscorers in the Champions League, van Nistelrooy and Raul, and it's certain served them well so far. Real are top of the group, level with Olympiakos on 4 points, and poised to look down from their perch as the other three teams battle it out for the other spot.

(By the way, I see that Schuster has proclaimed Real's defence the best in Europe. Perhaps he has a very short memory?)

Valencia 1-2 Chelsea (Valencia goal by Villa)

Oh dear. Almost every journalist writing about this game presumed that Valencia would win, given the supposed chaos and discontent at Chelsea. I thought so too. Credit to Chelsea, they did very well to win the game, and Drogba's goal was sublime, but surely Valencia could have done better, especially after taking such an early lead. If conclusions are to be drawn from this game, one could perhaps say that Chelsea aren't nearly as bad as everyone feared given Mourinho's departure, and Valencia, despite their winning run in the league (which has just been broken this weekend) aren't quite in the best of form. From what I've seen, there's still some problems in midfield, and some would also point to the departure of Ayala in the last transfer window as the source of uncertainties in defence. In any case, Valencia are second in the group on 3 points, level with Schalke. I'm fairly confident in their ability to progress, but Schalke are a substantial lurking threat.

Stuttgart 0-2 Barcelona (goals by Puyol and Messi)

I've already written about this game, although not at length. I should probably mention that Stuttgart were very unlucky and probably deserved a goal, although as Frank Rijkaard said, Barca really should have put the game to bed in the first 30 minutes instead of wasting chance after chance. In the context of the group, Barca are top on 6 points, level with Rangers, which puts them into a good position heading into the double header with the Scots.


Given the great success of the Spanish clubs in last season's competition (3 of the semifinalists were Liga teams - Espanyol, Sevilla, and Osasuna) we can only hope that this season's entrants can do the same. Curiously, there are 4 completely different teams this time around (the other team from last season being relegated Celta Vigo). Sevilla of course have moved up in the world to the Champions League, while Espanyol and Osasuna's fine UEFA Cup runs affected their form in the league and the domestic cup and they could not qualify.

Zaragoza 2-1 Aris Thessaloniki (Zaragoza goals by Oliveira and Sergio Garcia; 2-2 agg, Aris win on away goals)

I can't help but like Zaragoza, who along with Villarreal seem to be the most 'South American' teams in the league. It was great to see them do so well last season and I looked forward to seeing them in European competition. Unfortunately, Zaragoza's early season slump in the league extended to their form in the UEFA Cup, and they were eliminated by the Greek side. It is no doubt an incredibly disappointing result for the club and their fans, but the one consolation is that they can now concentrate on getting their league form back, which they now seem to have done. This season's battle for European places looks likely to be fiercer than ever, and if they're to have another shot at European competition, Zaragoza have to have their act together.

Erciyesspor 0-5 Atletico (goals by Aguero (2), Jurado, Rodriguez, Forlan; 0-9 agg)

Having had a couple of scares in the Intertoto Cup, Atletico put on two displays befitting a club of their stature and cruised through into the group stages. Luis Garcia - who I'm pleased to see back in Spanish football - and 'Kun' Aguero were very impressive over the two legs. It remains to be seen how the gruelling schedule of UEFA Cup football will affect Atletico's challenge for at the very least a Champions League place given the deficiencies in their squad when it comes to the defence.

Twente 3-2 Getafe (Getafe goals by Belenguer and Granero; 3-3 agg, Getafe win on away goals)

Getafe, who qualified for the UEFA Cup because they were Copa del Rey finalists (having beaten Valencia and Barcelona over two legs to get there) barely scraped through to the group stages, having scored two goals and then conceded two in extra time. Given their struggles in La Liga, where they are second bottom on 2 points, having yet to win a single game, this is a pretty good result. However, if they continue to struggle in the league, I'm not sure an UEFA Cup campaign will be very helpful.

BATE 0-2 Villarreal (goals by Cani and Angel; 1-6 agg)

Villarreal have had such great results in recent years in European competition, and it's wonderful to see them back in Europe again. I'm hoping they can go far this season, given the quality of their squad. As in the case of Atletico, though, they have to be wary of the effects an UEFA Cup campaign can have on the struggle for a Champions League place in the league.

Here's one for nostalgic Barca fans: Henrik Larsson's Helsingborg overcame a 2-goal deficit in the first leg, winning 5-1 at home against Heerenveen of the Netherlands to go through 8-6 on aggregate. No prices for guessing who scored 3 of the 8 goals for the Swedish side over the two legs.

This is not Europe related, but for interest's sake, I thought I'd mention that we have a winner in the La Liga sack race: perhaps rather predictably, it's bottom club Levante's Abel Resino. Ironically, Resino was the man who took over in January and led the club to survival last season, but 1 point (!) from 7 games so far this season sealed his fate.

Friday, October 05, 2007

News ahead of the Atletico game

Stuttgart 0-2 Barca

A 2-0 away win against the German champions, who hadn't lost at home for 19 games - yeah, I'll take that. We've never had an easy time in Germany, and this was no different. This result, combined with Rangers' fantastic win, have left us very well placed in the group.

However, Rijkaard criticized the forward line for being wasteful and hinted that the star players would have to work harder. The players who were interviewed - including Valdes, Oleguer and Deco - seemed to agree.

"The only thing he can't do is play in goal." - Rijkaard on Andres Iniesta.

And damn right, too. Iniesta is a brilliant talent who is criminally underrated. Frankie also praised the crucial saves made by Valdes, the great job Abidal did as an emergency centerback, and the fitness of Ronaldinho.

Congratulations to Xavi for becoming the player who has played the most international club matches for Barca at 86 games, 70 of them in the Champions League. Remarkably, he's still only 27. His first Champions League game, incidentally, was that memorable 3-3 draw at Old Trafford in 1998.

Congratulations are also due to Leo Messi, who has scored 7 goals in his last 5 consecutive games for Barca. The Argentine is currently top of the scoring charts in both La Liga and the Champions League, despite not being an out and out striker. So you could say that he's got some form at the moment. This bests his record last season of 5 goals in 3 consecutive games. (It's worth pointing out that despite missing 3 months through injury and thus only playing 36 games for Barca last season, he managed 17 goals, a remarkable tally.)

So, 5 victories in a row, 15 goals scored, 3 conceded. Not bad. 11 of those goals came courtesy of Messi and Henry, which is a pretty scary statistic (the others are an own goal, Iniesta, Marquez and Puyol).

injury crisis time

This was the state of our defence after the Stuttgart game. Available players:

defensive midfield: Marc Crosas
rightback: Oleguer
central defence: Thuram (yes, we've only got one fit central defender. Oh dear.)

Thankfully, both Puyol and Milito trained on Thursday, so it seems that they will be fit to face Atletico Madrid, fingers crossed.

The news on Marquez is not as good. He's going to be out for a month with a torn muscle in his right leg, which means we've got no defensive midfielders for a month at the very least. Any more of this and I'm going to start missing Motta. (He's injured too? Oh. Poor guy.)

So here's the injury list as it stands currently:

Long term - Eto'o (2 months, torn leg muscle), Zambrotta (1-2 months, torn leg muscle), Toure (1-2 months, torn femoral biceps), Marquez (torn leg muscle), Edmilson (2-3 months, knee problems)

Short term - Gudjohnsen (knee trouble)

I'm starting to see a theme here with the long term injuries, and I don't like it.

Barca v Atletico

Atletico are never easy opponents for Barca, and the state of our defence does not inspire confidence at the moment. Mr Guardiola? Can you spare, say, your entire defence? The first team needs to borrow them.

On the other hand, our 'black beast' and former chief tormentor Fernando Torres has now left for Liverpool, which is nice, if not for the fact that he's been replaced by Diego Forlan.

The Barca website builds the game up thus:

All in all, Sunday’s match in the Camp Nou looks set to be a classic encounter: fourth versus fifth, two historic rivals, two attacking teams, the two top scorers and two teams in great form.

Atletico star Sergio 'Kun' Aguero has been speaking about the great start to the season made by both himself and good friend Leo Messi. The two little Argies top the goalscoring charts in Spain with 5 goals each. Not bad for a pair whose combined age is 39.

The game will also see the return of some familiar faces to the Camp Nou. Unfortunately, as I mentioned above, Thiago Motta is unfit and will not travel. Fellow youth team graduate Luis Garcia will be returning, though, and I hope he gets a good reception. I've always liked him, and he certainly contributed a lot to Barca's rise in the 03-04 season. Also returning will be Simao Sabrosa, who had the misfortune of being signed by Louis van Gaal at a time when he wasn't ready for La Liga. He has now developed into a mature player as well as a skilful one, and will no doubt be a handful for the Barca defence.

On a different note, here's a great article about Barcelona's cantera, or youth system.

Lastly, it seems like former Barca assistant coach Henk ten Cate, who is now coach of Ajax, will indeed be joining Chelsea - the club he branded 'pathetic', amongst other things, during Barca's turbulent meetings with them in 04-05 and 05-06 - as an assistant coach. This is the man who allegedly kicked a Chelsea staff member up the backside. I'm strangely saddened by this.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Barca news ahead of the Stuttgart game and a quick update on the Phoenix

I picked a bad time to be away, didn't I? Events in the past week have been strangely reminiscent of the 04-05 season: great play, great sense of team spirit, tons of injuries. Perhaps it's a good omen, as Barca won the title that time, but I hope the squad remember that they did it by sticking together and working hard through the bad patches.

Here's an amazing statistic: it's been 10 months since we last won 4 in a row. 10 months! That goes some way to explaining why last season was a failure, doesn't it?

I liked this from the Independent:
When over 20,000 people turn up to see you sign, you want to give them what they want. Scoring three times on a ground where in the last two seasons Barça have only been able to pick up a point was a good way to start delivering.

Exactly right, and thank you, Titi. I can't help but think about what would have happened if he had signed a season earlier and been there when Eto'o got injured then, but I suppose it's just great to have him now in Sammy's absence.

Other related matters:
  • Henry and Messi have really hit it off.
  • A very happy birthday to Frank Rijkaard, who turned 45 and was able to celebrate with a victory.
  • Henry did a bit of his post-match interview in Spanish, and was apparently pretty good.
  • Congratulations to captain Puyol on his return. Hopefully his form will return with a bit more game time.
  • Fair play to the Levante fans, who applauded Messi off the pitch. I believe they're the second (non-Barca) Spanish club to do so, after the wonderful fans of Cadiz a few seasons ago, who I still miss. (Come back to the top flight soon, guys!)
team news

Unfortunately, Gianluca Zambrotta is going to be out for a month with a torn muscle. This is a big blow given the sale of Belletti during the last transfer window. Having Oleguer and no one else in the rightback position for a month is not an ideal situation, much as I like the Catalan.

In the same vein, and arguably even more importantly, Yaya Toure is also out for a month with torn femoral biceps. Thankfully it seems that Marquez will be fit enough to take over the defensive midfield position for the next month, but Toure has really made this position his own and this is a bad time for him to get injured. On the other hand, Marquez does have cover - albeit inexperienced cover - in the shape of the uncanny Guardiola lookalike, young Marc Crosas.

Speaking of Toure, he has publicly apologized for injuring Zaragoza's Matuzalem with what was an unacceptably dangerous tackle. Having already made an apology to the player in private after the game, Toure wanted to make it clear that he had "not come to Spain to be dirty, but to play football", and I believe him. The tackle was wrong, but Toure's response has been impeccable.

Congratulations to Carles Puyol on a big occasion: the 29 year old will play his 350th game for Barca against Stuttgart.

Speaking of which, here's the squad list. It does include Ronaldinho, Marquez and Gabi Milito (who requires more tests before he'll be cleared to play), and doesn't include Yaya Toure, Gianluca Zambrotta, Samuel Eto'o, Edmilson (injured) and poor old Santi Ezquerro (rested).


Coverage of the weekend from Sid Lowe (general round-up and Real) and Phil Ball (on Messi, 'the best player in the world'). As always, well worth reading. And Pete Jenson from the same Independent article quoted above on Henry, Messi, and Rijkaard's birthday.

The lecturer of my media class just said: "the media is not interested in anything positive. They're only interested in confrontation and negativity." Admittedly, he was talking about politics, but it applies equally to football. Sid and Phil are consistently good because they're balanced, interesting, and at the same time not obsessed with negativity and sensationalism.

Wellington Phoenix 4 - 1 Perth Glory

Congratulations to the Phoenix on their first ever home victory, which moves them up to 4th in the table. Great stuff, especially from Brazilian midfielder Daniel. When I was in Wellington, I was impressed by all the advertising around town for the Phoenix's games and the team's visibility, compared to what the late lamented Knights had in Auckland. The fans impressed me too, making a right old racket in the Cake Tin (otherwise known as Westpac Stadium) even though they only numbered about 10000. Very good signs for the team in general.

3 apologies and 2 thank yous (a quick note on Barca)

Dear Thierry Henry:

I'm sorry I ever thought you had lost your spark forever. I'm glad you play for us.

Dear Yaya Toure:

I'm sorry I doubted your suitability for the defensive midfield position. You have been wonderful. Get well soon!

Dear Txiki Begiristain:

I was wrong, and I apologize. You have signed well this time. Please continue in this vein.

Dear Frank Rijkaard:

I never doubted you, and I never will. Thanks for being a class act.

Dear Leo Messi:

Thank you for being unpretentious, and modest, and fantastic.

I'm now back from Wellington - which was great fun - so expect some catch up posts soon, including one about the Argentina squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers. Let's just say I'm not too impressed.