August 19, 2012
January 20, 2012
When he stomped on Javier Casquero in April 2009, Pepe was sent off and handed a 10-match ban. It's easily arguable to say that his deliberate stamp on Lionel Messi's hand during their
Champions League Copa del Rey encounter last night was nowhere near as bad. Yet it is merely a part of a pattern of behavior that stretches back at least to the beginning of his Real Madrid career and it deserves a lengthy suspension.
The match last night had several moments of contemptible actions by both teams, including Xabi Alonso's repeated deliberate fouls and Ricardo Carvalho's tackle from behind on Lionel Messi. Cesc Fabregas kicked out at Pepe, and Lionel Messi and Fabio Coentrao got into it before the latter attempted to shove the former's head into the ground. Both teams also engaged in play acting resulting from some of this harsh play and Pepe was a major actor in that part as well.
November 22, 2011
It may come as some surprise to those who regularly read this column, but I was surprised at Saturday's victory against Real Zaragoza. Not particularly shocked that Barca won despite the team's penchant for dropping points after international breaks (I predicted a 2-1 victory, after all), but I was not expecting such an easy victory.
The stats, however, put it a bit into perspective: 11 shots on goal to 0. 68% possession to 32%. Zaragoza never really showed up or at least if they “showed up” they never really tried to leave their own half for any real amount of time. Part of that was Barça’s technical superiority, but it was also Javier Aguirre’s tactical approach that doomed them. They held out for just 18 minutes and then it became a test of how few goals they could allow rather than a question of whether they could get back into the match. Holding on valiantly for another 25 minutes before Lionel Messi scored could be viewed as a moral victory, but not much else.
November 2, 2011
This was the week that Lionel Messi became the second 200 goal scorer in Barcelona's history. It was also the week that Pep Guardiola coached his 200th official game for Barça and the team scored their 500th goal under him. Victor Valdes got in on the act as well, breaking Miguel Reina's clean sheet mark of 824 minutes without allowing a goal. Valdes is now at 877 minutes after he maintained the clean sheet all the way through the Champions League clash with Viktoria Plzeň.
I'm not sure what to find most impressive, but the fun part of Barça is that you don't really have to choose. You get both in this current iteration. It's a Golden Era and it's absolutely breathtaking. Sandra Sarmiento tweeted today that under Guardiola, Messi has scored a goal every 87 minutes, but this season it's been one every 66 minutes. That's absolutely incredible. It has even inspired a Real Madrid fan to honour the team with a song.
September 29, 2011
Here's a stupid question: how good is Lionel Messi?
A new moniker was created for him yesterday by an astute writer. The Adjective is a brilliant description, but it only suggests how good he is. 194 goals in 280 competitive matches is an astounding, and downright insane, statistic. But how good is it, actually?
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 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 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 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.
April 28, 2011
He beat a hundred defenders, left them for dead, and snuck the ball into the far corner. He turned a 1 on 6 into a goal. He turned a good 0-1 result into a nearly unbeatable 0-2.
It wasn’t really unexpected (in that “He did it again!?” kind of way), but it was still beautiful the way the defense came unstuck in the face of his run. Or maybe he unstuck them. It doesn’t really matter, just a semantic exercise: he scored and how. Messi. Of course. 52 goals in a season.
Sure, there were hysterics. There were moments when it went overboard on the field, when Busquets and Pedro play-acted, when Alves writhed, but this match should be remembered for Messi’s brilliance, for Afellay leaving Marcelo in his dust, for 0-2.
April 27, 2011
I might as well not have a right foot. My youth coach joked that it was just for tucking the ball into the corner after the left had done all the work, but even I didn’t believe it was that useful. In the end my left isn’t that great either, seeing as it’s attached to the rest of me. But I love playing. I love getting out on the field and just having a kick at that spherical friend.
It’s the love of the game, of playing regardless of skill that I sometimes miss about the professional world. It has become a war of press conferences and a constant fight for headline space. Javier Mascherano is right: perhaps it’s time we just talked about the game itself. Football, soccer, whatever you call it. That thing. Yesterday I watched Pelada, a documentary about pick up games around the world, and it reminded me of sweating under the lights on basketball courts in El Salvador, watching the sheer joy of children in the Congo kicking plastic bags wrapped together with rubber bands, and my own thumping futsal league.
April 14, 2011
Everyone has said everything there is to say about him and yet everyone who writes about the game seems to be drawn irresistibly towards superlative-laden odes. And for good reason: Lionel Messi is something else. He has participated in 46 competitive matches this year for Barça and he has scored 48 goals. 29 in the league, 7 in the Copa del Rey, 9 in the Champions League, and 3 in the Super Copa de España.
But it’s not really his goal scoring that has been so spectacular. He is also leading Spain in assists thanks to his ever-improving vision and understanding of the game. He is, of course, surrounded by a corps of unbelievably good players—Xavi, Andres Iniesta, and Dani Alves to name just 3—but he can still at times seem miles ahead of them.
April 11, 2011
Almeria weren't vanquished as easily as I thought, but you can never really guess as to what a new manager will bring to the table. Things were going decently enough at first, but then Bojan got kicked awkwardly and his season ended. That also puts an end to my constant nattering about what to do with the kid, but more importantly it puts an end to the question of squad rotation since there are only three forwards available.
Except that Thiago has stepped up, from a guy I was highlighting as possibly the next big thing, to the next regular (yet also spectacular) thing we all know about. And that means Iniesta is free to play a higher role, more like a second false No.9 with Messi while still maintaining width and the ability to drop deep when pressure forces the ball backwards. It's not his best position as evidenced by his less-than-stellar match against Almeria, but against Shakhtar Donetsk he put together quite the attacking display to silence some critics.
March 18, 2011
The Champions League draw is in and many cules are no doubt breathing sighs of relief: Shakhtar Donetsk came out of the hopper instead of a tougher opponent. Except that Shakhtar is a tougher opponent and the route to Wembley is a potential minefield for everyone at this stage. And, indeed, overlooking the Ukrainian outfit and focusing on potential semi-final dates with Real Madrid (who face Spurs) would be folly in the extreme.
This set of matches, which take place April 6 and 12, gives us the opportunity to look forward and back, as I love to do. We’re heading to Donetsk where we will meet Dmytro Chygrynskiy for the first time since we returned him to that club. For those of you with short memories, we purchased Dima two summers ago for €25m in what amounts to a bungled transfer. He was cup-tied, having played in Shakhtar’s Champions League qualifier a few days before the transfer and subsequently failed to make many appearances in either La Liga or the Copa del Rey, amassing a total of 14 appearances.
March 9, 2011
It's hard not to smile. The referee gave the game to Barcelona (again) and UEFA gets the team it wanted into the next round. If it weren't for Massimo Busacca, Arsenal would have gone through in a blaze of glory. Or a withering inferno of not attacking and committing penalties against Messi that weren't called.
So let's get this out of the way: Busacca had a bad night and got a lot quite wrong. If you're going to send van Persie off for being a second late, then you've got to send Abidal off for putting his hand on RvP's throat. But then you've also got to send off Koscielny for his miserable tackling, including the penalty on Pedro that was a clear second bookable offense. So, in the end, the refereeing was bad in both directions and the cookie crumbled in the direction of the team that actually tried to win. I can't really see much wrong with that final outcome, though I doubt it assuages Arsenal fans.
February 16, 2011
The Champions League is back with us and there are, as usual, a dozen stories worth discussing, but, also as usual, I only have time for one of them. There's Dani Alves vs Arsenal's right wing coupled with the Brazilian's current contract negotiations; Iniesta should feature against Arsenal this time around, which will make it more a game of skill and wizardry than Keita and his lung-busting style would; Arsenal's defence vs Barça's attack and Barça's defence vs Arsenal's attack; Puyol is missing, but Abidal has been a solid replacement and Busquets could fill in too.
But none of those have the same ring to them that focusing on a single player and his capabilities does. This one is lightning fast, has amazing control, and his tactical positioning routinely puts him in position for easy combination play and tap ins. Naturally I'm talking about Pedro. In a line-up including Villa, Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, and Pique, it's easy for Pedro to be forgotten, despite the recent number of articles talking about how he's forgotten.
December 7, 2010
Rubin Kazan come to town on Tuesday and it's going to be odd. You see, they're third in our group and fighting for qualification to the knockout stages, which we denied them last year with a late winner in Russia. We're settled securely into first place with no chance of losing our spot, so we don't even have to field 11 players (I mean, I think we actually do have to field 11 players, but you know what I mean) and so we're leaving out Dani Alves, Xavi, David Villa, Pedro, and Seydou Keita along with Milito, who is missing through injury. We're also including Marc Bartra, Andreu Fontàs, Thiago, Jonathan dos Santos, and Víctor Vázquez from the B squad.
November 25, 2010
Because it's Thanksgiving weekend here, I was traveling on Wednesday along with every single other person in the Tri-State area (and, oddly, all of them appeared to be heading north on my particular train). That meant I missed the Panathinaikos match. Somehow spending time with my family jumped above watching a pivotal match in Barcelona's Champions League campaign. Thanks to Rubin Kazan's 1-0 win against Copenhagen, a win in Greece meant we would finish top of the group regardless of the final match day's result.
October 21, 2010
Why are victories not as enjoyable as they used to be? Why is it that when you beat the Danish champions 2-0, take control of your Champions League group, and put in a blistering performance, the "oh, we should have won 4-0" fans come out of the woodwork to moan about lost chances? I suppose that's the sort of thing that happens to a team that plays so brilliantly for so long: expectations go up.
October 20, 2010
After a great game against Valencia on Saturday, the team returns to action today against Danish champions FC Copenhagen. They're not to be taken lightly at all, something that Guardiola has stated in his press conferences. Considering their perfect record in the CL, that's an astute move.
Guardiola even went so far as to state that this is the second most important match of the season, though he didn't elaborate on what was or is the most important one. Perhaps it was Valencia or perhaps it will be el classic in November. Perhaps it was not even a real match, but rather the Assembly that ended up suing Laporta for financial damages. One thing, at least, is clear: Copenhagen are playing a match today in Barcelona. Other than that, it's sort of up in the air.
September 15, 2010
The ball thwaps the back of the net and a collective "Are you serious?" goes up from the crowd. This is not how it's supposed to go. The first 20 minutes contained all of 1 ball beyond midfield for Panathinaikos and it was promptly returned from whence it came. The bed had been properly soiled and Sidney Govou took full advantage of the space Eric Abidal afforded him and the audacious, backheel flick Djibril Cissé lifted his way; it was another Hércules, another bad day at the office - oh what's that? Messi scored from a gorgeous flick over the top from Xavi? All is right with the world again.