Aug 30, 2008

Messi trainsBarcelona opens their La Liga campaign of the 2008-09 tomorrow against newly promoted Numancia at Los Pajaritos. Barcelona would be hoping to wipe out the memories of the Wisla Krakow defeat with their first win away from home in this season's competitive fixture.Moreover Guardiola may want his team to send out a message of intent to the League rival as early as possible. Any stumble at the start may put serious pressure on Guardiola. Numancia is not expected to pose a serious challenge to this strong side; but Guardiola should have already understood that Barcelona's away record and defensive record are not the one which is going to see him through this match. Barcelona should easily outscore their opponents.

Guardiola has announced his squad for the match. Messi comes back to the squad which is as follows : Valdes, Pinto, Caceres, Alves, Abidal, Puyol, Pique, Marquez, Xavi, Gudjohnsen, Keita, Toure Yaya, Iniesta, Messi, Hleb, Henry, Eto'o and Bojan. Valdes is expected to guard the net; but who all will form the Defense is still a question. Most probably we would see a combination of Abidal, Puyol, Marquez and Alves combination. Midfield should be formed by Iniesta and Xavi along with Toure/Keita. Guardiola should resist his temptation to prefer Keita over Toure. The forward line up is guaranteed to be made up of Messi, Eto and Henry. Overall this side should finish off Numancia challenge as early as possible. Then in football you can't predict anything, right?

Aug 29, 2008

Barcelona's Champions League OpponentsBarcelona could not have asked for more. They along with Chelsea got the easiest groups. I would say Barcelona's group looks like the easiest of all. Barcelona is in Group C along with the likes of F C Basel, Sporting Lisbon and F C Shakhtar Donetsk. The draw looks like a cake walk for Barcelona but then we should never forget what Wisla did to us. In contrast to Barcelona, the other Spanish sides were not so lucky. Real Madrid is placed in a group which could become very tricky along with Zenit, Juventus and BATE. If Zenit and Arshavin can recreate some of the magic which made them UEFA cup champions, then that group surely is destined to see some surprise. Villareal who finished 2nd last season ahead of Barcelona also got into a messy group along with Defending champions Manchester United, Celtic and the Danish side Aalborg BK. Celtic has shown it many a time recently that they are very capable of competing against the best in Europe. Athletico Madrid is paired with Liverpool, PSV and Marseille. This is also a potential trouble some group especially considering the way Liverpool qualified. Let’s take a look at Barcelona's opponents in group stage.

F C Basel is the defending Swiss Super League champions; Their Home jersey is almost same as the present Barcelona Home jersey. F C Basel was knocked out of the Uefa Cup tie last season by Sporting Lisbon. They usually play a 4-5-1 formation and are renowned for playing a attacking style of football. That should make it easy for Barcelona. Their major players are Marco Streller, Franco Costanzo (gk), Carlos Alberto Alves Garcia commonly known as Carlitos and Ivan Ergic. Sporting Lisbon along with Benifica and Porto formed the big three of Portugal. But in contrast to Benifica and Porto, they were never that successful in Europe. They finished second to F C Porto in Portuguese League. Like Barcelona Sporting's youth academy has churned out some serious talents like Figo, Ronaldo, nani, Quaresma etc. Their squad includes the likes of Moutinho, Postiga, Vladimir Stojkovic, Fabio Rochemback, Anderson Polga etc. FC Shakhtar Donetsk is the defending Ukranian league champions. Their major players include Brandao, Darijo Srna, Vyacheslav Shevchuk and Luiz Adriano.

At least on paper we have almost got a place booked for knock-out stage. But complacency and lack of attention could be Barcelona's greatest enemy. As Laporta said "On paper it looks like a manageable group, but we have enough experience to know we need to be attentive and not over-confident. We have to respect all our rivals and work hard."

Aug 27, 2008

Iniesta against WislaWisla Krakow became the first Polish side to defeat Barcelona, all thanks to a goal from Brazilian Cleber. Cleber's 52nd minute goal thus condemned Barcelona to their first defeat of the season and first in the Guardiola regime. This leg was like a dead rubber and the lack of intensity could be attributed to that. I have written a post about the problems Guardiola needs to tackle in this season, and I am proven right by this result. This match should not be considered alone; instead it should be analysed along with a last gasp victory against Boca. These two matches were the tougheset we have encountered this season. One was against a good opponent at home without Messi, other one was an away match again without Messi. Barcelona fans will start pointing out the unavailability of Messi as the decisive factor and most probably will curse Blatter and FIFA for this. But I have a question - If Messi gets injured in mid-season, what will happen? This result proves that we need a reinforcement who can give a different option Up front. May be Arshavin is still that option. Whatever let's comeback to the game. Guardiola is stubborn in proving my expected squad wrong. He used Iniesta in the far right upfront along with Eto and Henry. Toure, Keita and Xavi formed the midfield. On what basis did Guardiola assumed that Keita will do a job like Deco and Iniesta in that position? This also prove one more thing - that only one of Toure or Keita is needed in the starting eleven, especially when playing a 4-3-3 formation. The defense was made up of Pique, Abidal, Puyol and Alves. As usual Valdez did all kind of non-sence under the bar.

There were some early attack from Barcelona in the first half. All were organised by the most unlikeliest of source - Thierry Henry. Ya, you heard it right. He had one of the better games and could be highlighted as the best player in Barcelona attack. The first attack Eto wasted with a weak header, the second was intercepted by the defense ahead of Iniesta. Then in the 20th minute Valdez showed his true colour, he held on to a back pass from Pique for long and when pressurised cleared it straight to the path of Lobodzinski whose shot went agaonisingly wide of the post. Then in the 36th minute Barcelona's inherent problem with aerial ball came into forefront. Marek Zienczuk's cross from the left was headed by an unmarked Pawel Brozek, but Valdez did well to hold on to a difficult shot. Just three minutes to the half time Barcelona's best moment of the match came from an Iniesta run who placed the ball for Henry, but Henry placed it wide.

After the half Barcelona conceded their first goal of this year's champions league competition. Cleber was left unmarked in the 52nd minute corner and valdez could not stop his header. Valdez should have done better than that. Barcelona reacted immediately with Eto forcing a save from the keeper after wonderful work by Iniesta. In the 62nd minute Pique's header was directed on to the crossbar from a Xavi corner. In the 69th minute Barcelona was almost caught off gaurd by a rampant Lobodzinski from the right but his shot went wide. Then in the 81st minute Tore wasted another chance and just before the end Bojan who came as a substitute wasted the most important chance after some initial good work.

Alarms bell should already run across Barcelona line-up because of this defeat. But many questions have to be raised about the line-up selected. If Guardiola was interested in having both Keita and Toure in the line-up, wouldn't it be sensible to use a 4-4-2 formation. Then he is the boss.

Aug 26, 2008

Messi will not be a part of today's matchBarcelona will be eager to finish off a Job well done in the first leg with an emphatic victory over Wisla Krakow away from Home. The tie might have already decided and there is a hell lot of a chance that we might see a very boring match. This one leg was billed as the most controversial in recent Barcelona history as the Club entered into a tussle with Fifa over the right to retain Lionnel Messi. Fifa chief Blatter played a master stroke to get Messi to Beijing, which eventually resulted in Barcelona giving away the claim of player after the arbitration was ruled in their favour. There is a high chance of the players not taking the game seriously, but that factor does instill some fear as our back four never looked like comfortable in the pre-season.

In the first leg it was Eto who outshone everyone with his double strike and also by winning the fans back. He looks like is fit and is playing at his best. After quite some match Henry had a great night that day. But it is too early to say whether he will continue that form. Barcelona is expected to start with henry and Eto upfront. But who will partner him is still a question. Logically it should be Bojan but then Guardiola preferred Pedro ahead of him in the last match. Similiarly who among Keita and Toure will start the game is also a question. It is likely that Guardiola prefers Keita ahead of Toure to form the modfield with Iniesta and Xavi. Puyol, Marquez, caceres and Abidal should make the defense. I do expect valdes to guard the goal.

Aug 20, 2008

The way our defense conceded the goal against Boca Juniors raises many questions. The biggest of it all will be whether our defense will stand tall against quality opponents. If we look carefully at the personals employed in Barcelona defense namely Puyol, Marquez, Caceres, Pique, Alves, Abidal, it is really hard to understand this defensive mess. Most of them are the best you can get in their respective position. But even then when they form the haunted Barcelona defense they start to make the silliest mistakes. I don't think Guardiola could hire anyone more to strengthen the defense. But still he cannot afford to look away to these inherent problems.

Our defense was one of the weakest in terms of defending the aerial ball. It was like that for some season. Even when we won the Champions League and the La Liga title in 2006, we were very susceptible in air. To overcome that Rijkaard bought Zambrotta, Abidal, Toure and Thuram. Rijkaard went but the defensive susceptibility to aerial ball remained intact. These all gentlemen when they play for their respective national sides looks so assured in air but not with Barcelona. If you add to this the way we have conceded goals against lesser known opponents in the pre-season, we could be in for more trouble. But the way we conceded the goal against Boca Juniors raises serious concerns. In that goal the entire defense moved to cut off one person opening up two Boca Juniors players who only had Pinto to be beaten. A similar goal was scored in our pre-season also; I don't remember which team scored against us. In that case also the entire defense moved together to cut off a cross from left apparently leaving players unmarked in the far right post. These problems did not feature in any reports as Barcelona was comfortably out-scoring other teams. But against quality opponents this could be the difference in winning and losing the match. So the first task for Guardiola is to install some discipline in defense in terms of man-marking. It is easier said than done. But he needs to address this to turn this team into world beaters again. This should also some what negate the serial vulnerability.

The second problem for Barcelona especially last season was our inability to score from corners. Many top notch sides were content in conceding corners against us. Manchester United semi final clash was a prime example. Will they do the same with other teams like Chelsea, Milan etc? Absolutely not. Usually any defense concedes a corner only if they have no other option, but against Barca that is their first option. In majority of last season game the number of corners ran to two digits. But their conversion rates were appalling. Another problem was the lack of an alternate plan. Everyone knows how Barcelona plays - a series of slick short passes. But sometimes this comes as a cropper, in such a scenario the team lacks a secondary plan which can be at least used to unsettle the opponents. Guardiola seriously have to decide who is going to take those free kicks. He has to designate the task to two persons so that they can take more effort in getting those on target.

Aug 18, 2008

VXavi HernandezXavi Hernandez Creus today is celebrating his tenth anniversary of debuting for Barcelona. On 18th August 1998, Xavi made his first team debut against Mallorcain the first leg of Spanish Super Cup final. He capped the wonderful debut with a goal. Xavi has been with Barcelona all through his life. He joined Barcelona at the age of eleven.He started receiving attention pretty early. He was a key member in the F C Barcelona B team which won promotion in to Second division in 97-98 seasons.At present Xavi is one of the three captains Barcelona is having. His significance and contribution can be judged by the fact how Barcelona played against Boca with and without him. He created both the Goals which ensure Barcelona's hold on John Gamper trophy. So in other word he gave that as a present to himself and the fans for celebrating his tenth anniversary. Xavi has to be said is at the peak of his career. He is a worthy successor to his coach Joseph Guardiola and was adjudged the best player of Euro 2008. He was instrumental in organising Spanish defense and along with his team mate Iniesta led Spain to a well deserved European Championship. Xavi was instrumental in the Barcelona side great run from 2004-06. One of the most remembered goals of those times was the one he scored against Madrid to take Barcelona to second and start a revival.

Any hope of Barcelona revival and dreams of achieving the heights of 2005-06 seasons could only be possible on this rather short man's shoulder. Ronaldinho and Deco have gone and he needs to form a great partnership with Messi, Iniesta and Eto to take Barcelona again to those heights. One thing that can be guaranteed is his commitment and hard work for the same. As one of the captain he needs to marshal other team mates around him for the same. Then considering Xavi's nature and will, it has to be said that Barcelona's future lies in safe hands. Let's wish him the best so as to continue the good works for the time to come.

Aug 17, 2008

Barcelona Beat Boca Juniors in Injury TimeF C Barcelona made one of the most surprising come back to take the John Gamper trophy from Boca Juniors. Barcelona was trailing by a single goal in normal 90 minutes, but hit two goals in the injury time to shatter the Argentinian side's dreams.Guardiola started with a starting line up which was almost entirely different from the one which trounced Wisla. Barcelona started with Pinto on the Goal; in front of him Corcoles, Pique, Marquez and Sylvinho formed the defensive line. The midfield niether had the creative heads of Xavi nor Iniesta, Instead it was formed with Toure, Sergio and Gudjonsen. Like the midfield Eto was missing from the forward line up, with Henry, Bojan and Hleb forming the attacking trio.

On contrary to other games, Barcelona looked the more shaky side in the start. Barcelona had the majority of possession but Boca defense was solid as a rock. The first half was one of the most boring as neither team was ready to take any risks. Barcelona were severely hampered by the absence of both Xavi and Iniesta. The other players found it difficult to gel as all were playing for the first time. On restart Guardiola brought in Puyol, Abidal, Jeffren and Pedro. But Barcelona was still struggling in the absence of Xavi and Iniesta. On the 62nd minute Xavi, Iniesta and Eto was brought in to provide the goal for the crowd.The goal came but in the wrong post. I have said in my earlier post that Barcelona defense looks very fragile; this goal was the plum example for that. Barcelona defense left two players unmarked on the edge of box with only Pinto ahead of them, Viatri received the simplest of passes and slotted past Pinto to take Boca one up. That goal jeered up the players, they started to show the glimpse of their ability. Iniesta has two chances but could not convert. Then in the 92nd minute Puyol jumped high above the defense to head Xavi's corner on to the top left corner. The exactly after two minutes Eto snatched the victory when he headed the ball past Goal Keeper from again a Xavi cross.

Aug 14, 2008

Barcelona Thrashes Wisla 4-0Barcelona started their official 2008-09 season with a spectacular win against Wisla Krakow. In front of the home crowd, Barcelona thrashed Wisla Krakow 4-0 to take a giant leap towards the premier competition in Europe. Not surprisingly it was again Eto the discarded, who shone through the match. Guardiola started with Abidal, Puyol, Marquez and Alves infront of Valdes. The midfield creative force of Iniesta and Xavi joined surprisingly Keita. Toure was over looked for Keita and I seriously doubt whether Yaya will stay in Barcelona if Wenger makes an official approach. Toure was one of our highlights of last season and I can't understand Guardiola's theory of keeping him in bench ahead of Keita. The forward line was made up of Eto, Henry and surprisingly Pedro. This also comes as a surpise as Bojan was overlooked in place of Pedro. There is no doubt that Bojan will be the more important person this season and that also makes no sense keeping him on bench.

As expected Barcelona dominated the match from the start. Actually Valdes hardly was involved in a ny action throughout the match. In the 13th minute Henry's header was denied by Wisla Goal Keeper Mariusz PaweĊ‚ek. Then in the 17th minute Eto put Barcelona ahead by rounding off the Goal Keeper after a wonderful Marquez pass found Eto. In the 24th minute Xavi doubled the lead with a long range effort. Barcelona copuld not add any more goals in the rest of first half, eventhough Henry, Xavi all wasted some golden oppurtunity. After the break, Henry added the third for Barcelona after a wonderful move involving Eto and Iniesta. Eto made it 4-0 just minutes before end when he converted from another excellent pass from Iniesta.

Barcelona played a near perfect match. Hleb, Pique, Alves and Keita all made their Barcelona debut at Nou Camp. Keita played well, but I still believe Toure as a better player. Only draw back was the Alves injury, he is supposed to be out for two weeks. Sport.es report that the doctors has confirmed this as he suffers from a grade one sprain of the bone-clavicle acromial right shoulder. (Do we have so much things on our shoulder?) Barcelona defense still makes the odd mistakes and that should be a point of worry for Guardiola. Anyway this result almost make the second leg ineffective. Barcelona may just have to turn up in Wisla.

Aug 13, 2008

Guardiola's First Competitive MatchBarcelona will kick off the official 2008-09 season with Champions League qualification match against Wisla Krakow. I still remember when I used to play Fifa 2004, I always used to get Wisla in the CL qualification against Barcelona. Now that's coincidence. Barcelona will be playing the first leg in Camp Nou tonight. Most of the Barcelona new signings are expected to make debut today. But all the talks looks like is centered on one aspect; the missing of Messi in the qualification. There are suggestions being made that Barcelona might find it tough against Wisla especially without Messi. For me, these all are rubbish; stupid reasons cultivated by the club in order to achieve the moral high ground to keep Messi away from Olympics. Anyway that is solved and to my satisfaction Messi is in Beijing fighting for his country. Basketball superstar, Kobe Bryant will be cheering for Argentina and Messi for their match against Serbia. He might very well miss the chance to see Messi in action as he might start only from the reserve bench.

Coming back to the match in hand, the first good news is that Guardiola has indicated that Eto is going to stay. He said that this is what both him and Eto desires. So we will have the wily Cameroonian starting in the centre of the pack with Henry on the left (for what, you might ask) and Bojan on the right. Hleb looks more comfortable on the left and that's why I'm betting on Bojan to start the match. Midfield would be dominated by the creative heads of Iniesta and Xavi along with Toure. Like Hleb we can expect keita to make his mark after the half time. Defense line up could be surprising. Alves and Abidal for me should start as full backs, but who will partner Puyol in the centre his a question. My bet is on Marquez, but if you see Caceres don't get surprised.

As far as the match, this leg in Camp Nou should be an easy option. Wisla are expected to fight bravely, but they are going to miss their captain Arkadiusz Geowaki through injury. But their manager, Maciej Skorza is upbeat. He says the pressure is on Barcelona as they are expected to qualify and for them it will be just a dream. Barcelona has to gain a sizeable advantage in terms of goal difference to take to Wisla. Most of the Barcelona fans were skeptical about the fact of playing the first leg at home. I think this one suits fine, its always better for a coach to make his debut in front of home crowds.

Aug 7, 2008

Aug 4, 2008

Barcelona and BarcelonaGuardiola has clarified earlier that Eto, Deco and Ronaldinho will not be in part of his new Barcelona plans. Simply put that was the easiest way of putting the blame of two off season on this terrific trio. Ronaldinho's decision made sense as the player has lost his motivation at Barcelona and it was good for him and the club to find a better pasture. Deco had two poor seasons and obviously would have to move out of the club and let's hope he does well at Chelsea. But the surprising addition to the outcast was Samuel Eto. Eto missed the majority of the last season through injury but still had the best record in terms of goals scored against minutes played. He has always been a dynamic character both on the field and off the field. But the excuses leveled for getting him out of the club like "his presence would be bad for the dressing room" did not deserve any merit. There was no doubt that Samuel Eto was an unhappy man; he was unhappy when Gudjonsen was signed and the arrival of Henry did escalate it a bit further. But no one can accuse him of not performing his duties. So it was a big surprise for everyone when he was termed as the discarded in Guardiola's plans. Guardiola in his rush to show to his toughness to media might have missed some tricks in case of Eto. Eto's recent performance against Chivas has left even Guardiola wondering about the next course for the striker.

The way he combined with Messi in Dundee United match has already raised expectation of Eto's staying and completing his contract. Messi himself has urged the club to take a decision in that path. But Guardiola is not giving any indication of that going to happen. But one thing is for sure; Guardiola is going to be in dire straits once Eto leaves as the replacement would take some time to settle and Barcelona fans surely would be demanding more this season. Henry, Guardiola's preferred partner (I don't know why) has already shown signs that he is going to have a great season like last time. Taking all these into consideration let's hope Eto stays. But in reality this looks very bleak. First of all Eto has showed his displeasure in the way he was treated by the club, especially Guardiola. Second if he continues his good form in the pre-season, those hesitating clubs could jump in and sign him for whatever price. You should remember that Roma, Milan and all pulled out of Eto deal due to the remuneration Eto was asking. The thought that it was pretty high and if he continues his form they are going to think the other way. So it is better to see what option lies ahead in front of Barcelona

The first person who comes to mind as a possible replacement to Eto is the great Ivorian Drogba. There is no doubt that both players are equal in stature. Both are a bit different; but there is no doubt that Drogba could be the best replacement for Eto. Drogba has not known for his prolific goal scoring record like Eto; but then it should be remembered that Chelsea play a more defensive way of football. But when you compare both strikers, Drogba for me has a bigger presence in big matches compared to Eto. I am not saying that Eto has not performed in bigger matches, but Drogba always used to perform something spectacular against tougher opposition. Now the big question, will this deal be possible? Drogba has indicated of his intention to move out of Chelsea but the club may not let him go for whatever price. Second and the most important factor could be he is currently recovering from injury and how his form recovers also need to be seen. So at the present moment signing of Drogba looks far.

The next person in line is Berbatov. He is one striker whom I admire. He should be motivated to do well in the highest level of European football. He has the habit of dropping back to help out the defense and links well with midfield in creative play. But can he emulate an Eto is still a big question? Secondly with Manchester United interested he may be tempted to stay in London. The third is Benzema; the Lyon striker was the first one to be linked with Barcelona. But a disappointing Euro campaign might have killed the move. The club looks like interested in him, but the player and Lyon are ready to wait for some time to get the best deal. The next one is Adebayor. It was surprising that after just one good season he was treated as a super star. He is a good striker, but no where near the class of Eto. Luckily the move looks like over and Adebayor is desperately trying to win back the Arsenal fans. Then there was Pavylechenko, but he looks like more interested in joining premier league. Then Villa, who looks like a good option but will be very hard to realise the deal.

So the picture becomes clearer now. It is going to be very tough for Barcelona to find a replacement for Eto. The most sensible thing for Guardiola is to stop being adamant and get Eto involved in his plans. But I doubt that is going to happen. All these will depend on one big transfer, Ronaldo's transfer to Madrid. Once that happens we might see frantic selling between top clubs.

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