After Barcelona thrashed Real Madrid 4-0 in the fall Clásico, Luis Enrique called Andrés Iniesta “world heritage.” The 31 year-old captain had walked off the pitch that day to a standing ovation from the Madrid faithful. The moment was special, if not entirely unique. Since scoring the winner in the World Cup final, Iniesta is applauded warmly at most stadiums throughout Spain, but there was something extra at the Bernabéu that day. Firstly, Los Blancos played terribly, and giving the Barça captain a hero’s exit was a way of chastising their own players. The way they stood to honor him, though, was also a recognition that he had outclassed them that day. Even if Rafa Benítez’s men had played well, they probably could not have taken the ball off him. In the biggest game of the young season, he had been the finest player on the field.
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As expected, tonight’s Copa del Rey semi-final felt more like a friendly fixture. A tremendous performance by FC Barcelona a week ago at the Camp Nou rendered the tie moot, providing Luis Enrique with a rare chance to rest his key players. Gary Neville, the man fighting hard to keep his job, also saw the game as no more than a chance to rest his players as well. There was no way Valencia were ever going to comeback from a seven-goal deficit against the treble winners, and Neville’s acceptance of that reality could potentially serve him better than a useless attempt at restoring pride.
In FC Barcelona’s match against UD Levante, it was evident that fatigue has finally started to take its toll on the players. Nevertheless the team is still alive and well in all three competitions: the result of immense hard work by everyone after what looked like a troublesome start to the season.
And still, if there’s a team capable of replicating what 2014/2015’s Barcelona achieved in Luis Enrique’s debut season, it is 2015/2016’s Barcelona. But how does Lucho keep his team fresh until the end of the season?
A little over a month ago the FIFA transfer embargo placed on FC Barcelona came to an end, and with it the first team saw the belated appearance of two players that will certainly hold key roles in the second half of this excruciatingly demanding season. There is no doubt that Aleix Vidal and Arda Turan have already added quality, depth and versatility to the squad. Yet, they will need to truly integrate themselves into the team, because when it comes to being on the pitch for 90 minutes, an infinite amount of training sessions accompanied by zero playing time will still be of limited benefit. The weight on the Turkish midfielder‘s shoulders will get heavier as he is set to be competing with the well established Ivan Rakitić for one of the most difficult playing spots in the blaugrana starting eleven- the right interior.
At the time of writing Gary Neville is still the manager of Valencia. This won’t change before his side fruitlessly attempt to salvage a seven goal disadvantage tomorrow night and won’t change regardless of the result afterwards. That sounds snarky but actually I will always stand by a strategy that gives managers time when patience in football appears abhorred. That all said, the Neville experiment continuous to explode in Peter Lim’s face – he has overseen no wins in 9 league games now, been behind in every occasion, oversaw the heaviest cup defeat since 1928 and Valencia now lie just 4 points from relegation. Mixing friends and business is renowned risky business, Mr. Lim.
If there has ever been a team which is worthy of praise for the way it conducted its January transfer business, Barça B should unquestionably be up there. The Barcelona reserves were relegation candidates before the turn of the year, but right now, it would be crazy for anyone to write off Gerard López’s team even for the playoff places. Yesterday against Olot, Barcelona B recorded a fourth consecutive win. The three points came after the reserves worked hard against very competitive opposition, showing that gradually, Barcelona B are getting that mentality which all winning teams possess.
A midweek 7-0 (which has been described by club personnel as “one of the worst defeats in Valencia’s club history”) and two club statements issued from the board in quick succession in which they “demand respect”, one for an email spying scandal case against former club president Sandro Rosell and one involving a press spat with Neymar Sr., the 0-2 win on Sunday at noon against Levante was an uneventful end to an eventful week.
A game away to the bottom placed team in La Liga tells its own story. FC Barcelona travel to the Estadi Ciutat de València following a game where they taught England’s most hyped manager in recent memory a lesson he won’t be forgetting anytime soon. Barcelona dispatched Gary Neville’s team so empathically at the Camp Nou that some of Valencia’s legends have come out vocally asking for Neville’s resignation. You would forgive Levante for simply coming out with white flags before the game starts.
Post today’s game, a good friend of mine who watches football from time to time sent me the following message:
“How is the communication between the front three so good? Poor Valencia, it should be illegal for ‘MSN’ to play that well”. I think those sentiments sum up yesterday’s game, from a neutral point of view at least, quite well.