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Mar 30, 2008

I can't simply remember the number of time Madrid has oppened the door for Barcelona and Barcelona has denied every opputunity to get back at Madrid. Yesterday's match showed the twisting fortunes involved in a soccer match. Barcelona controlled the game for the entire first match and scored two goals. From that point it looked done and dusted, but nobody expected the sides to switch their positions in half time and even worse; no one expected Barcelona to lose the match.

Barcelona went with henry, Bojan and Eto upfront. Thuram and Puyol joined Abidal and Zambrotta at the back. In the first half it looked like even the best attack in the world could not break this well organised defense. Then football is a match of two hals and thing went from one end to another in the second half. Within fifteen minutes Barcelona went two up against a hapless Betis side. It was first Bojan who put Barcelona in the lead. The opener came from a magnificent assist from Xavi to find Eto’o, whose shot struck the post, but Bojan grabbed the rebound and made most of it. The second was from Eto who latched on to a wonderful pass from Iniesta. Barcelon could have scored more in the first half. Second half started just the reverse. Barcelona was happy to defend the two goal advantage. They didn't realize they were diggng their own grave. With Betis attacking them one after other the defense started crumbling. This showed when Edu cut down the lead in the 63rd minute. The goal did wonders for lifting the Betis side and they kept attacking and was rewarded with a penalty which Valdes saved. Barcelona players was too casual with celebration of that good save and paid by conceding another goal within minutes. Edu made it 3-2 with a wonderful effort. Puyol had no idea how to stop him.
Rijkaard did the biggest mistake in substituting bojan, He should have substituted Henry with Gudjonsen, especially when they were looking to defend the lead. He also should have brought Sylvinho instaed of Abidal as he would have added another dimension with his run from left. Anyway if Madrid wins to day its all obver for Barcelona; but then I have a feeling which says watchout for Villareal.

Mar 28, 2008

Ronaldinh to Madrid?Ronaldinho's brother and agent Roberto Assis has once again admitted the possibility of Ronaldinho moving away from the Catalan club in the summer. He has pointed out the reason for it is the immense criticism Ronaldinho is under for Barcelona's turbulent season. Ronaldinho has a release clause in his contract which is quite high, but Assis is looking into the possibility of invoking article 17 of FIFA's transfer regulation. Milan and Chelsea were reportedly interested in signing him in the past and now also. But the most damaging of revelation is that Assis did not rule out the possibility of Ronaldinho signing for Madrid. Are we going to see a repeat of the Luis Figo episode? These all things are coming at the wrong time, in his recent matches he has given signs of returning slowly but surely back to his self. Now will he be putting the same effort in future matches? Don't know?

Anyway amidst all this the chaos in Spanish Federation is continuing. Till now I don't think a solid decision has been made where Barca will face Betis. Most probably it will be played at the Athletico Madrid’s Vicente Calderon stadium. Now will it work in favour of Barcelona, most probably? But then the possibility of Madrid fans filling the stadiums also would be there. But Barcelona’s biggest problem now is the fact that Milito is ruled out for the match. Puyol most probably would not make it. But there is a high chance Ronaldinho comes back to the fold along with Eto and Bojan upfront. Iniesta and Xavi should start in the middle; but should Yaya start especially considering his fitness? With Milito out and Puyol in doubt Rijkaard may still go with him, as he is less error prone than Edmilson. But for what all be the formation and the team structure; it is necessary that Barcelona win this match; especially considering the fact that Madrid will only face Sevilla late on Sunday night. Throughout this season we have seen that when Barcelona has won and put pressure, Madrid always stumbled.

Mar 20, 2008

Valencia vs BarcelonaWhen Barcelona drew with Valencia in the first leg of the semi final, there was a basic belief among the Barcelona fans that they could surpass Valencia at Estadio Mestalla. Considering Valencia's form throughout the season and the promises Barcelona showed three weeks back, that was a fair assessment. But the last three weeks were the toughest for the fans and players and now does sow some doubt about the possibility of going beyond Valencia. Three weeks back ours was the meanest defense in Europe, but now they are draining goals. Under these circumstances Rijkaard's decision to leave out Ronaldinho may raise some eyebrows. But I tend to agree with Rijkaard, as anyway Ronaldinho was not at his best this season, so it’s better to wait till he gets fit fully. But the most promising of the returnees are Zambrotta and Toure; they should add stability to defense.

For me Barcelona should start with Sylvinho ahead of Abidal as he looks a better option upfront than Abidal. But picking up the midfield might be a little tricky. There is no sense in giving Bojan a start in such a crunch match. Iniesta could start up front on left along with Henry and Eto. This should give us space to include Gudjonsen and Xavi in the midfield. Maybe Rijkaard can think about modifying the formation a bit, not too much. He should go with a 4-3-3 style but with Iniesta playing in the pocket behind the two centre forwards - Eto and Henry. This may resemble a formation like 4-3-1-2. This would be prefect for Iniesta as he don't have to worry about converting too much of chances and do the best he is at - assisting. This will also add stability in the midfield as he can get back much quickly to retrieve the ball. Then in this formation it would be better to have Abidal as the Left back as all the attack is going to be through the centre. Abidal, in this case will give more protective cover than Sylvinho. Secondly such a formation will see Gudjonsen playing a much better part as he and Iniesta can freely switch places. I do agree such a crunch match is not the right places to try these, but this could be safe as you are not changing too much of the formation.

Barcelona management has promised incentive for the team if they can get past Valencia to reach the final. I cannot judge the morality of such a move, but hope this really inspires the team. And Valdes really need to come up with some showing to get us past Valencia.

Mar 17, 2008

Barcelona's terrible performance at AlmeriaWith the ever increasing injury list, Barcelona's visit to Almeria was not a easy one. But even in my wildest dream I never thought that we will come from there being the second best team. Our team resembled some high school team with their passing, actually that would be an insult to high school team. They had an opportunity to cut the lead to five points, in the end I will say we were pretty lucky to cut the lead to 7points. A repeat of the same performance, Valencia will murder us on Thursday.

Barcelona decided to keep Henry on the bench and started with Bojan, Eto and Iniesta upfront. Gudjonsen started in midfield and for me was a pretty consistent fellow. Puyol filled in as Right Back and Milito and Thuram joined in the middle. Almeria started the game much brighter than Barcelona; they had few futile runs before Barcelona converted from their first real attack. In the 19th minute Bojan put Barcelona ahead after Diego Lopez, the Almeria keeper only could push an Iniesta shot onto Bojan. Iniesta received a ball from Abidal and cut inside two defenders to test the goal keeper, it was the keeper's mistake which gave away the goal. In the 32nd minute Almeria equalised from a corner when Abidal forgot to mark Pulido. In the 35th minute Valdes had to be on his toes to save another Almeria shot. In the 42nd minute Bojan's effort was saved by Diego Lopez. The second half also started the same fashion with Almeria in complete control. Henry was introduced shortly and that seemed to settle the team a bit. In the 57th minute Henry run from the left produced the second goal when he found Eto in the middle. In the 63rd minute Henry effort saved by Lopez after a wonderful pass from Bojan. In the 71st minute Milito was sent off for a second yellow card when he lunged on the defender. The way Barcelona was defending it was a disaster waiting to happen. Then in the 85th minute, Almeria grabbed the well deserving equaliser from another corner.

Barcelona played terribly. It looks like Madrid cannot win any of their away matches now, but we can't win any actually. Every team comes with a plan against Barcelona, to choke them for space by defending upfront. It’s not a new thing but the disturbing fact is that we can't find a way out of it. We don't have a plan B; we don't have a player who has a different style. We are lacking a winger kind of player who can simply run past defenders and cross from the sides. That would have drawn defenders from the centre. It was terrible to see Almeria defenders expecting every time Barcelona players to cut to the centre, they could have used the wings a little better. One more thing Sylvinho looks a better player than Abidal while going forward and considering the fact that Barcelona need to win at Valencia he needs to start.

Mar 10, 2008

To all those Barcelona fans who are very much disappointed to see yesterday's performance, this is to cheer you up. We can hope the best. Hope this encourages the players too.

Barcelona vs VillarealThis match was billed as a dedication to Lionel Messi; don't be surprised if Messi hesitates to accept this dedication. With yesterday’s performance Barcelona find themselves a huge eight points adrift of the leaders. Two weeks before we were just two points away and now its again we have to wait for Madrid to slip, really badly. Will Madrid do the favour a second time, is doubtful. Two weeks before we were celebrating the fact that Madrid were unable to win their away games in the league, now we suddenly have a problem of our own. In recent weeks our defense has conceded more goals than any of the top flight clubs in Europe. Unless Rijkaard address the entire problem as early as possible, we might be out of Copa Del Rey pretty soon.

Barcelona started the match with Ronaldinho on the right and Henry on the left. Iniesta, who was Barcelona's best player, joined Xavi in the middle. With Puyol suspended and Marquez injured, Barcelona had the combination of Milito and Thuram who both had a forgettable night. In the third minute Abidal created an early chance for Eto, but his attempt on goal was a very weak one. In the 26th minute Abidal found Henry in the box, who did well to lose his marker but to shoot high. Then in the 30th minute Franco's individual play won Villarreal a penalty when Valdes brought him down in the box. Marcos Senna converted to take Villarreal one up in the match. The lead should have doubled in the 38th minute after another excellent Franco run into the box, but the defense somehow cleared the ball.
Just after the break, Barcelona should have equalised when a wonderful ball from Ronaldinho found Eto but Eto was very indecisive and gave time for defense to close him down. Then in 65th minute Bojan came in for Henry, Barcelona looked like settling into a decent formation for the first time in the game. In the 67th minute after a beautiful one two with Ronaldinho, Iniesta rushed past defenders into the box from the left and place the ball into Xavi's path, who converted it with ease. For sometime Barcelona gave signs that they might convert one more, but then in 80th minute Tomasson scored after a neat exchange of passes by Villarreal players. That goal was a defensive disaster with nobody feeling the need to close down players. In the 89th minute Ronaldinho free kick hit the cross bar, that should have summed up Barcelona's night.

Its time Rijkaard looked into the problem of our defense. It would be better going back to the tactics that saw us past Villarreal and Sevilla in Copa Del Rey. It is also necessary that Rijkaard understands that he can only have either one of Henry or Ronaldinho in his side. They both prefer to play in a wide left position; Iniesta could play in front right, with Gudjonsen getting his dues in the centre. He is a very decent player. Have we lost the championship? I don't know.

Xavi Goal

Mar 6, 2008

F C Barcelona in to Champions League Quater finalWith Madrid crashing out in the hands of Roma, Barcelona suddenly has become the lone flag bearer of Spain in the most prestigious tournament in Europe. Madrid's defeat at Barnebeu came as a surprise but a bigger one was that of Sevilla. Both looks like paid for the complacency and indeed was a bit tough on the fans of both the club. Real Madrid now remains in only one competition and should be more motivated than before. This makes Barcelona's job much harder, especially considering Messi is out for six weeks or so.

There are already three teams from England and if Liverpool can see off Inter then they can make that count to four. There might be a repeat of last year semi final scenario with three English teams qualifying for it. Honestly speaking I never expected Manchester United and Arsenal to go through, especially considering the kind of results they had in the first Leg. Lyon is always a tough place to visit and Ferguson's boys came out victorious. Much tougher was the job assigned to Arsenal, everybody including me never expected Arsenal to overcome Milan at San Siro. They exactly just did that and that too with some style. Liverpool should join the other three on the back of a great performance towards the end in first leg.

Now it looks almost certain that Barcelona might face any of the English sides. With Ronaldinho getting better day by day, Barcelona has nothing to worry. But as the fate of Madrid, Milan and Sevilla shows, Complacency would be the greatest enemy for these teams moving into the Quarterfinals.

Mar 5, 2008

Barcelona vs Celti; Xavi Goal and Messi InjuryWith the help of an early Xavi goal Barcelona now are through to the quaterfinals of Champions League. On a night which saw the defending champions crashing out, Barcelona could only muster up only one goal inspite of having the majority of possession. But all was not good for Barcelona in the night which saw Messi getting injured. The extent of his injury will be known today only when he undergoes scan. Barcelona was forced to sit out Milito as he was down with fever, Thuram partnered Puyol in the centre of defense. Sylvinho came in place of Abidal, Deco in place fo Iniesta nd the forward line up was restored to Ronaldinho, Eto and Messi.

Barcelona took the lead with just three minutes into the game. Messi moved inside the field and found Xavi at the edge of box, Xavil laid off the ball to Ronaldinho who with his trademark pass placed the ball to sylvinho in the left. Sylvinho's cross was well directed by Xavi into the goal. Barcelona then dominated the initial exchanges but was unable to find one more goal despite all the possesion. In spite of the fact that Ronaldinho and Sylvinho were working well together down the left, there was no serious chances created by Barcelona. In the 29 th minute Ronaldinho fed Puyol perfectly into the box, but Boruc pulled out a wonderful save. In the 34th minute Messi got injured, which saw Henry coming to the centre and Eto moving to right. That basically sums up the first half. In the second half things were mucd duller. In the 59th minute Ronaldinho exchanged passes with Eto, before sending a thunderous shot into the goal. Again Boruc pulled up another brilliant save. From the resulting corner Deco send in a wonderful volley which was well saved by Boruc. I have serious doubt whether Celtic will be able to hold onto this guy, he is a terrific Goal Keeper. It was only towards the end McDonald and Nakamura tested Victor Valdes.
The goal from Xavi in 3rd minute killed the match. Ronaldinho had a good game. But everyone will be having their fingers crossed when Messi is taken for scan today. Anyway this injury vindicate Rijkaard of his decision to exclude Messi from starting eleven at Athletico Madrid.

Xavi Goal

Messi Injury

Mar 4, 2008

”Barcelona As Barcelona prepares to host Celtic at Camp Nou, the biggest question on every bodies mind will be "What will Rijkaard be unto this evening?” Anyway Rijkaard has included Yaya and Bojan in the squad. We can expect Yaya to start the game since edmilson is excluded from the squad along with Giovanni. Marquez still hasn't recovered from his injury so he joins the injured list along with Ezquerra. The back four does not leave too much for Rijkaard for experimenting as Sylvinho is expected to start on the bench. But we might see Deco starting the lineup ahead of Iniesta. Deco has been Rijkaard's favorite even though his current form should place him automatically on the bench. I would love to see Gudjonsen in the starting line up as i thought he looked ok in the last match. But the biggest headache for Rijkaard will be to decide the front three. On current form it should be Ronaldinho, Eto and Messi who should be starting.

Celtic away record in the Champions league may not be great, in fact its somewhat close to pathetic, but their record at Camp Nou is not bad. I don't think they have ever lost a match at Camp Nou. Barcelona's biggest advantage is the fact that Celtic needs to win with a two goal margin to qualify for the next round. Adien McGeady will be the player for Barcelona defense to watch upon. He might still make some excellent run down the left. But then who knows, there may be one more Celtic trump card in the game - I hope his name is not "Frank Rijkaard"

Mar 3, 2008

Rijkaard and BenitezThere are too many similarities with the men in charge of Liverpool and Barcelona. Both have been able to taste the success of Champions League, were very successful in Spain and both are also placed in the elite group of Managers. But is that all which unites them? Not at all! Both of them head a bunch of highly talented players available in Europe. Both of them have a highly functional brain, which works overtime to find the most stupid solutions for the most simplest of problems. They both have an addiction to the concept called "Rotation Policy", which both claims are due to their "Problem of Plenty".

Benitez was able to convince me much early that he is a "Masterpiece in Operation". But with the last Saturday’s stunning blunders Rijkaard gave me the pleasure to announce that he is not afraid of any Benitez. Actually he showed us that he can get better of Benitez. Benitez has got lost in the EPL title race much faster than the Concord, at least at this moment he can only try to get back to Champions League contention. But Rijkaard's case is much different. After Christmas even the most optimistic Barcelona supporter had serious doubt about our title contention. Then with huge piece of luck at Sevilla and Zaragoza, combined with Madrid's problem while traveling, we were able to crawl back to contention. The only thing he needed to do was to continue with his best side and make sure that the title can be settled at the worst at Barnebeu. But then Rijkaard is following a quest to stupidity, you can't stop him. He decided to use Eto in the right, Ronaldinho (he is coming back to form) in the centre. He decided to rest Yaya as the season will be very busy. These all were done to surprise Athletico Madrid at their home, the result - Barcelona surprised themselves. Edmilson made a mockery of himself in Yaya's shoes, Ronaldinho apart from that great goal looked totally confused - he was desperately trying to feed Eto, but according to formation it was Eto who was supposed to feed him and Iniesta and Xavi had no idea to whom they should pass. In all these turmoil happening ahead of them the defense lost it completely and conceded four stupid goals to say. The most ironic fact is that Athletico, who started the game totally confused, looked the brighter of the two sides.

What makes Rijkaard a much more stupid is the fact that he decided to experiment at the most critical juncture of the season. We need to win at Valencia and have to be on our toes to prevent Madrid from repeating last season success. It would have been great for the team to go to Valencia with a good result in their bag, but instead their defense now has conceded four in a tough away match. The core to Rijkaard's problem for me lies in an apparent disrespect for his opponents. He would have never tried these things against Madrid, Chelsea etc. Athletico has always a difficult ground for Barcelona to travel and I thought with his strategy - Rijkaard was trying to say that "Without Torres, Athletico is a piece of Cake". Funny that Aguera just showed him the size of the piece he was trying to mouth. Hope sense prevails him and he takes some sensible actions.

Always remember “Arrogance diminishes wisdom”.

Mar 2, 2008

Last time when Barcelona visited Athletico, they thrashed the host by a whooping six goals. How ironic was the fact that yesterday's match also produced six goals; more ironic would be that Barcelona found at the receiving end of four of them. Athletico has done their city rivals a big favour by extending their lead to five points. The entire match was a case of Barcelona surprising themselves with the stupid rotation policy, anyway i will come back to that later. Barcelona started the match with Eto on the right, Ronnie on centre and Henry on left. Edmillson miserably tried to fill in the foot of Yaya.

Barcelona started the game as clear favourite, they were in total control and Athletico looked like a completely confused outfit. They controlled the first hjalf but could not create any clear chances. Eto found the net after ten minutes only to be judged offside. There was no understanding between the forwards and it was majorly due to the facts that Eto was playing out of his position. It took an unbelievable effort from Ronaldinho to break the deadlock. In the 29th minute Ronaldinho produced a beauty of an overhead kick from a Xavi cross to take Barcelona into the lead. Athletico could not mustrer a decent effort in reply of this till a harmless Aguera shot which would have gone wide was deflected into the goal by Puyol. That was the stroke of luck Athletico needed. Then in the 42nd minute Aguera produced a good ball to Maxi past Abidal and Milito, which Maxi put into the far corner to take the lead. Victor Valdes should have comfortably saved that.

The second half started with Aguera leading the Athletico charge. They should have gone 3-1 earlier but Aguera hit the sidenetting. In the 61st minute Puyol gave away a cheap penalty and Forlan took his side 3-1 up. In between Eto failed to pull one back when he failed to turn in a corner into the goal. Barcelona paid for it when Aguera curved one back past Valdes to take the lead to 4-1. Barcelona shortly pulled one back with Eto scoring after a Iniesta picking Gudjonsen's run and the rebound fell into Eto. Barcelona had chances to equalise both Gudjonsen and Eto missed on easy chances towards the end.

As I mentioned in the preview of this match, the decision to rest Yaya would be the major factor. For me that along with one more decision was responsible for the defeat. Yaya's replacement Edmilson had a crap game and that did not help, he was majorly responsible for the second goal when he failed to close in Maxi. But the major stupid decision would be using Eto at right. Rijkaard like Benitez looks like has a complete disregard to the basics of the game. Football still remains a simple game, You use specialist people at specialist position. Eto is the only centre forward in the team and not using him at his favourite position destroyed the team. That confused the entire team as Ronaldinho played a little back in the pocket for most time and Iniesta and Xavi had no idea to whom they should pass. Its time Rijkaard stop using this stupid rotation policy and stick to a tried eleven. Yaya is a must in most of important game, and the combination of forwards is simple. Eto always should start as centre forward , either henry or Ronnie plays at the left and Messi , bojan or Giovanni plays in the right.

Mar 1, 2008

Frank Rijkaard decided to rest the prolific defensive midfielder, Yaya Toure for the match against Athletico Madrid. Athletico have never been an easy place for Barcelona to travel. Eventhough their chief tormentor of previous years, Torres have left; still Athletico ia a very formidable side. This is where the decision to leave out Yaya Toure from such a crucial encounter might come back to haunt Rijkaard. After Yaya's return from the African nations cup there was a serious change in the way Barcelona played. Like many I also believe it was majorly because of the way Ronaldinho played in recent match. But Yaya's contribution to this sudden surge of form by Barcelona cannot be negated.

Gudjonsen along with ronaldinho comes back to the side. Edmilson is expected to fill in Yaya's boots ; and god forbids if he have a bad game then Forlan and Kun Agüero will take the game away from us. Real Madrid will be travelling to Recretivo and will play the game at the same time. So may be we will have a new leader by the end of the match. Rijkaard may be right in giving his players rest, rotating them; but he should also remember that all the competition are at such crucial juncture that requires you to play the best eleven. Hope Edmilson will have a great game.

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