December 17, 2011
A question such as this—whether a particular tournament is meaningful—is often extremely subjective. Ask pretty much anyone outside of eastern Spain if the Copa Catalunya is important and they’ll ask what that is before shaking their head. I’ve compared the Europa League to the American college basketball second-tier National Invitational Tournament (NIT); the Intertoto Cup stopped existing in 2008, but you probably noticed right now when you read those words.
The FIFA Club World Cup, a yearly tournament since 2005 (there was a 2000 version as well) is the new incarnation of the Intercontinental Cup created in 1960. That tournament was hosted in Japan from 1980 until its assimilation into the FIFA brand after its 2004 edition (prior to 1980 there was a home-and-home format). Not everyone in Europe cared a massive amount about that tournament either and the trophy tally shows that: South America won 22 times to Europe’s 21. South American teams won the first 3 Club World Cups, but the 4 since then have all been won by European teams.
December 16, 2011
It was 0-1 and the match was looking good for Barça until David Villa went down awkwardly and immediately signaled to the bench that he was, er, screwed. It was the end of his match, his tournament, his calendar year, and possibly his season. A fractured tibia put him on a plane back to Barcelona while the rest of the team stayed to continue with the FIFA Club World Cup.
Villa is now Barcelona’s second long-term injury for the season, Ibrahim Afellay having torn knee ligaments in practice in September. That both men are forwards puts pressure on the remaining attackers and will probably signal a more regular shift to the 3-5-2 formation (as well as the increasingly usual 3-4-3) Guardiola has been experimenting with. But it’s not just any other forward that Barcelona are losing.
December 12, 2011
At the end, when Fernández Borbolán blew the final whistle, things were put right again. Or so we told ourselves, hoarse and happy, the victors of another Clásico. There were no Madrid fans waiting to challenge Barça’s win as a scandalous refereeing debacle or indictment of the entire European footballing system. In fact, there was no one, at least no one in the bar this writer was in, who even suggested that the match was anything other than a wonderful display and a just scoreline.
And it was certainly both. Yes Madrid had clear chances, but scuffed their lines. Barça too scuffed some lines, however, and then rode its talent to the finish line while Madrid seemed to collapse in slow motion as the exertion of their first 70 minutes took its toll. The winner was the correct one on the night and now the league is fully in play again, with Barça provisionally top. The prevailing mood, however, suggests that Barça will overcome a three point deficit when the squad returns from the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan.
December 7, 2011
You're probably well aware of this already, but El Clásico is bearing down on us all once again. Like a terrible army of dementors, it is preparing to suck your spirit from your face and leave you slack-jawed and lifeless. A husk where once there was vibrant thought. An empty shell where once there was exuberant analysis. There were four in a row late last season and they effectively wiped out this writer's sanity for nearly three months and, if the tabloid headlines are to be believed, left most of Spain in rubble.
• Real blog: Madrid starting XI for El Clasico
Now it has returned and while the game itself should be thrilling given the number of stars on hand and the way the teams are playing, it will also bring about a maelstrom of journalistic and fan-based frothing at the mouth. There's nothing quite like a full-fledged international freak out whenever a referee makes a mistake or, indeed, when he does nothing wrong. There's been eye-poking, red cards, and more bluster than parliament.