There’s no need to get complicated looking at this afternoon’s game in Andalusia. Granada are sitting one point from rock bottom, have lost to Barça in every occasion since 2011 bar last year’s 1-0 defeat in this same fixture, and will undoubtedly try to pull a Málaga. Luis Enrique knows it’s coming and he and his blaugrana players are implored to find a way past the bus. Victory will not be given, it must still be earned but the resource gap between FC Barcelona and Granada CF creates clear expectations.
An imperial first half followed by a bumbling second gave life to a tie that should be dead and put to bed. Given the palpable ease of the first 45, it was a poor showing to concede that extent of control to Manchester City and sit back, knowing City’s goal was only the next chance away. Even when Gaël Clichy was sent off following two clumsy (and deserved) bookings Barça didn’t put the home side under enough pressure. Then Lionel Messi threw away Pablo Zabaleta’s gift of a penalty to encapsulate an undeserving second half performance. Winning away from home is always the goal, yet tonight feels an opportunity blown. I’m genuinely disappointed with Luis Enrique tonight for not reacting appropriately to what were the two obvious problem areas. You obviously overwhelmingly fancy the blaugrana to see out the 2-1 advantage but The Citizens walk off this evening a happier side than they should be.
The message from City is “we don’t fear them”. Well, if they’re not afraid, Barça most certainty need not be. Exactly 371 days ago, Manchester City and Manuel Pellegrini lost this tie before it kicked off. City were dazzling in the Premier League, a narrow home defeat to Chelsea aside, Pellegrini’s crew were decimating all in their path, including scoring 6 goals against both Tottenham and Arsenal. Just three days before what was eventually a limp 2-0 home defeat to Tata’s Barça, City convincingly exacted revenge on a full strength Chelsea in the FA Cup with a 2-0 win of their own. A thorough beating of the only title rival who had bested them that season, how could one take more confidence into the Champions League?
There’s not much mystery to Athletic Club’s struggles this season. With only 18 goals scored in the 21 league games thus far, Athletic rank alongside 19th place Elche and 16th place Almería as the fifth worst offense in La Liga ahead only of Getafe (16 goals/15th place), Córdoba (16 goals/17th place), Granada (14 goals/18th place) and Levante (13 goals/20th place). That’s not the company a team like Athletic wants to keep given their history of attacking prowess and the fact they finished just last season as the fifth best overall goal scorers. Combined with a reasonably leaky defense and the strain of Champions League football on a small squad, Ernesto Valverde’s side are currently three times closer to a relegation spot (5 points) than the lowest European position (15 points). Over the summer Ander Herrera became the third major player to depart the Basque club in as many years and due to their commendable yet restrictive transfer policy only 1 million euro of Herrera’s 36 million pursue was reinvested. That amount was used exclusively for the services of Borja Viguera, a 27-year-old who thus far has contributed one solitary goal in 660 minutes of action and was not selected for the squad tonight. While it’s true FC Barcelona are now three seasons removed from an away win against Athletic, that streak is likely to come to an end this evening.
It’s been quiet enough on the legal front many likely assumed things had come to an end. Well the Neymar transfer fiasco is still alive. The state prosecutor Jose Perals has requested from judge Pablo Ruz that club president Josep Maria Bartomeu be investigated as part of the tax case and that he appear in court on February 13th.
In response the club put out the following strongly worded statement effectively expressing their digest in the allegation and their pledge to fight it. Full statement after the jump.
Rarely in football do you sincerely think “that was bloody brilliant”. Obviously I’m not referring to the second half (except for Arda Turan’s wonderful moment of theatre), but that first half was one of wonderful ebb and flow. It started with a bang, then an elegant rebuttal, an unsurprising controversy, a swift reply and finally it ended with a bang. Instead of being called for a clear handball, Jordi Alba burst the length of the field to superbly assist Neymar’s winner on a night the Brazilian sparkled. Down 2-3 at the half (2-4 on aggregate), Neymar finally had enough of the relentless fouling, got into Gabi’s face and then stood up to Fernando Torres. Eventually that concluded with Gabi being sent off during the break and viewers needing a double take when Atlético took to the field curiously a man down.
I must say, there’s been few firmer admirers and supporters of Atletí but lately it feels things are getting nasty. The soldier “never say die” mentality is shifting into a bit of a sore loser routine. The Atlético guys seem to genuinely believe they’re being wronged despite cynical and excessive physical fouls that are blatantly obvious. Whether a direct consequence or not, it was poetic that referee Gil Manzano had to ask for a new disappearing spray can with 10 minutes still to spare. He blew over thirty fouls and distributed 13 yellow cards (10 to Atlétio Madrid) as well as 2 red cards. Barça were unable to beat Atletí in six attempts last year, they’ve now won three times in barely over two weeks with an aggregate score-line of 7-3. Something seems to be happening at FC Barcelona.
What a privilege it has been having Xavi in blaugrana all this time. Happy Birthday Maestro!
Tug away, pull with all your might, try by force and you’ll never be free. The harder you try, the tighter the bamboo grips – on this simple principle the age old Chinese handcuffs have imprisoned many an index finger. As soon as the prisoner relaxes, so does the snare and voilà, freedom. We human beings so often get in our own way. We want something so badly that our attempts become desperate, frantic and ultimately counterproductive. Whether it’s Dee gripping the rat trap (for any of my Always Sunny brethren out there) or Luis Suárez in blaugrana, often when one stops trying so hard nature takes its course.
That did not look a team in the midst of mutiny. FC Barcelona put in their best performance of the season, in particular with a sensational first half that at the very least merited the two goal advantage. Atlético Madrid certainly overstepped with their physical play, it got dirty, and only through the incompetence of La Liga officiating finished the game with all eleven men on the pitch. It was that same ineptitude from Undiano Mallenco that also gifted the visitors with a chance for points. At the end however, Barça matched Atletí intensity and very deservedly walked off the Camp Nou pitch worthy winners.
The 18 man squad for tonight’s game confirmed Xavi Hernández is out with an injury. Frenchman Jérémy Mathieu is the other chief absentee thanks to the final phase in recovering from an Achilles problem. Otherwise Jordi Masip, Douglas and Martín Montoya can once again reserve their seats as spectators in the presidential box. Full squad list:
Ter Stegen, C. Bravo, Piqué, Rakitic, Sergio, Pedro, Iniesta, Suárez, Messi, Neymar Jr, Rafinha, Mascherano, Bartra, Jordi Alba, Sergi Roberto, Adriano, Alves, Munir.
In the still ongoing press conference, Josep Maria Bartomeu announced that the board will call early elections for this coming summer. This is a huge and historic moment for the club and one that will have many millions of culés celebrating.
Carles Puyol has announced via his official Facebook page that he is ending his professional working relationship with FC Barcelona.
A full translation of his announcement after the jump.
Whether Andoni Zubizarreta already knew or his comments last night were the impetus, minutes ago FC Barcelona confirmed they have terminated the director of football’s contract. I ask totalBarça readers to take caution….champagne corks can be dangerous objects. President Josep Maria Bartomeu will stage a press conference live tomorrow afternoon on this action and likely others. Official statement below:
Trust is essential to relationships. It is something that is not easy to earn and something that should not be given away cheaply. “In Fergie/Arsenè/Pep/Carlo/whoever We Trust” is one of football’s most common stadium banners – a fan base expressing their faith in said leader on the basis of trust. I don’t trust Luis Enrique, and frankly nobody else should either. Let me be clear, this does not mean I am advocating for his dismissal or further demonizing the near satanic reputation of the board many relish in perpetuating for appointing him. I don’t trust Luis Enrique because he has given me no reason to.
That’s 0/2 at the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS). The Swiss based court released a statement today dismissing FC Barcelona’s appeal against the FIFA imposed transfer ban confirming that the “FIFA decision is confirmed in full and the sanction remains in force.” This shouldn’t be surprising given Barça officials effectively admitted to breaching the FIFA regulations and defended their actions with a ‘yeah, technically we did but…’ This is another damming event that happened under the Sandro Rosell, now Josep Maria Bartomeu, administration, but at the same time the FIFA regulations are debatable in their scope.
I’ve maintained since the start of all this that this ban is genuinely not a big deal. Clubs rarely use the January window in any case, so that’s irrelevant and this summer’s splurge was indicative of the club predicting not being able to spend next summer. At the end of the day, Barça have a handful of players in the B side that merit a chance with the big boys and this ban provides the perfect opportunity to do so.
Martin Ødegaard is the “beautiful bride.” Reminiscent of a starry-eyed yet rather absurd pack of singles vying for one woman’s carefully choreographed affections on ABC’s The Bachelorette, a bevy of Europe’s most eligible suitors have been swooning the 16-year-old Norwegian in the hope of receiving his final rose and becoming the “fortunate groom.” Karl-Heinz Rummenigge’s child-bride metaphor aside, the meticulous courting of Ødegaard would be commonplace in America’s well-oiled collegiate recruitment machine but it’s unprecedented in the European club market.
Neymar makes the list but unsurprisingly Dani Alves will miss out with his hamstring issue. Otherwise Jordi Masip, Douglas, Marc Bartra and Sergi Roberto have been overlooked for selection.
The final list reads as follows:
Ter Stegen,Claudio Bravo, Montoya, Piqué, Rakitic, Sergio, Xavi, Pedro, Iniesta, Suárez, Messi, Neymar Jr, Rafinha, Mascherano, Jordi Alba, Adriano, Mathieu, Munir.
FC Barcelona say farewell to 2014 tomorrow at Camp Nou against 19th place Córdoba. Nothing other than victory will suffice. Club president Josep Maria Barotmeu envisions 2015 as the “year of Luis Enrique” whereas the manager himself stressed that the team must raise the bar. What will eventually happens remains to be seen – for right now the only objective is to finish the year strong and send the players off on their break in good spirits.
“We had control of the game from the start, even though they scored first. We knew where we could do them damage, where to find space, and where we could get our decisive players into the game. We wanted to accumulate as many players as possible in attack, to try and unbalance the opponent. We gave up some chances, but against this type of opponent, that will happen. We are stronger when we can use different shapes. To sum up, a very good night for us.”
That’s how Luis Enrique summed up the much talked about 3-1 victory over Paris Saint-Germain (PSG). Well, I’m about to talk more about, A LOT more, so if that’s your kind of thing…onwards!
Of the seven possible available group runners-up FC Barcelona have drawn Manchester City for the second year in a row in the UEFA Champions League round of 16. The draw certainly could have been kinder but this is the game’s premier competition, there’s no place for groaning, time to buck up. For a list of the other match ups, follow the jump:
On a cold and rainy night on the outskirts of the Spanish capital, FC Barcelona huffed and puffed away fruitlessly for 90 minutes in an ugly (feo) 0-0 draw with Getafe. The home side made 18 interceptions, 21 clearances and smart fouls in an all out defensive display that limited the number of saves to 2 for keeper Vicente Guaita. The most problematic element is Getafe managed all that without too much fuss. Barça should have had a penalty, though Getafe could claim one as well, but anyone holding their breath expecting a La Liga referee to do his job competently may as well arrange the funeral right now. When going up against this hideously difficult defensive ploy, a penalty or a free-kick hit just an inch lower can be the best panacea, but still not an excuse. The performance wasn’t good. Barça have been going up against this tactic for six or seven years now with increasing frequency, so it’s not like Luis Enrique and the boys should have expected anything different. This was an instantly forgettable match with nothing worth noting. What remains obvious is Luis Enrique’s Barça very much remains a work in progress.
Unable to give the effort I desire on reviewing FC Barcelona’s 3-1 victory of Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) yesterday evening, I will offer a snippet of what I will have finished tomorrow. Because I am never an over-reactionary, do not hold any sort of agenda and gladly change my opinion when proven otherwise, I have no issue being clear that Barça’s performance yesterday evening did not impress me. Barça’s performance, as in the collective system, not Javier Mascherano’s top-draw pass, Luis Suárez’s sublime assist or Neymar’s glorious goal.
The Parisians must wait – today nobody should look beyond el derbì. First of all, it feels FC Barcelona are obligated to keep pace with a runaway Real Madrid freight train. Secondly, whilst Espanyol may be far from the top, los periquitos always save their best for Barça. Still, this is a game Luis Enrique and co are expected to win and anything short of the three points will bring harsh comparisons to Carlo Ancelotti’s gang and a micro-crisis before a semi-clutch match on Wednesday against Paris Saint-Germaine (PSG).
Two hatricks and two significant records surpassed by Lionel Messi act as the fulcrum to Barça nation’s improved mood. In another performance that saw Luis Enrique play a more classical system with forwards starting wide then cutting in and midfielders centralized, FC Barcelona sparkled in dispatching a usually stodgy APOEL side at home. The Cypriots offered nothing going forward, but this is a side that until last night only conceded a goal a game and made mega-bucks side Paris Saint-Germaine (PSG) work-hard for both theirs. Messi was at his ultimate best, putting so many others in goal scoring positions while also scoring himself and tracking back in defense. Luis Suárez showed off his trickery and genuine football genius scoring his first goal with a trademark move and finish. The interplay between two of the world’s true football wizards only foreshadows many moments of wonder to come.
Agustí Benedito, who lost the 2010 election to Sandro Rosell, has taken it upon himself to take the pulse of Barça’s socios (members). Using a survey circulated on the day of FC Barcelona – Celta Vigo on November 1st, we now have a picture of what the 2016 elections may look like. It’s been exclusively translated by totalBarça after the jump.