Neymar dips his toe in at Barcelona

August 4, 2013

“It is not that Neymar didn’t try to crown his home debut with a goal. In the 45 minutes he spent on the pitch in Barcelona’s 8-0 drubbing of FC Santos in Friday night’s friendly, the Catalan club’s new signing had three shots on goal and almost began celebrating before realizing he had actually hit the bar. His true mission, though, was somehow accomplished. With a classic tee-up for a wondrous Cesc Fabregas strike, Neymar provided an assist and showed with his feet what he had already said in his pre-match news conference: He’s happy to take one for the team.” ESPN

New Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino’s tactics fit Barca’s style

August 2, 2013

“All events depend, to an extent, on chance, on a thousand, a million circumstances coinciding. It may be that Gerardo Martino is ousted from Barcelona at the end of the season having finished second in the league and having failed to take them to a seventh successive Champions League semi-final and his appointment will be seen as a regrettable short-term move necessitated by the dreadful news that Tito Vilanova requires further treatment for cancer. Or it may be that he achieves glory, a new dynasty is begun, and the world looks on the turbulent events of this summer and reflects on what a peculiar business appointing a manager can be.” SI – Jonathan Wilson

How Will This Season’s Bayern Munich Pep Squad Compare to Barcelona?

July 29, 2013

“I don’t really know why I’m bothering to show up for soccer season this year. Bayern Munich’s complete dominance is, after all, a fait accompli. Last season’s Champions League winners only went out and added their biggest rival’s best player, Mario Goetze from Borussia Dortmund, and possibly the best coach in the world, the architect of the all-conquering 2008-12 Barcelona, Pep Guardiola. Bayern’s possession-based style is a perfect match for Guardiola. Last season in Europe’s five biggest leagues, Bayern was the only team besides Barcelona to average more than 60 percent possession. We’re all playing for second, right? Well, maybe.” Grantland

Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino’s ideology shaped by Old Boys’ network

July 26, 2013

“For three days nobody saw Marcelo Bielsa. He was in his room at the Conquistador Hotel in Santa Fe but he had not emerged since arriving, chewed up by the 6-0 home defeat Newell’s Old Boys had suffered against San Lorenzo in the Copa Libertadores earlier that week. His project, his great plan, was falling apart and El Loco was suffering a crisis of faith. Newell’s had won the Apertura championship in 1990-91, playing brilliant, vibrant football but, exhausted, they had stuttered badly in the Clausura championship and were even worse in the Apertura in 1991-92.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson (Video)

Martino planning for Messi and Neymar
“Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino said he will have failed in his role as new Barcelona coach if he is unable to get Lionel Messi and recently signed Brazilian star Neymar to play to the best of their ability in his starting lineup. Martino, speaking at a news conference to announce his arrival at the Camp Nou on a two-year contract, has the task of accommodating two of world football’s biggest stars next season — one of them from his hometown of Rosario, Argentina. But he is certain that Neymar, who arrived this summer on a five-year deal, and four-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi will complement each other perfectly on a Barca team that he believes can go on winning for many years to come.” ESPN

Has the Continental shift of Footballing power finally happened?

July 20, 2013

“The 23rd of April 2013. One date all Catalan’s will almost certainly want to forget. The Tiki-taka system was overran, collapsed and went into self-destruct mode, their biggest European defeat since losing 4-0 against Dynamo Kiev in 1997. Without their Messiah, Lionel Messi fully fit; Barcelona looked a shadow of their normal selves on that night in Munich. A further defeat to the Bavarian’s at the Camp Nou showed Barca at their most vulnerable state, the German club showed the World that playing a severe pressing game in midfield and not letting them build play from the back is possibly one of the ways that Barcelona can be cut down in their stride. A 7-0 aggregate score was the real alarming evidence for Tito Vilanova and his coaching staff to take notice of, again more proof that they finally need a Plan B when it comes down to playing the European Giants at least.” Outside of the Boot

Pedro and Alexis: Time to Step Up or Else

July 9, 2013

“With all eyes on Neymar teaming up with Lionel Messi, let’s not forget about the other wing position: right-wing. Pedro and Alexis need to have solid seasons, or else they could be on their way out at FC Barcelona.” Barca Blaugranes

Visionary Luis Enrique looking back at the long-term with Celta Vigo

June 23, 2013

“Abel Resino left Celta Vigo with the remit of his four months in charge complete— to avoid relegation. The Galicia club avoided the drop by just one point on the final day after the 53 year old Resino came in as a fire-fighter, with Celta third from bottom upon the departure of Paco Herrera back in February. Resino was very much a short term choice, a stop-gap to lead the team to safety so President Carlos Mourino could implement a long-term vision that will be spearheaded by Luis Enrique, returning to La Liga after an ill-fated spell with Roma.” Outside of the Boot

European Team of the Season, 2012/13

June 14, 2013

“That time of the year again. Minimal explanation needed, although the list places a strong emphasis upon performances in big matches: key domestic games, and European Cup knockout games.” Zonal Marking (Video)

The best La Liga XI of 2012/13

June 2, 2013

“The 2012/13 La Liga season saw Real Madrid’s title defence overwhelmed by a devastating Barcelona outfit, with the Catalan giants losing just two matches and going agonisingly close to breaking their rivals’ record points tally of 100. Atletico Madrid put up a fight for much of the season but were forced to settle for third, and it is hard to go past the stars of the top three teams as we select the best starting XI from across Spain.” ESPN

Adios Mourinho: The managerial ‘mercenary’

June 2, 2013

“When Jose Mourinho arrived at Real Madrid in the Summer of 2010, I – like all Madridistas – was full of optimism and hope. Mourinho arrived in Madrid off the back of an unprecedented treble at Inter, completed in the Bernabeu no less, when he lead Inter to their first European Cup since 1965. This would be the man that would end the dominance of Barcelona. The side that had won two league titles and a European Cup since Madrid last lifted any silverware. This period also included four straight defeats to Barça and, especially after the return of Florentino Perez and his ‘Galactico’ policy, this wasn’t easy to take.” Think Football

Is Neymar really what FC Barcelona need?

May 29, 2013

“It has this week revealed what has been in the pipeline for around 18 months now, Neymar will join Barcelona. On the surface this move is incredibly exciting. A 21 year old wonder kid that has been on the radar of Europe’s elite for years, signing up to play with the new La Liga champions alongside the likes of Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta. The move however has raised a few eyebrows. It doesn’t feel as exciting as it was a year ago. Barça’s season has a cloud of doubt and negativity hanging over it. This is despite Barca being on course to equal Real Madrid’s record league total of 100 points (they will if they beat Malaga on Saturday). This negativity is mostly down to their demolition at the hands of Bayern in the semi-finals of the Champions League and in particular what it means: Barça are no longer the best, in fact, they look quite far from it.” Think Football

The great European Cup teams: Barcelona 2009-2011

May 24, 2013

“Barcelona completed the circle on 28 May 2011. Wembley again, back where it all began. The perfect expression of a team that some considered the finest there has been and at the perfect location too. When Barcelona defeated Manchester United 3-1 in London to win their second European Cup in three years under Pep Guardiola, and their third in six, Sir Alex Ferguson called the Catalans the best team he had ever faced. ‘No one,’ he said, ‘has ever given us a hiding like that.’ But it was about more than just the performance; it was about the symmetry and symbolism too.” Guardian

La Liga: FC Barcelona 2-1 Real Valladolid: Match Review

May 20, 2013

“Barcelona secured their 30th victory of the La Liga season on Sunday, seeing off the threat of Miroslav Ðukić’s Real Valladolid at the Camp Nou. Pedro Rodriguez put the Blaugrana ahead on 21 minutes, slotting the ball under Jaime after a delightful through ball from Xavi, and Marc Valiente (own goal) doubled Barcelona’s lead with a little under five minutes remaining in the first half. Despite creating a number of chances, Barcelona couldn’t find a third and conceded a late consolation from the penalty spot after Martin Montoya’s foul on Manucho.” Barca Blaugranes

Why Real Madrid Need Zlatan to Make Great Leap Forward

May 14, 2013

“Winning the Spanish League used to be a significant achievement. It used to be tough. But ever since Real Madrid and Barcelona’s financial superiority ruled everyone else out of the running, La Primera title race has become a bit of a snore-fest. In 2010, when Barcelona reached the 99-point barrier to win the title, we gasped. Two years later, their rivals in the Spanish capital beat it by one point to reach the century mark, and we applauded. Barcelona are on track to repeat the feat this season, and in all honesty we have yawned and moved on.” Bleacher Report

What should we make of Barcelona’s La Liga title?

May 12, 2013

“The past few weeks have been full of Barcelona’s players and staff emphasising that any feeling that the title victory isn’t all that impressive, that it doesn’t need to be properly celebrated or appreciated is false. They have taken turns, Andres Iniesta, Jordi Roura, Gerard Pique and a handful of other voices, to dispel the idea that because the second half of the season hasn’t been nearly as impressive as the first, and because the Champions League semifinal was humiliating, the initial work is in any way undermined. Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. To me, this title — won Saturday after Real Madrid drew 1-1 with Espanyol — will potentially become an acquired taste, like fish, gorgonzola or coffee when you are a kid. Not necessarily easy to understand but richer the older you get.” ESPN

Would Neymar be a success at Barcelona or should he move elsewhere?

May 6, 2013

“What a turnaround 2 years can make. The all conquering Catalans, having previously been hailed ‘the best team ever to grace the football pitch’ are no longer as dominant as we were so used to seeing. Despite their continued success in their domestic league (on the verge of claiming their 4th La Liga crown in 5 seasons), there are still so many questions which are being raised, particularly in light of their humiliating defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League. This season they looked unstoppable, at least at the beginning winning 22 games out of their first 23. However, things have since unraveled somewhat. Dumped out of the Champions League in such a humiliating fashion and losing to Madrid in the Copa Del Rey, things don’t look quite as comfortable anymore.” Think Football

Barcelona 0-3 Bayern: Bayern untroubled at the back & consistently dangerous down the flanks

May 3, 2013

“Bayern produced another highly impressive performance to qualify for the Champions League final with ease. Tito Vilanova decided not to risk the half-fit Lionel Messi, so Cesc Fabregas played as the false nine. David Villa replaced Alexis Sanchez, while Alex Song was in for the injured Sergio Busquets, and Adriano for the suspended Jordi Alba. Jupp Heynckes brought back Mario Mandzukic for Mario Gomez, and Daniel van Buyten played rather than Dante. Bayern replicated last week’s second half performance – they pressed before retreating into a solid defensive shape, then counter-attacked expertly.” Zonal Marking

Bayern Munich outclasses Barcelona en route to Champions League final
” Arjen Robben finished the tie off three minutes after halftime at Camp Nou, but in truth, it was finished a week ago at Allianz Arena. Bayern Munich completed the task, a 3-0 win and 7-0 aggregate, with rather less alarm than Borussia Dortmund had against Real Madrid the previous night, and so there will be, as had always seemed likely after the first legs, an all-German Champions League final. The astonishing thing about this Barcelona side is how far it has fallen and how fast. With Lionel Messi consigned to the bench by his hamstring injury, Barca was flat and, essentially, devoid of hope. What was startling in Munich last week was not that it lost; this is, after all, an exceptional Bayern team, but how it lost discipline, how it allowed the tie to be ended in the first leg.” SI – Jonathan Wilson

Bayern Munich 4-0 Barcelona: Bayern produce an astonishingly dominant performance

April 24, 2013

“Bayern Munich didn’t try to outpass Barcelona, and instead ruthlessly exposed their traditional weaknesses. Jupp Heynckes selected Mario Gomez rather than Claudio Pizarro as Mario Mandzukic’s replacement, and decided Jerome Boateng was a better option than Daniel van Buyten because of his extra speed. Tito Vilanova’s side was as expected: Lionel Messi was fit, and Alexis Sanchez started as wide forward on the left, with Pedro Rodriguez on the right. Barcelona enjoyed a decent opening ten minutes, but Bayern were strategically perfect and fully deserved to win by such a convincing scoreline.” Zonal Marking

Will the football world now follow Bayern’s method rather than Barça’s?
“The sun has set on the age of Barcelona and dawn has broken on the bright new age of Bayern Munich. Bayern’s demolition of Barça last night certainly had the sense of a game that changed the order of things – even in advance it felt like an era-defining game. It crystallised the sense that Barça are not quite what they were, a weary shadow of the team that won the Champions League in 2011, and that Bayern are rising, inspired by a crop of fine young players and German economic might.” Jonathan Wilson

Are Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez the perfect midfield pivot?
“Bayern Munich have been majestic this season, winning the Bundesliga with ease and making headlines in the Champions League also. The imminent arrival of Pep Guardiola next season has also been much anticipated by fans and pundits. Guardiola will inherit a team who have not only recently announced the signing of Dortmund’s Gotze, but possess two of the best midfielders in world football in Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez. So many sides are now opting for a 4-2-3-1 formation which makes that pivot an integral part to the side and in these two midfielders Bayern arguably possess the best combination around.” Think Football

Bayern Munich 4-0 Barcelona: Tactical Analysis
“Hours after announcing the unexpected signing of Mario Gotze from rivals Dortmund, Bayern Munich went ahead and shocked the footballing world again. It was uncharted territory for Barcelona. Rarely do opposition so significantly humiliate the Catalan giants. Some may say Barca got lucky in the previous rounds, overturning disappointing results in the 2nd leg. But after Bayern’s 4-0 thrashing at the Allianz Arena, it seems unlikely that Barcelona will get a shot at a 5th Champions League crown. Bayern Munich have put the disappointment of last season behind them as they displayed a sensational performance in front of their home fans. Incredible organisation, constant pressing, effective counter-attack play & a refreshing change in European football.” Outside of Boot

Barcelona no longer Europe’s dominant force
” Gerard Piqué summed it up. ‘They gave us a repaso, a going-over,’ he said, ‘they were quicker than us and better than us. That’s all there is to it, there is no excuse.’ In its simplicity, his analysis was eloquent: this was a hammering that brokered no argument and left no room for hope. Bayern Munich won 4-0, Barcelona’s worst European defeat in 16 years. All over the pitch, Barcelona’s players looked shell-shocked, dazed and confused, ragged, like they’d been hit by an entire fleet of buses. The front cover of the Catalan sports daily El Mundo Deportivo summed it up: ‘Nightmare’.” SI

Cesc fires Barcelona closer to Liga title

April 21, 2013

“Barcelona achieved a valuable 1-0 win against Levante at the Camp Nou in Matchday 32 of La Liga. Cesc Fabregas scored the goal for the Blaugrana, who enjoyed 78 percent of possession, created 18 goalscoring chances and attempted 13 shots, nine of them on target. This result helps the Catalan side maintain their 13 point lead at the top of the table over Real Madrid.” ESPN

Barcelona, Real Madrid could meet in Champions League final

April 13, 2013

“Teams from the same country were kept apart in the Champions League semifinal draw Friday, with the intriguing prospect of a Wembley final featuring the two best teams in Spain or their equivalent from Germany. Here is the draw breakdown …” SI

Lavezzi’s energy picks its spots on the pitch

April 13, 2013

“Barcelona’s narrow away-goals victory over PSG was a fantastic tie, the type of contest European Cup football is all about. There were a variety of subplots: Zlatan Ibrahimovic against his former side, David Beckham’s surprise start in Paris, Lionel Messi’s fitness in the second leg. Barca emerged victorious, but the French league leaders enhanced their reputation and strengthened Carlo Ancelotti’s chances of remaining in his job next season.” ESPN

Barcelona 1-1 PSG: Ancelotti replicates first leg tactics, but Messi fit enough to have an impact

April 11, 2013

“PSG were elimintated on the away goals rule following a good counter-attacking display. Tito Vilanova named Lionel Messi on the bench, with Cesc Fabregas deployed upfront after his weekend hattrick. Adriano played alongside Gerard Pique at the back. Carlo Ancelotti was without the suspended Blaise Matudi, so used Marco Verratti alongside Thiago Motta, with David Beckham on the bench. This was similar to the first leg – both sides used broadly the same strategy, and while Barcelona dominated possession, PSG threatened on the break.” Zonal Marking

Barcelona, Bayern complete Champions League semifinals
“The two favorites may have progressed into the Champions League semifinals, but it was not easy for either team. Barcelona came from a goal down against Paris Saint-Germain to draw 1-1 to get through on away goals, while Bayern Munich needed to weather some early Juventus pressure before winning 2-0 in Italy. Here is the breakdown …” SI

PSG 2-2 Barcelona: Ancelotti justified in using a brave starting line-up

April 4, 2013

“Barcelona twice took the lead, PSG twice equalised. Carlo Ancelotti surprisingly named David Beckham as part of a midfield two, with four outright attacking players used in a 4-4-1-1 system. Tito Vilanova played Alexis Sanchez, rather than Cristian Tello, as part of his front three. Barcelona dominated in terms of possession and territory, and there was an element of fortune for both PSG’s goals – but overall Ancelotti’s side defended solidly and counter-attacked effectively.” Zonal Marking

Messi expected to return soon, but Mascherano loss leaves Barca weak
” They say that the secret to great comedy is great timing, so it was hard not to giggle when just after 1pm on Wednesday FC Barcelona announced the launch of a new App called “Barcelona fitness.” Not that Barcelona’s fans would have seen the funny side of course. Not while they anxiously awaited news of Lionel Messi’s injury. Minor scare or total disaster? Muscle tear or muscle pull? Three weeks? Six? Or just ten days? And nor is it just Leo Messi. Soon after he departed, so did Javier Mascherano, the latest victim of a defensive injury crisis. A fitness app? Oh, the irony.” SI

The Question: How is interpretation of the playmaker role changing?

April 4, 2013

“Perhaps no position is undergoing such evolution so rapidly as the playmaker – or, as it is probably more accurate to call him in his present guise, the creative midfielder. This week, the Champions League quarter-finals seemed almost to showcase the changing interpretations of the position – albeit in the most modern case in unfortunately truncated form.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

Tactical Analysis: How important is the ball-playing centre-back?

April 4, 2013

“‘In the modern game, you don’t need tacklers the same way you used to. There’s no call for it. It’s about anticipation and reading the game.’ Which moron said that? The most successful manager in the history of English football, that’s who. Sir Alex Ferguson has a point – a well-founded, deep-rooted one. Football is incontrovertibly becoming a more technically-reliant sport. A refined, thinking game.” Think Football

Weak Barcelona hurt by Celta on their way to Paris

March 31, 2013

“Barcelona achieved a draw against Celta de Vigo at the Estadio Balaidos in Matchday 29 of La Liga. Cristian Tello and Lionel Messi scored the goals for the Blaugrana, who enjoyed 71 percent of possession, created eight goal-scoring chances and attempted five shots, three of them on target. Surprise, surprise: Once again, Barcelona was considerably hurt by the international break. As a result of their efforts to try to achieve qualification for Spain for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Xavi Hernandez and Jordi Alba are now suffering from strained hamstrings and Pedro Rodriguez has sustained a tear in his right calf muscle.” ESPN (Video)

Is Thiago Alcântara the bridge to FC Barcelona’s future?

March 21, 2013

“Catenaccio, Samba, Tiki Taka – Italy, Brazil and Spain have as deep-rooted an influence on the game as any nation. They’ve lit up world stages, produced some of the finest players and imprinted themselves on the Annals of football history. They’ve amassed a colossal ten World Cup triumphs between them. Imagine a player with the characteristics from this trio of football’s supremacy. Italian born, Brazilian parentage, Spanish bred. Thiago Alcântara seems like a beast set unto us, conveyed from the fires of Mordor with the heat of the Spanish blood coursing through him. I may be getting slightly carried away.” Think Football

La Liga: Revolutionaries against the Dictatorship

March 19, 2013

“Syria, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and many others have recently experienced revolutions as the people have grown tired of the existing rule. Tired of being looked down upon and having to play to the ruler’s tune. Change was needed, and while others have tried and failed, the modern times brought change in the country. A similar movement is on going in the World of Football as well. The Spanish La Liga often claims that its the Best League in the World by citing the various stars on show. The likes of Ronaldo, Messi, Falcao and the rest of the FIFA XI really makes a case for itself. But critics allege that Spain’s primary division is a dominion of two football clubs. Barcelona and Real Madrid have dictated terms in the Iberian country for some years now, showcasing an array of talent and a stronghold of the trophies for the past few seasons. While the two Spanish giants are the only likely contenders for the La Liga crown, it has to be asked, is it really that closed and ‘boring’ a league.” Outside of the Boot

Reunions, stars clashing lead Champions League quarterfinal draw

March 17, 2013

“The Champions League quarterfinal draw took place Friday morning in Nyon, Switzerland, with the competition harder than ever to call. If Bayern Munich was the dominant side after its round of 16 first-leg win at Arsenal, the performances of Barcelona and Real Madrid in their second legs reminded everyone of the talent of the La Liga sides. Here is the rundown of the draw for the last eight …” SI

Manuel Pellegrini and Fatih Terim back where they belong

March 15, 2013

Fatih Terim
“By common consent, five of the eight remaining sides in the Champions League have a good chance of lifting the European Cup at Wembley in May. Barcelona, Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich and Juventus — current league champions, imminent league champions or, in Juve’s case, both. The dark horse? Paris St Germain have performed well in Europe under Champions League specialist Carlo Ancelotti, and following their recruitment of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva and Ezequiel Lavezzi, their presence is no great surprise.” ESPN – Michael Cox

Barcelona 4-0 Milan: Villa plays centrally and allows Messi space between the lines

March 13, 2013

“Barcelona recovered from a 2-0 first leg defeat. Jordi Roura (perhaps with help from Tito Vilanova) used David Villa upfront, with Cesc Fabregas on the bench, and played Javier Mascherano rather than Carles Puyol. Max Allegri kept things close to the first leg XI – Mathieu Flamini replaced Sulley Muntari, with Riccardo Montolivo moving to the left of the midfield trio. Upfront, with Giampaolo Pazzini injured, M’Baye Niang played upfront. Barcelona were excellent in the first half here – and although the home side’s strategy was slightly confused after the third goal which had tipped the balance of the tie, Milan didn’t have an answer for their unusual system.” Zonal Marking

Embattled Villa seizes opportunity in Barcelona’s comeback
“David Villa took two touches, one with his right foot and one with his left, and took his chance like a man that was never going to miss. Smooth and precise, lethal. Just like Villa always did. With the first touch, he controlled the ball and eased away from his marker in a single move, letting the ball come across him; with the second, opening out his body, he curled it past AC Milan goalkeeper Christian Abbiati and into the far corner, so far from the goalie that he did not even bother moving.” SI

Boost for Barcelona ahead of Milan clash

March 10, 2013

“Barcelona achieved a valuable 2-0 win against Deportivo La Coruna at the Camp Nou in Matchday 27 of La Liga. Alexis Sanchez and Lionel Messi scored the goals for the Blaugrana, which enjoyed 71 percent of possession, created 12 goal-scoring chances and attempted 12 shots, seven of them on target. This result helps the Catalans keep their comfortable lead at the top of the table for yet another week.” ESPN

eBook Preview #2: Paulino Alcantara, Barca’s Forgotten Goalscorer

March 4, 2013

“Comparisons between past players and present all-stars always come out fuzzy. On the one hand, everybody gripes that ‘the competition has improved’ and the past player would get suffocated by modern defenses. On the other hand, we have to admit that the past player would have had access to superior training techniques and diet, and just may have upped his or her game. In sum, we’ll never know. History only leaves us statistics, records, images, and (if we’re lucky) videos.” futfanatico

Stars rested as Real complete Clasico double

March 2, 2013

barcelona 1-2 real madrid el clasico victor valdes carles puyol barcelona 1-2 real madrid
“Things are clicking at just the right time for Real Madrid. In the middle of a season-defining week of matches it’s so far, so good, with a 2-1 victory over Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu making it back-to-back Clasico wins against their old foes in the space of five days. It is the first time Los Blancos have produced consecutive Clasico wins since the 2007-08 season when Madrid did the ‘double’ in La Liga.” ESPN

Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos scores late winner to beat Barcelona
“Two down, one to go. Barcelona have been beaten away and at home; next up in Real Madrid’s season-defining eight-day week, the most important meeting of them all: Manchester United at Old Trafford. Sergio Ramos climbed to head in the winning goal from a Luka Modric corner to clinch a 2-1 victory for Real Madrid after the introduction of Cristiano Ronaldo turned what was at risk of becoming a nonevent into something approaching a clásico. The Portuguese turned everything on its head. If he didn’t actually score, this time it did not matter; if everyone else seemed to have settled for a draw, his ambition remains undiminished.” Guardian

Barcelona 1-3 Real Madrid: Real comfortable defensively and ruthless on the break

February 28, 2013

“Barcelona suffered their second major defeat within the space of a week, and Real are through to the Copa del Rey final. Jordi Roura brought in Jose Pinto for Victor Valdes in goal – as always in this competition. The rest of the side was the same as against Milan with both Cesc Fabregas and Andres Iniesta in the side, despite David Villa’s impact against Sevilla at the weekend. Jose Mourinho chose Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos at centre-back, with Pepe on the bench. Gonzalo Higuain, as expected, started upfront. Real outplayed Barcelona. Their defensive shape was good, their breaks were typically direct and efficient. 3-1 didn’t flatter them.” Zonal Marking

Xavi is wrong: Barça have lost far more than the least important title
“Xabi Alonso took up his favourite position at the Camp Nou, easing into a seat in the stands and looking silently out across the pitch, feet up, job done. It was some time after Real Madrid had won the Copa del Rey semi-final second leg 3-1 against Barcelona, the clock ticking towards midnight, and the Camp Nou was quiet. The stadium had been emptying for a while, ever since Raphaël Varane headed Real Madrid’s third; by the time Jordi Alba scored Barcelona’s only goal in the 88th minute, there were not that many fans left to celebrate and those that were still there did not much feel like doing so.” Guardian

Case for the defence: Is Liverpool’s passing game a necessity?

February 26, 2013

“Since the beginning of the World Cup competitions in 1930 up until WC 2010, four football nations made it consistently to the finals; Brazil, Argentina, Italy and Germany. Any world cup final had at least one team of that quartet. Brazilian football fans lazily labelled their football rivals. The Germans, as a ruthless tasteless well-oiled machine, the anti-football counter-attacking Italians, the heirs of the “catenaccio,” which translates literally to “door-bolt.” The Argentinians were not kindly branded after Maradona’s televised admission of sedating Brazilian players in WC 90 and an open court admission of a political deal between Peru and Argentina in WC 78 to knock out Brazil from the semi-finals. On both occasions Argentina knocked out Brazil out of the competition.” Think Football

La Liga Review: FC Barcelona 2, Sevilla 1 – Change Is Possible!

February 24, 2013

“Barça needed a pick-me-up after the painful Milan loss (and before Clásico week begins), and instead they got a hard-won victory, which points-wise amounts to the same, but not when it comes to reassure the worried fans. Roura has finally discovered rotations, and yesterday he indulged quite a bit, playing VV, Alves, Mascherano, Piqué, Montoya, Song, Thiago, Iniesta, Alexis, Messi and Villa. There were surprised comments from some non-Barça sources at seeing Piqué, Iniesta and Messi starting, but a) Messi always starts; b) it’s a Liga match against Sevilla, not a meaningless friendly where you can rest everyone; c) even in non-crucial matches before crucial matches, it’s always been the custom to play at least one ‘first XI’ player per line, so as to not lose shape completely.” The Offside (Video)

Milan 2-0 Barcelona: Barca completely nullified

February 24, 2013

“Milan restricted Barcelona to only one shot on target – a hopeful effort from 25 yards – and pounced at the other end with a set-piece and a counter-attack. Max Allegri was without cup-tied Mario Balotelli, so Giampaolo Pazzini played upfront. Kevin-Prince Boateng replaced M’Baye Niang on the right, and Max Ambrosini returned to the side. Jordi Roura selected what appears to be Barcelona’s first-choice XI – Alexis Sanchez and David Villa on the bench, and Cesc Fabregas in his roaming free role. Aside from Victor Valdes’ return, it was the same XI that started the recent Copa Clasico against Real Madrid. This was a highly impressive display from Milan, and arguably the most convincing defeat of Barcelona since the current era started in 2008.” Zonal Marking

Barca have Milan mountain to climb

February 21, 2013

“AC Milan took a surprise first-leg lead in their Champions League last-16 tie against Barcelona as they claimed a deserved 2-0 win. While Barca top the Primera Division by 12 points, Milan lie third in Serie A – but Kevin-Prince Boateng’s controversial opening goal set the Italians on their way at the San Siro.” ESPN

Barcelona’s black night draws ire as warning signs are ignored in Milan
“Jordi Roura’s words were bullish but the way that he delivered them was not. ‘We have total conviction that in Barcelona we’ll go through,’ said Barcelona’s assistant coach. “This is a bad result but this team deserves for people to believe in it. We are completely convinced: we’ll be at home, with our pitch and our fans. It is not impossible: we can turn this around perfectly.” He spoke quietly, flatly; as flat as his team had been. Through the doors, he could surely hear Milan’s fans singing.” Guardian

Dean-Richards: Taking football’s talent-based moral utilitarianism to its natural conclusion

February 19, 2013

“Make yourself irreplaceable and you probably won’t be replaced. Ask Ashley Cole, who played pistols at dawn with an intern without telling him, but wasn’t sacked. Ask Carlos Tevez, who refused to play for Manchester City once, but had his second (or is it third?) chance against Chelsea. Don’t ask Jacob Mellis, the Chelsea reserve who thought that smoke bombs were funny and found out yesterday that his club (at least in public) didn’t, when they sacked him for using one. The factomundo is: Premier League morality is utility: if they want you, you make your own rules. Mellis was sackable because he wasn’t a first team player like Cole; Tevez returns to City because they’ve stopped scoring goals and he tends to do that when he’s not away in Argentina playing golf. It’s old news.” The Score

Messi reaches another Barca milestone

February 17, 2013

“Lionel Messi struck his 300th and 301st goals for Barcelona as the Primera Division leaders overturned a half-time deficit to win 2-1 at plucky Granada. Barca dominated possession for the first 25 minutes, but were stunned when Odion Ighalo put the hosts ahead at the Estadio Nuevo Los Carmenes. Messi tapped in a deserved equaliser five minutes into the second half, though, and then curled in a trademark free-kick 17 minutes from time to complete the turnaround and move Barca 15 points clear at the summit.” ESPN

La Liga Review: Granada 1, FC Barcelona 2 – A Good Omen, or a Bad Appetiser?
“We’ve conquered the appetiser, which would normally be a good sign in views to the main course, except that if we have this much trouble with Granada, even Bojan on Wednesday might be too tough for us. The good news is that Roura seems to have lost his fear of rotation and gave us an exciting starting XI: VV, Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Adriano, Busquets, Cesc, Thiago, Pedro, Messi, and Alexis; that’s even more risqué than what I suggested in the match preview in that we got to see a midfield without Xavi (injured) or Iniesta (rested) for the first time in ages.” The Offside (Video)

The Evolution of Cesc Fàbregas

February 7, 2013

“The Catalan grew up through Barça’s La Masia with friend Leo Messi and best friend Gerard Piqué. The talent of the young stars was clear but Fàbregas grew tired of his lack of promotion and made the bold move to Premier League side Arsenal. Under the influence of Arsene Wenger, Fàbregas devolved an edge to his game, learning new skills and combining them with the ones he learned in La Masia. The midfielder’s progress was much more rapid through the Arsenal ranks and by the start of 2008-09 season, Cesc was club captain.” Barca Blaugranes

Messi scores in 12th league game running as Barcelona draw in Valencia

February 3, 2013

“Lionel Messi scored in his 12th consecutive La Liga game to help leaders Barcelona to a 1-1 draw at Valencia that puts them 12 points clear at the top. The World Player of the Year bagged his 34th league goal from the penalty spot just before half-time after Ever Banega had given the livelier hosts a 33rd-minute lead.” Guardian

Real Madrid 1-1 Barcelona: Real press excellently but tire and allow Barca chances

February 1, 2013

“Real pressed effectively in the first half, but Barcelona exerted their dominance after the break. With various absences, Jose Mourinho was forced to name a makeshift backline – Ricardo Carvalho played alongside Rafael Varane, Alvaro Arbeloa had to play left-back, so Michael Essien deputised on the right. New signing Diego Lopez started in goal, Jose Callejon was in for the suspended Angel Di Maria, and Kairm Benezema got the nod upfront.” Zonal Marking

Real Madrid claw back Barcelona thanks to Raphaël Varane’s late header
“In a clásico in which Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo did not score for once, the game’s biggest moment came from a 19-year-old defender who was included in the side because of injury and suspension. Raphaël Varane, who started in the absence of Sergio Ramos and Pepe, capped a colossal performance with a second-half header that equalised Cesc Fábregas’s opener and left the Copa del Rey semi-final poised at 1-1. Barcelona take an away goal; Madrid will feel that they too can get one in the second leg in a month’s time.” Guardian

‘Mourinho or us’ report raises issues about Real Madrid, media

January 26, 2013

” Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez walked into the room at 1:01 p.m., looked up at the hundred-strong pack of journalists, the TV cameras pointing his way, and positioned himself behind the microphone. Then he made an announcement: ‘I am,’ he said, ‘going to break my own rule.’ The story was about to become the story. And as it unraveled, there was a brief glimpse of power and politics; the entente cordial was broken, and a battle began.” SI

Atlético Madrid’s facelift is complete. It’s time to take them seriously

January 21, 2013

Atletico Madrid
“Barcelona lost but no one said it; 24 hours later Real Madrid won, and brilliantly too, but still no one said it. Not this time. This time there was no Game On, no sign of the patented Crapping-yourself-ometer, no heebie-jeebies, no We’re Coming For You, and not one headline declaring: Hay Liga. Translation: There is [a] league. Perhaps because everyone agreed that there isn’t. There was a ‘We’re Back!’ but back where?  “The league hasn’t got closer in the slightest: there isn’t enough garlic in the whole of Spain for Barcelona to feel Real Madrid’s breath on the back of their necks,’ wrote David Gistau, speaking for pretty much everyone. Because here’s the bottom line: the gap is still 15 points.” Guardian

Barcelona’s Valdes doesn’t deserve vitriol for leaving club

January 19, 2013

” Víctor Valdés is leaving Barcelona. On Thursday, the agent for the club’s longtime No. 1 goalkeeper released a statement through the Spanish news agency EFE announcing his “irrevocable decision” not to renew his contract with the club beyond summer 2014 when he will be 32. It is exactly a month since Barcelona announced that Xavi and Carles Puyol will finish their careers at the club, having signed new deals. Lionel Messi, too, signed an extension to 2018, when he will be 31. Valdés will not be following suit.” SI

A Profile of Pep Guardiola: What Bayern Munich Can Expect from the New Boss

January 17, 2013

“Today’s announcement of Pep Guardiola as new Bayern München coach for the next season will most likely have every single Bayern fan dancing around their living room. To many it might come as a surprise, but to those of us lucky enough to have seen Guardiola rise from a young kid pushing for a place in Johan Cruyff’s Barça in the early 90s to one of the most successful coaches in football, it all makes sense.” Bundesliga Fanatic

Pep Guardiola confirmed as Bayern Munich coach on three-year deal
“Bayern Munich have announced that Pep Guardiola will become the club’s new coach when Jupp Heynckes’ contract expires this summer. Bayern revealed that Heynckes, 67, will stay on in his post until the end of this season before retiring, at which point the former Barcelona coach will take over on a deal that runs until June 2016.” Guardian

Barcelona set points record as Lionel Messi scores in win at Málaga

January 13, 2013

“Barcelona, the unbeaten leaders, ended the first half of the La Liga season with a record 55 out of a possible 57 points when Lionel Messi scored one goal and had a hand in two more in a 3-1 win at Málaga. An 18th victory in 19 games for Tito Vilanova’s side restored their 11-point lead over second-placed Atlético Madrid, who secured a 10th win in 10 home matches this season with a 2-0 success against Real Zaragoza.” Guardian

Barca – 3, Malaga – 1
“Barca continued with their excellent start of the season with a well fought 3-1 victory against Malaga away from home. At the half stage of the season, we now have a huge 55 points out of 57 points. We have won all our away games this season in La Liga. Lionel Messi opened the scoring in the first half, Cesc Fabregas and Thiago completed teh scoreline for Barca. With Villa ruled out due to injury, Tito went with a front three of Messi, Pedro and Iniesta. Xavi, Cesc Fabregas and Busquets made the midfield. Alba, Pique, Mascherano and Alves made up the defense. Pinto, Puyol, Adriano, Song, Thiago, Sanchez and Tello made up the bench.” All About FC Barcelona

High-five: No Messi, no problem

January 11, 2013

“Barcelona achieved a solid 5-0 win against Cordoba Thursday in the return leg of the Last 16 round of the Copa Del Rey. David Villa and Alexis Sanchez (braces) and Thiago scored for the Blaugrana, who enjoyed 63 percent of possession and attempted 20 shots, 12 on target and one that hit the post. The Blaugranas qualified for the quarterfinals, where Malaga awaits, with an aggregate 7-0 victory.” ESPN


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