You Shall Not Pass: Atletico Madrid Suffocate Barcelona, Just Like They Planned

April 11, 2014

“Atletico Madrid’s triumph over Barcelona (2-1, on aggregate) might seem like a Champions League Cinderella story. But is it really a Cinderella story when a team does exactly what it was designed to do? What Diego Simeone’s side accomplished against the Catalan giants was hardly the stuff of scrappy underdogs; this was about the imposition of a defense perfectly constructed to neutralize Barcelona’s possession-based attack. And that’s what Atletico did.” Grantland

Expert Interview: How have Barcelona set-up Tactically this season?

April 9, 2014

“In anticipation of the massive Champions League ties in the Quarter-Final stage, we’ve done something special for our build-up. Eight teams, eight experts, each giving us their insight into their team’s chances, tactical set ups and bold predictions. Euler is the expert for this piece which focuses on Barcelona and their Champions League campaign.” Outside of the Boot

Barcelona 1-1 Atletico: a predictable pattern, and two great goals

April 7, 2014

“Atletico and Barcelona played out their fourth draw of the 2013/14 campaign – with two crucial meetings still to come… Tato Martino selected his expected side for this match: his ‘big game’ shape with Cesc Fabregas in midfield, Andres Iniesta out on the left and Neymar on the right. Gerard Pique didn’t last the first half, and was replaced by Marc Bartra. Diego Simeone also named his expected side, and Atletico also suffered from an injury. Diego Costa was doubtful before the game and pulled up midway through the first half. He was replaced by Brazilian playmaker Diego, who played behind David Villa.” Zonal Marking

Whither Marc-Andre ter Stegen?

April 5, 2014

“The shockwaves were felt far and wide. FIFA announced earlier this week that FC Barcelona had been found guilty of skirting the rules barring the international transfer of underage players. Of course, few football observers would be truly shocked at the idea of a major football power playing fast and loose with the rules. Perhaps the more-skeptical among the underwhelmed would say the real stunner was that FIFA was taking action of any sort. But the news item that pushed Barcelona’s Champions League semifinal to ‘in other news’ status was the punishment: no transfer action for the club over the coming two transfer periods. In other words, no player not currently under contract with FC Barcelona will be moving to the Catalan giants this summer, nor in the winter to follow.” Bundesliga Fanatic

Manchester United, Atletico Madrid, and Two Goals, at the (Almost) Same Damn Time

April 2, 2014

“It’s really hard to watch two soccer matches at the same time. All of the things that make soccer a distinct sport — the lack of stoppages in play, the fluid transitions from attack to defense — also make it completely impossible to juggle more than one match at a time. Try to create a RedZone channel for soccer and you’ll end up with just a whole bunch of timely highlights. So, the Champions League quarterfinals scheduling two games at once makes for some angsty decisions. Which game to watch and which to simply be aware of? Sitting at the bar, which TV should I face, and which should I occasionally glance to my left to check in on? It’s an annoyance that the powers that be chose to schedule the world’s premier club competition this way. Except that, sometimes, it’s awesome.” Grantland

From bad to worse for Barcelona – the tarnishing of a golden image

April 2, 2014

<> at Camp Nou on November 6, 2013 in Barcelona, Spain.
“For many years, Barcelona enjoyed a golden image around the globe. But that image has been shattered by a series of negative episodes – of which a transfer ban is just the latest. On Wednesday, Fifa announced that it had banned Barca from signing any players for the next two transfer windows. It was another significant blow to the club’s global reputation. It didn’t used to be like this. Barca’s ‘More Than A Club’ motto suggested a club morally superior to their rivals, who turned down big corporate deals to emblazon Unicef’s logo across their shirts while entertaining the world with an attacking style of play led by whiter-than-white superstar Lionel Messi and his fellow academy graduates. That perception has been shattered by a series of off-field events. It has all happened astonishingly quickly.” BBC

Real Madrid 3-4 Barcelona: intelligent players find space in a crazily open match

March 26, 2014

“Barcelona came out on top in a brilliantly topsy-turvy Clasico. Carlo Ancelotti named his expected starting XI. Gerardo Martino selected Neymar rather than Pedro Rodriguez or Alexis Sanchez as his second forward, and continued with Andres Iniesta tucking inside from the left, as he’s often done in big games. This was the most fast-paced game you’ll see all season, with neither side controlling the game but both attacking relentlessly.” Zonal Marking

Tactician’s Corner: Barca, Real Madrid philosophies clash in spectacular Clásico
“El Clásico showed again on Sunday why it is one of the most anticipated fixtures on the world soccer schedule every year. The intensity and drama combined to make it one of the best games of the year, not to mention the seven-goal score line. In the end, Barcelona defeated Real Madrid, 4-3. Karim Benzema seemed to be on his way to a hat trick for Madrid, but Lionel Messi ended up bagging three goals instead — two on penalty kicks, including the winner in the 84th minute.” SI

Real Madrid 3-4 Barcelona: Tactical Analysis
“One of the fiercest rivalries in World football was resumed on Sunday night as Real Madrid played host to Barcelona in an encounter that had the potential to influence the destination of this season’s La Liga crown. Any match between these 2 isn’t going to be called a dead rubber, but this was one had extra significance in a season which has seen leadership of the league vacillate between not just 2, but 3 different contenders. The Catalans needed to win to stay in the hunt and revive their hopes of retaining their title. For Martino, the clash was important because many felt that his future hinges on the clash. Madrid had the opportunity to go 7 clear of their arch-rivals at this stage of the season, effectively knocking them out of the title race.” Outside of the Boot

Barcelona’s thrilling defeat of Real Madrid leaves La Liga race tight

March 24, 2014

“Seven goals, three penalties, a Lionel Messi hat-trick, a red card for Sergio Ramos and three points for Barcelona. This was a classic clasico, full of attacking verve, controversy and incident, and it leaves the Spanish title race closer than ever after a 4-3 Barcelona win over Real Madrid. Atletico and Real Madrid head the table on 70 points, with Barcelona just one further back after Sunday’s game. By completing the double over the their greatest rivals, Barcelona’s Gerardo Martino has gleaned at least something in what is likely to be his only season as manager. And yet, exciting as it was, full of twists and turns including four lead changes, the defending was an asterisk on an otherwise memorable game. The harum-scarum nature of the game, the excellence of some of the attacking play, the sense of the stakes involved, made it thoroughly gripping, but the fact is that much of the defending was suspect.” SI – Jonathan Wilson

Barcelona and Real Madrid produce the clásico of the century
“As one former Barcelona player puts it: ‘It is the game of the century, even if there are eight of them a year.’ It is a comment not just on the excellence and the expectation that comes with Real Madrid v Barcelona but also on their eclipse of all else, on the dominance and potential dilution of a rivalry in which they have played each other 19 times in the last four seasons and will meet at least once more this and in which they alone account for over 60% of Spanish football fans and millions more round the world; on the pressure, the power and the politics; on the way every meeting appears to end eras and close cycles, epochs defined in a day; and on the impossibility of ever living up to the hype.” Guardian

Show Your Neck to Dracula! Barça–Real Madrid Play a Clásico for the Ages
“I have never seen a Greco-Roman wrestling match between a ballistic missile and the world’s most prolific knitter of blankets, but I imagine it looks something like yesterday’s El Clásico, a.k.a. Wichita State–Kentucky, Except Everyone’s Getting Paid, a.k.a. WHY CAN’T I STOP MYSELF FROM SCREAMING IN LATIN?” Grantland (Video)

Barcelona’s thrilling 4-3 win in Sunday’s El Clasico
“Barcelona breathed new life into their La Liga title hopes as a Lionel Messi hat-trick helped fire them to victory in a thrilling match at 10-man Real Madrid. Andres Iniesta shot into the top corner before Karim Benzema’s brace put Real ahead. Messi restored parity soon after but Cristiano Ronaldo restored Real’s lead from the penalty spot. After Sergio Ramos was sent off, Messi won the game with two penalties.” BBC

Football Dynamics – El Clasico

March 22, 2014

“Bloomberg TV Africa’s Football Dynamics combines unique analytics from BSports with expert opinion from Efan Ekoku, Dave Farrar and Ben Lyttleton to give you the inside track on African players in the top five European leagues. Presented by Ayesha Durgahee. Football Dynamics has a derby feel this week. First up the team discusses one of the biggest club matches in world football and Real Madrid face Barcelona in El Clasico before looking at the upcoming Manchester derby as City make the short trip to Old Trafford. Our panel of experts also explore the UEFA Champions League quarter-final line-up. In the Football Dynamics regular features, Ben and Efan discuss the African Team of the Week and Efan’s African Star of the Week, and Algeria features as Richard Connelly is on hand in the ‘Road to Rio’.” backpagefootball (Video)

Man Utd v Olympiakos: Inspiration comes from 1984 win over Barca

March 19, 2014

“If Manchester United are looking for inspiration to reach the Champions League quarter-finals, they must turn back the clock almost 30 years to the day. On 21 March 1984, the Manchester night sky was gloomy, and the outlook for the hosts equally dreary. The Red Devils were hosting Spanish giants Barcelona in the second leg of their Cup Winners’ Cup quarter-final, with a vociferous home crowd hopefully optimistic – rather than expectant – of overturning a 2-0 deficit.” BBC

Messi nears his peak to lift Barcelona, PSG rolls to CL quarterfinals

March 14, 2014

“There was controversy in Barcelona, but it made little difference to the outcome as the hosts beat Manchester City 2-1 to go through to the Champions League quarterfinals by a 4-1 aggregate. In Paris, meanwhile, PSG eased through, with a 2-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen completing a 6-1 aggregate margin.” SI – Jonathan Wilson

Man City’s biggest problem? A lack of leadership

March 14, 2014

Vincent Kompany
“In the unlikely event you haven’t noticed, Manchester City have a significant problem at centre-back. Vincent Kompany remains excellent but is unable to depend upon on a reliable partner. Manuel Pellegrini favours Martin Demichelis, despite the Argentine’s constant stream of errors. Joleon Lescott, a reliable performer throughout City’s 2011-12 title-winning season, endured a horrendous match at the Camp Nou on Wednesday night while young Matija Nastasic is enduring second-season syndrome. Javi Garcia, uncomfortable in his favoured position of central midfield, doesn’t seem to be a solution, either.” ESPN – Michael Cox (Video)

Barcelona beaten again, and this time their critics show no mercy

March 10, 2014

“At the end of Barcelona’s 1-0 defeat at Valladolid on Saturday afternoon, Víctor Valdés took refuge in the bathroom. Somewhere in the distance, along the passageway, the Serbian central defender Stefan Mitrovic was smashing his way through the door of the home dressing room in celebration. But here, in the visitors’ bathroom, all was quiet. Valdés positioned his camera and filmed a video résumé of the game, a kind of selfie press conference with a wall of white tiles replacing the usual collage of sponsors. This was, he said looking at the camera, a ‘bad game.’ The video is 30 seconds long and towards the end there is a suspiciously familiar noise. It is the noise of someone flushing Barcelona’s title challenge down the pan.” Guardian

From The Mind of Xoel: Barça Loses: Barça Now at Liga Crossroads.

February 23, 2014

“From the ecstasy of beating Manchester City 2-0 on Tuesday night, to the agony of losing 3-1 against Real Sociedad on Saturday, FC Barcelona has had a roller coaster of a week. In this article, Xoel Càrdenas gives you his take on the loss, Tata’s mistakes, and why this is the turning point for FC Barcelona’s season.” Barca Blaugranes

La Liga: Real Sociedad 3-1 FC Barcelona: Match Review
“A passionless Barcelona stepped on the historical inhospitable pitch at Anoeta in San Sebastian and were ran over by Real Sociedad. Gerardo Martino’s rotation policy backfired in Basque Country as goals from Alex Song (o.g.), Antoine Griezmann and David Zurutuza were more then enough to see of Barcelona whose only reply came from Lionel Messi.” Barca Blaugranes

Champions League Team of the Week

February 21, 2014

“The first set of Champions League fixtures this week all went according to script as far as the results were concerned, with all four away sides taking large strides toward the quarterfinals with wins. Not only that, but none of the home teams were even able to register on the score sheet, and three of them had men sent off to make their improbable tasks near impossible.” ESPN

Relying on over-the-hill defenders: An explanation

February 21, 2014

“When Manuel Pellegrini announced his team sheet for Tuesday night’s match with Barcelona, there seemed one obvious weak link — Martin Demichelis. It wasn’t just that the Argentine was in the side at centre-back, a position he’s struggled in throughout his short Manchester City career; it was also that Pellegrini wasn’t playing an extra holding midfielder. Some suggested Javi Garcia might start deep in midfield, in an attempt to minimise the space afforded to Lionel Messi, Barcelona’s main threat.” ESPN – Michael Cox

Manchester City 0-2 Barcelona: City weather the storm before Demichelis tackle changes the tie

February 19, 2014

“Goals from Lionel Messi and Daniel Alves gave Barcelona a significant lead going into the second leg. Manuel Pellegrini unsurprisingly switched to a 4-2-3-1 / 4-4-1-1 formation, but surprisingly named two left-backs in tandem, Gael Clichy and Aleksandar Kolarov. Fernandinho was fit to return in midfield, while Martin Demichelis played at the back. Tata Martino was cautious with his team selection, playing Andres Iniesta on the left of a front three, with Cesc Fabregas in midfield. Barcelona enjoyed unprecedented spells of possession for an away side at the Etihad, but failed to convert their dominance into clear-cut chances in the first half – before Demichelis’ rash tackle at the start of the second half changed the tie.” Zonal Marking

Manchester City 0-2 Barcelona: Tactical Analysis | City make a case for themselves but organised Barca take full advantage
“A number of fixtures from the round of 16 stood out, but the most attractive one without doubt had to be the one between Manchester City and Barcelona. These 2 are probably the 2 best teams in their respective countries, and are both relatively free scoring sides. The presence of so many of the world’s best players only added to the glitter of the occasion.” Outside of the Boot

Atlético Madrid’s rise to the top the perfect tribute to Luis Aragonés

February 4, 2014

Luis Aragonés
“Fernando Torres tells the story of the final minutes before the 2008 European Championships. Luis Aragonés approaches him in the dressing room in Vienna and looks him in the eye; the old man and the kid. The kid has not scored yet but no one knows him like the old man and this is a ritual he has performed once before. He raises a finger and ‘draws’ a cross on Torres’s forehead, twice. ‘Niño,’ he says, ‘you’re going to score today.’ Then he continues, pacing the dressing room, player by player, before speaking to the whole group together. After 50 years in the game, first as a player then as a coach, this is it.” Guardian

Barcelona 2-3 Valencia: Valencia rewarded for bravery on the counter-attack

February 4, 2014

“Barcelona suffered their first home defeat of the season, to a Valencia side who had the third-worst away record in La Liga. Tata Martino rested Andres Iniesta, and is still without Neymar. Valencia had a busy few days in the transfer window – mainly with players departing. Helder Postiga, Ever Banega and Andres Guardado have all left the club. Juan Antonio Pizzi selected a cautious XI with five players across midfield, including two holding midfielders, while Jonas was only on the bench. This was a peculiar game. Barcelona were utterly dominant for the first 40 minutes, with little sign Valencia were set to record an upset. This wasn’t exactly a masterclass from Pizzi, but elements of Valencia’s play – and particularly their bravery in getting men forward on the break – should be applauded.” Zonal Marking – Michael Cox

La Liga: Valencia hands Barcelona a rare home loss

February 2, 2014

“Barcelona stumbled to a 3-2 home loss against Valencia on Saturday, giving Atletico Madrid a chance to move into sole possession of first place in the Spanish league. Barcelona’s decision not to sign a defender during the January transfer window may have backfired after Valencia took advantage of a lethargic, uninspired effort by its hosts at the Camp Nou, where former Spain coach Luis Aragones – who previously coached the Catalans – was honored after his death on Saturday. Barcelona led through Alexis Sanchez’s eighth-minute goal but Dani Parejo equalized for Valencia before the break.” SI

La Liga: FC Barcelona 2-3 Valencia CF: Match Review
“After a great start to the game that saw Alexis Sanchez lead Barcelona to a quick advantage, Barcelona were left frustrated by an incredibly efficient Valencia side that scored on three of their four shots on goal. Dani Parejo, Pablo Piatti and Paco Alcácer scored for the visitors, while Barcelona were only able to reply through a converted penalty by Lionel Messi.” Barca Blaugranes

World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero can shine in Brazil

January 21, 2014

“Federico Insua is one of those number 10 playmakers that Argentine football produces in such quantity. With a nice left foot and a good range of passing he is an interesting player, although at 34 his best days are now behind him. He was not quite good enough to impose himself on the European game – he had disappointing seasons in Spain, Germany and Turkey – but he has been a strong club player in Argentina, where he currently turns out for Velez Sarsfield.” BBC – Tim Vickery

The Ballon D’Or and why objective player rankings are pointless – The State of Analytics

January 15, 2014

“When Cristiano Ronaldo won the Ballon D’Or, this blog’s resident pro-Messi troll came out of the woodwork using a crude homophobic play on Ronaldo’s name to make a series of rambling arguments as to why the Portugal and Real Madrid winger shouldn’t have won the top prize in world football. I won’t reprint those comments but I’ll give you the gist of them—Ronaldo shouldn’t have won because he was sent off in the Copa Del Rey final against Atletico, Ronaldo shouldn’t have won because Mesut Ozil created most of his goal-scoring chances (which of course doesn’t explain his incredible goal-scoring record since the German international went to Arsenal), Ronaldo shouldn’t have won because he didn’t make enough assists, didn’t have the same goal-per-game average as Messi (not even a decent metric as we’ll see), didn’t win ‘trophies’.” The Score

Barcelona, Atlético’s tactical clash ends in a stalemate

January 13, 2014

“All season, it’s been impossible to separate Barcelona and Atlético Madrid. They’ve chugged along at the top of the table, trading blow for blow, and when they met in the Copa del Rey, they exchanged a pair of draws and Barcelona went through only on away goals. They couldn’t be separated on Saturday either, a tight goalless draw leaving Barcelona top of La Liga at the halfway point by virtue of having a goal difference five better than that of Atlético.” SI – Jonathan Wilson

Atletico Madrid 0-0 Barcelona: different styles but similar lack of invention upfront
“La Liga’s top of the table clash was intense and intriguing, but ultimately goalless. Diego Simeone named his expected side, with right-back Juanfran available after his suspension was overturned. Despite Lionel Messi’s return in midweek against Getafe, he wasn’t risked from the start – he joined Neymar on the bench, and Cesc Fabregas played as the false nine. A draw was a fair result – both sides’ gameplan was clear, but the defences came out on top.” Zonal Marking

Atletico Madrid 0-0 Barcelona: Tactical Analysis | Atletico’s Physicality versus Barca’s Passing
“The top 2 in Spain faced off for the first time in the league this season, in a clash that generated almost as much hype as most El Clasico’s. This season, Atletico have surprised one and all with their tremendous run in the league, staying 5 points clear of their city rivals Real for this long. Barcelona have been imperious, scoring almost at will, despite the absence of their talisman, Messi, and new acquisition Neymar. One of the meanest defences in the league was up against a free flowing attacking force, and it made for a great spectacle.” Outside of the Boot

Messi, Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic: football’s new superheroes

January 13, 2014

“The other night, I was standing outside the players tunnel before a Paris Saint-Germain game when Zlatan Ibrahimovic walked past. It was scary. Up close, the Swedish forward looked like a superhero: 1.95m tall, a chest the size of Pamela Anderson’s and the hungry glare of a man who has done his exercises, eaten his greens and had his afternoon nap every day for years. Today’s great footballers are incomparably fitter than their predecessors. But their perfection goes beyond the physical. This is the best time in football’s history to be a star. The game has been restructured in their service. When the Golden Ball for the world’s best player of 2013 is awarded on Monday – most likely to Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid – it will resemble an Oscars ceremony in the golden age of Hollywood.” FT – Simon Kuper

Atletico Madrid proving tackling can be a quality

January 11, 2014

“This weekend, Atletico Madrid host Barcelona at the Vicente Calderon stadium in the biggest game of the European season so far. The two sides are level on points, and therefore it is literally a top of the table clash – La Liga’s rules mean teams are separated by head-to-head results rather than goal difference, and therefore having not played each other this season, the sides can’t be separated. Halfway through the season, La Liga’s best two clubs are neck-and-neck, joint first.” Zonal Marking

Lionel Messi: Are Barcelona a better team without him?

January 11, 2014

“Barcelona manager Tata Martino faces a major selection dilemma as he prepares for Saturday’s table-topping La Liga meeting with Atletico Madrid. Don’t feel too sorry for the Argentine boss, though, because Martino is contemplating the ultimate ‘nice problem to have’ as he wrestles with the conundrum of how to accommodate fit-again compatriot Lionel Messi in his team. Messi is just back from a hamstring injury, having made his return in spectacular fashion with a two-goal substitute’s outing in Wednesday’s 4-0 thrashing of Getafe in the Copa del Rey.” BBC

FC Barcelona: Five of the Best Individual Performances of 2013

January 2, 2014

“With 2013 behind us, it’s time to remember five of the best individual performances of 2013 according to the Barca Blaugranes Community Player Ratings”
Barca Blaugranes (Video)

Pedro sparks Barca comeback

December 22, 2013

“Pedro scored a hat-trick in the space of eight minutes as Barcelona came from two goals down to beat Getafe 5-2 and return to the top of the Primera Division for Christmas. A much-changed Barca side, without the suspended Neymar plus the injured trio of Xavi Hernandez, Lionel Messi and goalkeeper Victor Valdes, conceded twice in the opening quarter of an hour, with Sergio Escudero breaking the deadlock and Lisandro Lopez scoring a header.” ESPN

What did we learn tacticaly about Gerardo Martino from Barcelona’s El Classico victory?

December 19, 2013

“When Martino strolled into the Camp Nou for the seventh time this season, the Argentinian was welcomed to 98,000 fans planted into their seats eagerly awaiting one of the most anticipated games of the year in which many neutrals would happily see the two giants contesting each other in the Champions League Final. An even more intriguing game rose when the line ups were revealed, with Sergio Ramos situated in Midfield, Lionel Messi on the right and even Javier Mascherano swapped to RCB, to contest Cristiano Ronaldo in transitions, which we will get more into detail later.” Think Football

La Liga: FC Barcelona 0-1 Athletic Bilbao: Player Ratings

December 3, 2013

“… Another game without a goal for the Brazilian who squandered many of Barcelona’s best chances en route to this goalless display. However, unlike many others I’m going to side with the former Santos star — criticising someone for missing chances is all well and good, but when that player is the only one intelligent enough to break down the opposition defense, you’re made to look a little foolish. Just imagine how few chances we would have created without Neymar’s movement and skill…” Barca Blaugranes

Messi: 10 years of Barcelona’s brighter star

November 17, 2013

“Lionel Messi has, deservedly, become a household name all over the world thanks to his unbelievable skills on the football pitch and low-key, humble attitude off it. While it was clear that the 16-year-old who made his Barcelona first team debut at the Do Dragao stadium against Porto a decade ago had plenty of potential, the truth is that nobody could have predicted the legendary impact that the tiny Argentinean wizard has made in the club’s history since.” ESPN

La Liga: FC Barcelona 1-0 RCD Espanyol: Player Ratings

November 3, 2013

“… Gerard Pique, 7.1. Pique had one of his best games of the season. He was making plays all over the pitch, even getting involved on the attack, creating a good scoring chance with Alexis. Pique was near the top in just about every defensive category, even leading the team, by a large margin, in clearances. He was positionally very sound, though he did venture out of position on a few occasions. Pique’s distribution was excellent all game long as me misplaced just three short passes.” Barca Blaugranes

From The Mind of Xoel: Barça Defeats Madrid 2-1 in “El Clásico de Neymar”

October 27, 2013

“FC Barcelona defeated Real Madrid by a 2-1 score line in the first El Clásico of the 2013-14 season. Neymar shined as he grabbed a goal in his Clásico debut. Alexis Sanchez made the Camp Nou jump for joy with his golazo in the 78th minute. Jesé got a late goal for Los Blancos, but it was too late as Tata Martino’s team are now six points up on Los Blancos in the La Liga standings.” Barca Blaugranes

Ten keys to Barca’s Clasico win
“Although Saturday’s clasico was not the greatest of spectacles — ultimately, it was a more tactical and less petty contest than recent ones — it served to give Barca an important three points, doubling their lead over Real Madrid at the top of La Liga. Here are 10 key factors to Barca’s victory.” ESPN (Video)

Barcelona manager Tata Martino takes first blood in Clasico
“Saturday’s managerial clash of Clasico debutants ended decisively in favour of Barcelona’s Tata Martino, with Carlo Ancelotti now facing a rough ride from the Madrid media following Real’s deserved 2-1 defeat at the Nou Camp. Goals from Neymar and Alexis Sanchez ensured Jese Rodriguez’s late strike was irrelevant. Before the game, Ancelotti was the man with the biggest decisions to make. His team had been winning but playing poorly, and there were clear deficiencies to address in a number of areas on the pitch.” BBC

Barcelona 2-1 Real Madrid: Tactical Analysis
“Despite the Premier League being the ‘global league’ in terms of visibility and a hold on the football market in numerous countries, there’s one game that supersedes all of the Premier League games. That of course is none other than ‘El Clasico’, the highly charged game between Barcelona and Real Madrid. From severed pig heads to eye pokes (yes Mourinho, we still remember that one) this fixture has a knack of producing high and sometimes downright bizarre drama. In between all the political undercurrents of this fixture, there is some scarily good football that is on show when the 2 sides battle it out.” Outside of the Boot

Sergio Busquets has become an key component of the new Barcelona

October 24, 2013

“One of the fundamental principles of Barcelona’s philosophy is the consistent use of a 4-3-3 formation. It is their trio in midfield — the heart of any football side, but particularly one that insists upon possession dominance and bossing the centre ground — that has always felt most idiosyncratic. In that zone, the club have frequently played three Spanish La Masia graduates over the past four years: Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets.” ESPN – Michael Cox

La Liga: FC Barcelona 0-0 CA Osasuna: Player Ratings

October 20, 2013

“For his fourth consecutive clean sheet on the road Valdes had very little to do. Officially he was credited with one save and a single cross claim in what was one of the calmest games of the season for the Barcelona goalkeeper. His long range passing struggled once again, but his short passes were on the mark. Valdes’ highlight of the game came in the 83rd minute when he made one of his trademark 25 yard sweeper-keeper runs to clear a loose ball the could’ve led to danger.” Barca Blaugranes

New managers: Martino at Barcelona

October 15, 2013

Gerardo Martino unveiled as new Barcelona manager - video
“In an ideal world, Gerardo Martino wouldn’t be coaching Barcelona this season. Whereas the majority of Europe’s top clubs were after a new manager this summer because of footballing reasons, Barca were forced to turn to a new coach because of Tito Vilanova’s health problems. That makes Martino’s task slightly complicated, because this summer there was a genuine debate about how much Barcelona needed to evolve their style of play. Martino has not been appointed because his predecessor failed, but because he was simply unable to continue.” Zonal Marking

Can Atletico Madrid keep pace at the top of La Liga this time around?

October 12, 2013

“Eight matches into last year’s La Liga season, Atletico Madrid were level on points with Barcelona at the top. At the same stage of this campaign, they are in exactly the same position, separated by goal difference having won all of their opening eight league games, 2 points better off than the seven wins and one draw they had recorded last year. In fact, Atletico’s standing is in much better shape than that. They opened the season with 2 draws with Barcelona which saw them narrowly defeated in the Supercopa via away goals and have complimented their league form with 2 wins out of 2 in the Champions League, making it 15 competitive games unbeaten following on from last season. You have to go back to February and Rayo Vallecano to trace their last defeat on the road, making it 17 games without an away loss in all competitions.” Outside of the Boot

Cesc Fábregas seals Barcelona win after Celtic’s Scott Brown is sent off

October 2, 2013

“It is a stern enough test to face Barcelona with 11 men, let alone 10. Celtic discovered precisely that. Anger was the overwhelming emotion in Glasgow’s east end after the dismissal of the Celtic captain, Scott Brown, proved the defining moment of a taut encounter. Brown’s departure on the hour was sufficient to hand Barcelona the impetus they needed to secure victory by a single Cesc Fábregas goal. It was a success they barely merited from a match that regressed into the realms of the bad tempered for the closing 30 minutes.” Guardian

Barcelona struggle without their Messi-ah
“Considering Lionel Messi plays in a squad of all the talents, Barcelona as one-man team might seem a far-fetched concept. However, many a footballing force has faded without its main man. Ajax fell sharply once Johan Cruyff departed in the 1970s; only recently have Napoli become a European force since the 1991 day when Diego Maradona fled Neapolitan life in drug-fuelled disgrace; Manchester United have never been quite the same after losing Cristiano Ronaldo.” ESPN

Lionel Messi injured in Barcelona’s win; Atletico beats Real Madrid

September 29, 2013

David Villa, Eric Abidal, Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta
“Atletico Madrid’s record-setting 1-0 win over Real Madrid brought an emphatic end to its crosstown rival’s 14-year unbeaten league run in their Spanish capital derby on Saturday. On-form Diego Costa struck in the 11th minute and not even Gareth Bale in his home debut for Madrid could help it rally. Atletico’s big win came after Lionel Messi scored before being substituted due to injury to help Barcelona win 2-0 at Almeria. Barcelona and Atletico set club records by staying perfect through seven rounds to start the season, opening up a five-point gap over Madrid.” SI

Manuel Pellegrini & Mauricio Pochettino buck a coaching trend

September 25, 2013

“For more than an hour in last Wednesday’s Champions League matches, up and down the continent, every goal had been scored by players from either Argentina or Brazil – an extraordinary example of South America’s contribution to European club football. In comparison to the impressive feats of the players, surprisingly little of that contribution has come from coaches. There have been a few South American success stories on the other side of the Atlantic – Brazil’s Otto Gloria and Chile’s Fernando Riera spring to mind. But opportunities have been limited – hence the general surprise when Argentina’s Gerardo Martino was rushed into the Barcelona job, an appointment which suggests a desire to keep Lionel Messi content.” BBC – Tim Vickery

FC Barcelona 4-0 AFC Ajax: Player Ratings

September 20, 2013

“A detailed, player-by-player breakdown of Barcelona’s 4-0 UEFA Champions League win over AFC Ajax at the Camp Nou” Barca Blaugranes

Barcelona v Ajax and a philosophical line that stretches back to 1872

September 18, 2013

“In 1872 a decision was taken that changed football forever, and that would have a major bearing on Wednesday’s Champions League meeting between Barcelona and Ajax. The Scotland team, all of whom were drawn from the Queen’s Park club, looked at the England side they were about to meet in the first ever football international and, realising their opponents were on average over a stone a man heavier than they were, resolved not to engage in the dribbling and charging game that had been prevalent until then, but to pass the ball and keep it away from the English. The tactic was a resounding success: Scotland had the better of a goalless draw and the possession game was born.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

Bojan still struggling to find his feet

September 18, 2013

“It certainly isn’t the group of death; it’s not even the second-most exciting group in this season’s Champions League. But there was something rather magical about Barcelona, AC Milan, Ajax and Celtic — four previous European Cup winners — being drawn together in Group H. Even before Celtic, from the fourth pot, were drawn alongside their more illustrious opponents, the three other sides together already provided an intriguing group. There’s the ideological link between Barcelona and Ajax, and past finals between Barca and Milan (1994) and Ajax and Milan (1995).” ESPN – Michael Cox

Ozil’s secret weapon

September 14, 2013

A heat map showing Mesut Ozil’s touches in La Liga during his three seasons at Real Madrid.
“In modern football, the vast majority of top-class European clubs agree on the basic principles of attacking play. It’s extremely rare to see a half-decent side knock a long ball from defence, and it’s become increasingly uncommon to witness relentless crossing from wide. Instead, top-level football is about short passing, through-balls, and exploiting pockets of space either side of the opposition defence. There are certain qualities you unquestionably require to play this way: patient midfield passers to initiate the buildup, incisive creators capable of penetration and quick forwards who can sprint beyond defences.” ESPN – Michael Cox (Video)

Transfer deadline day: The anatomy of a modern-day deal

September 1, 2013

“The world of football transfers is mysterious and murky, rotten and ruthless. Millionaire players, demanding managers, extravagant owners and wily agents all make up the cast of the game’s summer soap opera. Fans find it fascinating and frustrating but are often left angered and confused by the veil of mistruths and rumour that drive the world of transfers. This summer has been a case in point. It has been the summer of the saga, the summer of Luis Suarez, Wayne Rooney, Gareth Bale and Cesc Fabregas.” BBC

Javier Mascherano must keep his cool for Argentina to thrive in Brazil

August 19, 2013

“The start of the Spanish campaign could hardly have been more gentle for Javier Mascherano, watching from the other half as his Barcelona team-mates ran in seven goals against Levante. But come the end of the season he is likely to be right in the thick of the battle with a crucial role to play. The spotlight inevitably settles on Lionel Messi in Argentina’s quest to win next year’s World Cup. But last week’s friendly win in Italy reinforced the view that, in his own very different way, Mascherano is every bit as important to his team’s chances. The stereotype is of Mascherano the warrior, the little enforcer who stomps through matches at the limit of emotional intensity.” BBC

Spain: 2013-14 preview

August 19, 2013

“If there was a button marked ‘not Mourinho’, Carlo Ancelotti pressed it repeatedly. Real Madrid finally presented the Italian as their new coach, beginning a new era at the Santiago Bernabeu and another model too. They were heading in a different direction again. It had been 37 days since the president, Florentino Perez, announced Mourinho would be leaving; now they had the man they wanted to replace him.” World Soccer

Tactical Analysis: What’s the solution to Barcelona’s defensive frailties?

August 8, 2013

“With less than two weeks before Barcelona kick off the 2013-14 season the Catalans have made just one signing, Neymar, for €57m. Many fans had expected a more proactive transfer market for Barca this summer, with the defence in particular need of strengthening. Last year Barca conceded 40 league goals in comparison to 29, 21 and 24 in their three previous campaigns and it was particularly noticeable how badly they struggled at defending set plays and crosses into the box. They also conceded 17 times in their 12 Champions League matches including twice to Celtic and Spartak Moscow.” Think Football

Can Neymar and Messi co-exist? and four other things to look out for this season

August 6, 2013

“Every one of Europe’s top five leagues has the potential to have a thrilling title race this season. Sam Thompson, of TTTFootball, takes a closer look at who will be challenging at the top in England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France…” Think Football

Book Review: Real Madrid & Barcelona: The Making of a Rivalry

August 6, 2013

“Rivalry is that most beloved topic of the footballing internet with keyboard warriors across the globe queuing up to proclaim their particular enmity as the fiercest. I’ll admit to a degree of ennui when followers of giants clubs indulge in such debates given the increasing propensity of Arsenal v Tottenham or Liverpool v Manchester United to resemble the contest between multinational firms to increase market share. No, I don’t especially care whether Apple or Google win out, so why should I be bothered to check in on events at St. James’ Park or the Stadium of Light?” thetwounfortunates


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