May 29, 2011
It was a glorious game for Barcelona fans and the morning after it certainly feels like a triumph of style and substance. Manchester United were certainly good, there can be no mistaking that, but it was Barcelona's night and the team played about as well as you could ever hope. And to cap it all off, giving Eric Abidal the armband and the right to lift the trophy first was just the touch it all needed to make this a fairytale story for cules.
Pep Guardiola has now won two Champions League titles in 3 years and 10 trophies overall. It's a brilliant run and it's something that all blaugrana fans should feel lucky to be witnessing. It's a convergence of so much talent, of institutional stability (despite the political upheaval, the sporting institution has remained stable), and of a general desire to see a particular style flourish. That meant taking a risk on a third division manager rather than someone proven at the highest level.
May 27, 2011
Given his sudden yet expected departure, Jorge Valdano has ignited a conversation on sporting directors. Jose Mourinho has unquestionably won the battle for control of Real Madrid, replacing the Argentine with Zinedine Zidane, but the question that now arises is whether or not giving the manager maximum power is a good idea.
The differences between Real Madrid and Barcelona are, on the surface, extraordinary: Mourinho and Valdano appeared to war throughout the year while their counterparts, Pep Guardiola and Andoni Zubizarreta, have been friends for decades. But the relationship between coach and sporting director (or general manager, depending on title) is not the only relationship that makes a difference. Given the soci model that both clubs employ, the relationship between president and sporting director is also highly important.
May 25, 2011
With 3 days to go until the Champions League final, Barça are already in London. The team’s original travel plans had to be altered thanks to the eruption of the Icelandic volcano Grimsvötn. It is the second time in two years that the team has been forced to change their itinerary thanks to the exploding North Atlantic island, but this time, instead of having to take a long-term bus ride, the team has left earlier than expected and will spend extra time training in London. It is not the ideal situation, but the team is at least there and has plenty of time to recover from any travel-related stress.
How the team will perform—and indeed who on the team will start—is up in the air, but there is no shortage of available training facilities given the already terminated EPL season and the preponderance of top flight teams in the English capital. That the team chose Arsenal—and that Arsenal accepted this—is probably more business venture than prelude to future matters, but it’s hard not to read something related to that player into it. I’m speaking of Samir Nasri, of course...
May 24, 2011
The return of Eric Abidal is huge. It's not necessarily a Champions League-winning return, of course, but it's a big step in the right direction for a couple of reasons, most of which have to do with Carles Puyol and David Villa. As the previously undisputed first-choice starting left back until the discovery of a liver tumour, Abidal certainly inspires confidence on his own, but his absence has also coincided with injuries to backups Maxwell and Adriano and that has meant a reshuffling of Barça's line-up.
These circumstances have meant the promotion of Andreu Fontas, ostensibly a centre back, and the use of Puyol out wide in bigger games, but have also forced the use of Javier Mascherano and Sergio Busquets as central defenders. Abidal’s return will at least give Guardiola another option and even if Puyol is not completely fit (he has missed the last three league matches) it solidifies a defence that has looked shaky at times over the last month.
May 16, 2011
Race is not the easiest of topics to tackle, especially not across borders and cultural barriers. It is hard to have a an open and informative dialog about race when so many have had so many varied experiences with it in various countries around the world, but it is worth discussing and it is worth keeping out in the open.
On Sunday, the UEFA disciplinary committee, or at least the chairman of that committee, acquitted Sergio Busquets of the charge of racially abusing Marcelo during the Champions League semi-final first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid. UEFA’s official statement can be read here.
May 12, 2011
Once again the team celebrates in the Ciutat de Valencia stadium after drawing 1-1 against Levante, with the league-winning goal a header from an African player. Champions! 92 points ensures that no matter what happens in the final two matches (Depor, at Málaga) we’ve earned our third consecutive league trophy.
Given the outcome of the league clasico at the Bernabeu, the title comes as no surprise, but it is no less thrilling and no less enjoyable. It is a monumental achievement, an immense project completed, and a testament to the skill and dedication of the players and coaching staff. There are still 6 points to play for, but so far the squad has racked up 92 points, 92 goals scored, and just 20 conceded. There were a myriad of enjoyable matches, breathtaking moments of magic (mostly from Messi), and the occasional blip that reminds us all that this sport is fickle and fleeting.
May 11, 2011
Most of us know this, but it took just 36 seconds for Chicharito and Manchester United to find the net against Chelsea on Sunday. I tuned in, but took a moment, just a moment, to go grab a glass of water from the kitchen and I missed the whole thing. Replays showed me what had happened, of course, and while perhaps David Luiz should have done better, it was terrific play all around that deserves credit. For me, the vast bulk of that credit should go to the man many have fervently ignored despite his obvious quality: Park Ji-Sung.
The South Korean midfielder is exactly what Jose Mourinho would have liked Sami Khedira to be and Park is also exactly how Manchester United could beat Barcelona. He may not play a monstrous amount for United, but he has racked up 175 appearances in all competitions since his move from PSV Eindhoven in 2005 and has proven to be a steady, tireless force in midfield. It’s his combative nature and willingness to engage all over the pitch that could stymie Barça. And not just that: against Chelsea he looked capable of playing another 90 minutes at full bore.
May 8, 2011
It looks at first like it would be a far harder contest, but in the end it was the calmest Catalan derby I've ever witnessed. Just as I was thinking that there might not be a single yellow card in the game, Pedro and Luis Garcia came to the rescue with a lame shoving match in the box and then Carlos Kameni picked one up for yelling at the ref moments later. Isaias, who I certainly have a soft spot for, grabbed a late yellow for a handball, but that was really it.
The fouls were fairly even (13-14 with Espanyol just edging out), but the time of possession was, as usual, heavily in favour of Barça: 71-29. Iniesta grabbed a goal off a nice run through the defence and a slightly lucky deflection into his path and then Pique smacked in a header off a poorly defended corner to ensure the points and push Barça to the very brink of winning the La Liga title.
With 9 points remaining and an 8 point lead, the club need to pick up just 1 point over the next 3 matches to officially earn the title. Because Spain's first tie breaker is head-to-head record, even if Madrid were to equal Barça on points, the trophy would return to Catalunya for a 3rd consecutive year. That tie, however, is unlikely thanks to Barcelona's remaining schedule: at Levante, Depor, at Malaga. The last of those will probably have rescued themselves from relegation by that time (they're 4 points above the drop zone right now) and Levante is 1 point better than that, but Depor is in 18th thanks to Osasuna's victory against Real Zaragoza today. And yes, Malaga is in 13th while Levante is in 10th, but they're still in danger of going down.
May 4, 2011
Well, it's over. The Champions League semi-final, the four clásicos in three weeks, the whole thing: kaput. And I’m immensely relieved to have survived. Or at least I think I survived. I’m not all here, mentally, so maybe I didn’t. But was I ever mentally all here? Next time I write a preview while hopped up on chocolate, you should feel free to point out the extremes of my not-being-here-itude.
The match itself was, like Aitor Karanka said, almost an afterthought thanks to the first leg’s recriminations and hoohaw, but like Kevin pointed out in a tweet, if it was an afterthought, why bother showing up? And, really, Madrid didn’t show up completely, which is nice because when they did, when they attacked with some intent, like they were actually interested in doing something (anything), they looked decent enough.
May 2, 2011
Somehow they’ll find time amidst the incriminations and counter accusations to actually play a match. Or at least I suppose they will. With Barcelona taking Mourinho to UEFA’s sporting court and Madrid demanding satisfaction for gamesmanship from Barça’s dives in last Wednesday’s first leg match, there is the air of a childish farce to the coming match.
It is, as Guardiola says, far from over even at 2-0 to the blaugrana, but Mourinho’s distraction techniques and the subsequent losses in the league by both teams have rendered this a strangely quiet second leg. A silence in the gaps between the cacophonous blathering of all and sundry, of course.